hands down

by Jill Ruttenberg

a & G  in am.JPG

Little Addi, almost two, smiling under her pacifier, two dimples and a ha-ka-HA giggle, claws at the comforter to clamor onto the bed. She lands on my chest with a grunt, tiny heart beating fast, and hugs me tight with both arms. Gavin, now a very big brother, four -and-a-half this Friday (a half-birthday -shall we celebrate?), flings a lanky arm at my shoulder. I am smiling with my whole self, and wondering what it is that happens between bedtime and dawn. Do angels sprinkle Love Dust on these beautiful innocents all night so they wake up glowing with sweet, soft affection? Such purity should certainly be savored by every one of us touch-starved, misdirected modern grown-ups.  So much better than chocolate! Seriously. THIS is what is real; THIS is what we all yearn for in our heart of hearts.

“Ba-ba, you wanna play London Bridge? Or how ‘bout I play a game on your com-pee-OO-ter? Baba! We need to read this Octonauts book!” For this enthusiastic little boy, everything is vital, nearly urgent.

I groan, wanting more sleep. Just let me lay here and lazily soak up all this baby love, this warm breath on my neck, this moment of true bliss.

“In ten minutes, Gav. Let’s just rest a bit,” I say, knowing full well these restless, well-rested Beings will never be still that long.

“Ok. First Octonauts,” I relent after Addi has gone up and down from the bed three times, slurping water out of her sippy cup and splashing it onto my hair, switching on a way-too-bright light and pummeling paperbacks off the bookcase onto the floor. Gavin bounces onto the bed, placing a pillow behind his back “for I can see better”.  I love his use of language; I hope nobody ever corrects him.

And so we read, Baba trying to figure out the characters.

“What is a Gup-A?” I say “goop” and of course, it’s gup, Gavin says. “Is a vegimal in charge of vegetables?” It all takes place under the sea. Addi points a tiny finger at what they call the Frown Fish and shrieks “FITHEE” through slobbery pacifier. Warning: DO NOT attempt to extract this rubbery device from her mouth.  Jaws of steel will clench, your eardrum will burst from her scream, and her fingernails will claw your hand to get it back.

And so we read, and snuggle, entranced in this warm glow of love—their love for their grandma, my love for them, all mixing warm and fragrant as cinnamon rolls baking in an old wood oven. Then the energy changes, as it always must, and a freezing Baba pulls on leggings and a sweatshirt  and attempts to do yoga next to the hissing, old-fashioned steam heater in this cool old house built in 1900. Downward dog turns into London Bridge; Gavin is too smart to be caught, but Addi shrieks and laughs as I rock her side to side with one arm under her ticklish belly. “Take the keys and lock her up, my fair Addi!”

“Baba, can we go down STAY-ERS now? Can you get me some PAY-ERS?” (that would be pears in emphatic Gavin-speak).  I agree, but first must find socks to warm my Costa Rican thin blood. The main level of my daughter’s house is a good ten degrees colder that the upper one. Tricky, this world of winter. You look outside, the sun is shining, promising warmth through the window. But—surprise! The sun’s force is apparently being used up in countries closer to the equator, like the one I call home. I feel duped, astonished, betrayed by Father Sun, when I set booted feet outside. Instant shiver. Quick! Close your mouth or your teeth will freeze! Connecticut in January. Might as well be the North Pole.

So, mostly, we stay inside. I insist on the kids wearing socks on the cold hardwood floors. Eventually, we buy non-skid slippers at Target. Amanda doesn’t argue, though her California/Arizona-raised barefoot sandaled Self sees no real need for all this fuss about warm feet.

But did I mention what a mom she is? Letting Gavin and Addi figure things out on their own, not jumping in out of neuroses like her mother did.Taking time to paint a cardboard rocketship on the dining room table without newspaper, blowing green glitter onto the wet paint, just because. An artist mom. Now this just has to be the most fun for these little ones. And she laughs with them, keeps life Light and Happy. She isn’t worried when they slam into walls and come crying.

“You’re okay,” she says with a kiss and a hug. “Now go play.”

Pears are peeled and cut, two bowls so there won’t be fighting, and Addi shoves in three pieces at a time, cheeks bulging. I make Raspberry Zinger tea with honey and a squeeze of lemon, cool it down with ice, hoping to loosen up morning coughs. Luckily, they like it. We settle into a bigger breakfast—eggs and toast and jam—and the day is off and running.

But really, mornings ARE—hands down—the best part of a grandma’s life.

Jill Ruttenberg is an herbalist, massage therapist, yoga instructor, mother of two and grandmother of two more. Together with her husband Bob, she owns and manages AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in San Pablo de Turrubares, Costa Rica.