One year I wrote a poem for my granddaughter Rosa to recite to her at bedtime when she would be visiting that summer. I now remember only the ending: “Rosa is ready, ready for bed.” And that for several weeks after writing the poem, I smiled a lot, looking forward to seeing her.
Rosa never heard the poem. She didn’t visit that summer, and I didn’t see her again until she was grown up.
My son, David, and I did our best to arrange a visit that year, but we failed. Every year, we went through such shenanigans.
It’s May. I call David and asked about Rosa visiting in July after school lets out. If I can be sure she’ll come, I can register her at the most wonderful daycare on a nearby university campus where the program is run by people doing research into childhood enrichment, the counselors are graduate students and the kids get to go boating and take art classes. Wow, I say, and I read him the brochure. He sighs. It’s not up to him. He’ll do what he can.
May turns into June. David phones me and reports that his children’s mother has had several unusually strenuous temper tantrums lately, throwing things and yelling at her kids to leave her alone, get out of her house, go and die. During one of those times, he might have gotten her to agree to a visit and to sign the paper agreeing to let me to take care of her for the summer. She needs to be mad at her kids to allow them to leave. But it’s still too early. She’d just sign the paper and then change her mind the next time she felt the need to have family around her. I tell David that the university day care is full up but that the YMCA is still taking reservations. However, I’ll need to know soon in order to get her into a facility in a good part of town. He sighs. It’s not up to him. He’ll do what he can.
It’s June. I start calling my son every few days. I’m getting frantic. There’s a deadline for buying inexpensive plane tickets, which is fast approaching, and this late I’ll be lucky to get Rosa into any day care at all. I can’t call her mother; if I do, she’ll demand I send her money and threaten me with never being able to see my grandchildren again unless I send it.
I get a call back from David on the 14th. Things look favorable. Somebody is supposed to visit his children’s mother, and the house is a mess. Of course the house is a mess: Unless David does chores after he gets home from work, no dish is ever washed, laundry folded, toys picked up, or toilet cleaned—except to impress a visitor. Cleanup of such debris and clutter is beyond the capabilities of an 11-year-old and an 8-year-old with a mother standing over them screaming. Since Mother never cleans anything herself, she may not realize the size of the task. Whether she realizes it or not, however, her solution is: scream. And if that doesn’t work, or work fast enough: scream louder.
Today, she’s definitely angry enough to allow Rosa to visit her grandmother. Now, if David can just get her to sign the paper…
The next day, Jun 15th, I take off from work and begin a frantic and futile search for good day care. I do find something. It’s in a rough part of town where there are too many kids under the direction of too few counselors and where there are darned few things to do. But it’s all there is. I pay for the first two summer weeks and put down deposits for the remaining weeks. When I get home and call David, he reports that the paper, which he left ready for mother to sign, with the pen right there, is still unsigned. I don’t dare have grandchildren visiting without that paper signed. In case of a medical emergency, mother might well be at the bar and unreachable. Or she might decide there’s no need for a doctor. She’s done that before, and I suppose it is more convenient to think that your children are never sick or in need. Dad, meanwhile, isn’t allowed to authorize medical care because he’s not legally married to his children’s mother.
June 16th, still no paper signed. Mother is tired. Mother does not want to think about that sort of thing right now.
June 17th, still no paper signed. We guess mother is still tired.
June 18th, nothing yet.
June 19th, not today, either.
June 20th, I don’t know about mother, but I know I’m sick and tired of this.
June 21th. I get a call from David after I get off work. Hurrah! She’s signed the paper! I immediately purchase the last window seat on a plane from Seattle to Los Angeles on the first available day, July 9. I’ll forfeit the first week’s payment to the daycare, but who cares. Rosa will bring the paper with her. Dad will make sure it’s in her backpack.
So, that was the previous year’s arrangements.
The daycare that previous year, with too many kids and not much to do, wasn’t as awful as I thought it would be. It would have been dangerous except for the very large bodyguards—bodyguards!—posted outside the door. My tiny granddaughter was befriended by the largest, loudest girl there, however, who kept her safe. The two of them created their own little world and played together just like children should, probably neither of them having had the opportunity to do much of that in their lives.
The year before that, arrangements had been just as problematic, but I had lucked out on the daycare. That year, when Rosa was 8, I was living in a tiny apartment in Belmont Shore, a small island about 10 feet off the coast of Long Beach. When I went to register—a month late, of course—I was put at the head of the waiting list because I lived on the island, and three days later Rosa was accepted due to a cancellation.
That was a wonderful summer. I would drop Rosa off at 8:00 a.m. and get back to her at 6:00. At exactly 6:00, usually, having broken the speed limit most of the way from work. I would arrive to find her helping to clean up after a day of splashing in the ocean or learning to swim in the indoor pool. She would see me and smile her angel’s smile, call out “Hi, Grandma. Can I stay longer?” and rush into my arms. We would have to leave since they closed at 6:00, so we’d head home for dinner and a chapter in a book about a kitten who gets lost and then found again.
That summer, my granddaughter gained a little weight, and her face, pinched when she arrived, took on a healthy glow. Every night, I’d tuck her in and ask her about her day. She would tell me about sand castles and swings and swimming 10 feet all by herself.
After those two years, when I called David attempting to begin the scheduling process for a third-year’s visit I was told that Rosa didn’t want to come see me anymore. Her mother had asked, “You don’t want to go visit Grandma Katharine this year, do you?” And Rosa had answered, “Oh no, I don’t want to visit Grandma Katharine.”
“Besides,” David said, “she told us that daycare two years ago was way too loud. And last year, she was sick all the time and you had to go to work so you had to leave her there anyway.”
Is that what she’d told them? It had been too loud the first year. And she had been sick at her stomach for two days the second year. But is that all she remembered?
“Oh,” suddenly I understood. Rosa, by then 10, had learned how to get along with her mother.
So I didn’t see my granddaughter again until she was grown up. Much too old for that poem written for a small child. Well,… maybe not. After all, there’s a inner child in every one of us.
Rosa, the poem went something like this:
Rosa is right on
Right by my side
Rosa is relaxed
Rosa is ready
Ready for bed
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