I’m going to miss these little guys.

I really wish my grandchildren didn’t live so far away, so I could take them to special events more often and so we could work on projects together throughout the year. It has been fun taking them to things they’ve never done before and watching their reactions. I’d also love to be able to attend their school programs and such. But life is so danged complicated these days, with blended and extended families, I am happy for whatever time I get.

Technically, only the youngest child is my grandchild; the older two are from a previous marriage. But when we first met the kids in 2002 (after my son started seeing their mother), Jearid was two and Bethany was four years old, and the kids ran up to us as soon as they saw us, saying “Grandma Grandpa!” Jim and I weren’t married at the time, and since Jim had never had any children of his own, being suddenly cast in the role of “grandpa” came as a big surprise. Now that my son is divorced, it takes a Herculean amount of coordinating to get us all together, since the kids live with their mother and new stepfather in Colorado, my son is stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, and “Grandpa Jim” and I live in central Missouri. Then add in “Grandpa Mike,” my ex, who lives in the same town in Missouri, and we have one big complicated family. (At least we no longer have to factor in the older kids’ real father, since he got himself put in jail last summer.) Occasionally, the children will pause and say, “So how are we related to Grandpa Jim?” Or I will ask, “So how many grandpas do you have?” Or my son will play the song, “I’m my own Grandpa.” And we’ll all just laugh.

This week has gone very fast.  We have settled into some semblance of a routine, and we have done most of what we planned to do, plus a few extra things that their Grandpa Mike wanted to do. The mornings are generally relaxed, with everyone getting up at their own pace and fixing cereal. The adults (and Bethany) check email and Facebook, watch the news, write blogs and journals, or work on projects. When the boys get up, they inventory their Batman Lego figures or other belongings or make things out of duct tape and cardboard or watch episodes of South Park on their dad’s phone until they are fully awake.

After the last person has had breakfast, it’s time for lunch, and after lunch, we check the calendar we made when they first got here, think about what’s for supper, and then head out to do whatever we had planned. If nothing is planned, we go swimming again. Then dinner and cleanup and after that, we start winding down again. Sometimes Grandpa Jim will read out loud from a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth that belonged to my mother when she was a girl. Usually Jearid will get hungry again, so we’ll have snacks at some point (popcorn with honey and butter has been popular). Then the boys put on their pajamas and we start heading to bed in the same order we got up, with the boys staying up the latest.

Grandpa Jim reads from The Phantom Tollbooth.

Here is what we’ve done this week:

On Sunday, Grandpa Jim took Jearid out to the bee yard to inspect the hives. They determined that we need to order a new queen for one hive that is lagging behind the rest in number of bees and honey production. Then we all met at Coopers Landing, and Bethany and Jearid got to see friends they had made last summer at dance camp, Liam (age 11) and Kyra (age 8). Jearid and Liam and Grandpa Jim rode bikes down the trail, Stephan and I threw rocks in the river, and Bethany and Matt sat and talked and listened to the music.

Throwing rocks off the old railroad bridge near Coopers Landing.

Jearid smoking the hive

Coopers Landing is a great place to be on a hot summer night.

Monday I got a break while they went with their Grandpa Mike to the ceramics studio, where they learned how to make pots. Afterwards, I took the kids back to the lake to swim  while their dad took a break. Liam and Kyra and their mom met us at the lake, so it worked out for all of us. Stephan has gotten much braver in the water in the last two weeks, especially since his Grandpa Mike bought him a noodle, so he can float. Jearid and Liam, who are close to the same age and activity level, had a great time together.

At the potters’ wheel.

At the ceramics studio

Tuesday we got up early and drove to Kansas City to Lego Land, which was a little overstimulating for the adults but still fun. The main attraction for the boys was a station where you could build vehicles and test them on all kinds of tracks. The adults and Bethany especially liked the scale model of Crown Center, including the new Kauffman Center, made entirely out of Legos.The scale model of the Wizard of Oz (including a farm house that would spin and rise up into the air when you pushed a button) was also “epic,” as Jearid would put it.  After dinner at Cracker Barrel, we stopped by for a short visit with my aunt Juanita, who had made lemonade and chocolate chip cookies in anticipation of our visit.

Building cars out of Legos

We spent most of Wednesday hanging out at the house, to give everyone time to recover from a long day. I showed Bethany how to operate the sewing machine and read a pattern, and she got started on making her owl bag. The boys played with their Legos, and Matt went out with some of his high school buddies. After dinner, we headed back to the library for a Funtastic Classics program, where they were happy to see Liam and Kyra again. During the program, the conductor of the Missouri Sympony read two stories while the members of the orchestra played sound effects to go along with the story: one was an Asian story about a girl who was willing to sacrifice her life to bring water to her village; the other was about Brer Raccoon and how he tricked some frogs. As we were walking up the steps to the library, Stephan was naming all the things he had done this week for the first time and acting very proud of himself. After the library program, he asked if we could look for a Batman book and was thrilled when the clerk found a book about his favorite character Two Face. After we left the library we all went back to Sparky’s for ice cream. (I think this made the third or fourth time for Sparky’s.)

