By Teri Michaud, mom of Shawna Kitzman
I am a better country mouse than city mouse, but what I am really good at is being a suburbanite. This is especially true in my role of grandmother. I love taking care of any or all of my four grandchildren, but I mostly want to do it at my house. When the kids are sleeping or playing, I can check my emails, cook dinner, reupholster a chair. Edie once asked me why I like to cook at my house, and I said I know where my pots and pans are. She told me they had those, too, and she could help me find them.
Recently Gary and I went to Brooklyn, New York, for two events. One, we would be watching Colette and Julien while Ashley and Jeff went to a wedding in Manhattan. She was surprising him with an overnight stay in a swanky hotel.
Second event, they had bought us tickets to the Broadway musical “Beautiful”, for watching their kids when then went to Ireland last summer. We got to their apartment a tiny bit late—very typical of us. Ashley was scrambling to get out the door for a hair appointment and Jeff had a distance run scheduled. We knew in advance that we were taking the kids to a birthday party in the park. Jeff had the diaper bag stocked with drink boxes, sweaters, water, money, toys, sunglasses and hats.
The double-wide stroller had an umbrella, sunscreen, wipes, bug spray, Kleenex, and, I think, a porta-potty. Before Shawna and Ashley moved to the city, separately and in different years, we saw parents pushing large children in strollers, long after the age where that would be acceptable in West Hartford. Now we understand: this is their transportation. Kids get in and out, sleep there, eat there, store their pine cones, maybe even their scooters.
Of course, we were late for the party, so we ran/walked the kids to the park, and Gary and I started arguing at the gate as to where to go. We’ve been here plenty of times, but there was a ginormous farmers’ market and it was a beautiful day. Thousands of people were riding bikes, running, skating, scootering, and walking. We were supposed to look for a bunch of balloons hooked up to a large commuter bike. Gary saw a set of balloons and asked Colette if that was her friend. The girl was about 13; Colette is nearly five.
We saw many combos of balloons and bikes, but we quickly discovered how hard it is to find a party where you don’t know the parents or the kids. You wouldn’t recognize a lawn chair, a car, a blanket.
Finally, some dad yelled, “Julien, over here!” Our three-year-old grandson ditched the stroller and started running. By now, Colette recognized her people, and many of them remembered us. We faked our way through introductions and did small talk for a while. My throat was sore from running that morning, we were tired from driving to Brooklyn, and we were dying for a beer. At the assortment of blankets situating this party, there were 34 drink boxes, 34 bottles of water, a bag of chips and a bag of spiced popcorn. Oh, wow. Someone had schlepped all that in on a commuter bike!
I kept a lookout for the two grands, and yelled at Gary a few times to stay alert. Then I saw Julien go over a hill, running after his buds. I had just sat down and kicked my shoes off to nail that juice box. I called to Julien to come back. He ran up the hill, looked at me, and kept going. I had no choice. I picked my way up, barefoot, hoping I wouldn’t be that party-stopping idiot who needed stitches. Running over acorns, broken glass, bottle caps, and ragged-edged cans, I steamed up that hill, angry to catch that kid. Once again, I yelled, “Julien!”, in my torn voice, and he stopped. His lip quivered, and I grabbed his arm.
Mincingly, we walked back to the edge of the party and I put him in a one-minute time out on the blanket. I totally eye-convinced Gary that it was time to go. But…Julien really wanted the bouncy ball prize, and Colette was crushing it at the potato sack race, so we had to stay. When the pudding-bottom cupcakes were passed out, Julien smeared his all over his face, crawled into his coach, sister at his side, and we set off in the thousand-acre park, looking for adult refreshment. We stopped at a pub that had great apps, IPAs and apple juice for Colette. No way would we do this in our town. A bar! With kids! Music playing!
We remembered when Ashley had Julien strapped her chest, for almost 18 months as she navigated the city, and later, how Jeff oversaw the kids riding their scooters to daycare and school. How the kids trick or treated at the Fire Department and swung on scaffolding at construction sites. They took swimming lessons at “pop up pools”. At this bar, Gary and I sang songs with Colette, and Julien enjoyed his nap. Back at the apartment, it was books, bath and bedtime—just like suburbia! Whew.
The next morning, we took them to the neighborhood playground, and immediately, kids and adults said, “Hi, Julien, is this your Memere?” “Colette! Patrick was looking for you.” We met Ashley and Jeff’s neighbors and friends. As we walked away from the park, Colette holding Gary’s hand and Julien walking on the wall, we ran into Ashley, who told us, “Hey, you gotta get going…” Broadway was waiting, and of course, we were running late.