Cutting out the fabric for her first sewing project.

Thursday Bethany and I worked on her bag some more, while Matt took the boys out to the bass pro shop for a Family Day Camp, where they met Grandpa Mike. At the camp they went to a couple of classes on bird watching and fishing, made leather bracelets, spun some wheel to win a prize (small frisbee and a wallet), and got to shoot arrows and bb guns. They came back very excited about the outing, with lanyards, awards pins for their classes, and coloring sheets. Afterwards, they picked up Bethany and went out to dinner with Grandpa Mike at Golden Corral (kids’ choice).

Stephan draws a picture of his favorite character, Two Face.

Today is our last full day together. They said their goodbyes to their dad last night, and he left for Georgia at 5:00 this morning. We are taking the kids to meet their mother halfway in Salina, Kansas, tomorrow. Today we have several things on our list. First, we will head around the block to visit Jim’s sister Norma, who has woven bookmarks for the kids (she showed Bethany and Jearid how to weave on an inkle loom last year and had them pick out colors for their bookmarks). Then we’ll have lunch and after they are full, we’ll go to see Madagascar 3 (Stephan had requested that we watch a movie sometime). After lunch we’ll go swimming one last time. Then we’ll take them back to Shakespeare’s for dinner (the first place we ate with them when they arrived two weeks ago). Sometime during the day Bethany needs to finish her bag, and we’ll need to do one more load of laundry, and pack everything for their trip home.

We’re all a little sad our time is coming to an end, and we have begun  planning for next time.

Enjoying the quiet while it lasts

The grandchildren will be here any time, and I am taking the opportunity to sit and relax for a bit before they arrive. It won’t be this quiet for a while.It has been a busy day for all of us. My son arrived last night from Georgia just before dark and then got up at daybreak to drive halfway across Kansas to pick up his kids, who have also been riding in the car all day, having left Colorado Springs early this morning with their mother. My husband left about 3:00 to go call a dance in Rolla, Missouri tonight (he claims he will be back eventually).

I have been trying to remember how to cook for children and have been to the farmers market and the grocery store to stock up on cereal and goldfish crackers and bananas. It’s been a long time since I had to cook for picky eaters, and the list of foods that the youngest grandchild will eat, according to his mother, seems rather limited. Fortunately, I found a website by a mom who has four children and who kindly publishes her kid-tested weekly menus and grocery lists. So I picked a set of menus for the next two weeks, and we’re just going to go with those. I don’t want to argue about food or spend all my time filling special orders, as though this were some sort of restaurant. I’d rather spend our time having fun together. I don’t mind changing my cooking habits while they are here (I’m not going to make them eat navy beans with chard, for example, or anything with tofu), but I can’t guarantee that what I cook will taste exactly like what they’re used to. When my children were young, my main rule at dinner time was, “If you don’t want to eat what’s on your plate, fine. Don’t talk about it. Don’t say Ew Yuck. Just ignore it. But this is what’s for dinner tonight.”

I have also been making a list of things we could do while the children are here, but the heatwave this past week (up to 107 on Thursday) has kind of thrown me for a loop. Of course, the heat makes water activities a lot more appealing, but it might dampen the enthusiasm for walking around the zoo or farm. We are fortunate to live in a college town, where there is a lot to do. Some of the activities going on in and around  town the next two weeks include:

  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a brief adaptation by two professional actors from Hamstead Stage Company, put on at the public library.
  • Fun-Tastic Classics with the Missouri Symphony, also at the public library.
  • This Land is Your Land” Family Concert at the Missouri Symphony
  • Kids Series, “World of Art: Found Objects” at the Museum of Art and Archeology
  • Fourth of July “Fire in the Sky” and Children’s Activities
  • Family Summer Camp at Bass Pro
  • Outdoor movies and concerts
  • Numerous parks, including a couple with splash parks

Only a short drive away, there are many farms we could visit, including Warm Springs Ranch, where 16 baby Clydesdale horses were born this year.

In Hannibal, Missouri, they will be celebrating the 57th Annual Tom Sawyer Days, complete with fence-painting contests, frog-jumping contests, a “Mighty Miss” raft face, concerts, and more.

And there is always bowling, fishing, swimming, picnicking, going to movies, going to the river, camping out, biking, hiking, caving, and so on, depending on how adventurous we feel.

On days when we want to stay home, my grandaughter has asked if I would teach her to sew, and we can come up with lots of other games and crafts and stories to fill the time.

We are also only two hours from either St. Louis or Kansas City, so we could take any number of day trips while the children are here to visit the zoo, Lego Land, the Steamboat Arabia Museum, Six Flags, the Botanical Garden, the Science Center, Grant’s Farm, or take a ride on the light rail train.

With all these things to do, I bet the grandchildren will hardly notice we don’t have a television or video games. What do you think? (I’ll let you know how that theory works out. Did I mention the children are 14, 12, and 8 years old?)