The week we just spent in California was different from a week at home in New York in ways too numerous to mention completely. The weather was definitely better since it apparently rained in New York every day we were gone. When we walked out of the Burbank airport, heat hit us immediately, the bright sun and pure blue sky replacing the grayness of New York.
I love the beauty of California, but I knew we would be returning to cool autumn mornings and the brilliant oranges and reds of falling leaves. Still we managed to experience a bit of fall during our visit in California.
While we were there, my daughter and her husband threw a birthday party for their oldest daughter who had just turned six. Sixty-two guests came to the event at a local farm where there were hay rides, pony rides, corn mazes, and an animal feeding area with goats and sheep and other farm animals. There were games and bouncy houses and the never-to-be-forgotten cow train. Late September and early October in California has a lot in common with New York.
What is very different is the pace, a pace that is a challenge for retired grandparents whose days are more leisurely. My daughter’s schedule is frenetic. She has to drive her oldest daughter to school every day and pick her up. Her two-year-old has music class one morning, Gymboree one morning, and a mommy and me class two mornings. Her six-year-old has dance class once a week, karate twice a week, gymnastics once a week, a religious education class once a week, and soccer every Saturday. Every day is a mad dash somewhere.
While I was rushing around with my daughter, I tried to remember how I managed with my own two daughters when they were the same age. I know they had swimming lessons, dance classes, piano lessons, religious education classes, gymnastics, t-ball, Indian Princesses, and Brownies. I obviously ran around just as much. What I remember now that time has passed is not the fatigue and frantic need to get somewhere on time but the way the activities helped my daughters develop physical strength, coordination, discipline, and confidence. I think the sacrifices I made to get my daughters to all these activities helped them become successful, mature adults. The goal of parenting for any generation seems to be to offer to our children as many opportunities for success and fun as we can cram into each day. It’s a lofty goal. It was probably more fun for me to watch my granddaughters at these activities than it was for my daughter who was most likely thinking of errands she still needed to run and what she could make for dinner. Still, watching my oldest granddaughter play soccer and excel at karate and watching the little one play with Play-Doh and paint at an easel for the first time lifted my heart and also made me sad that these moments are all too rare. California is just too far from New York for many visits.
Parenting today seems so much more stressful than when my daughters were young. I had my parents, grandparents, and sister nearby to help when I needed it. My daughter has no family nearby. She and her husband are on their own, and every day is exhausting for them. Maybe grandparents become even more special when they are seldom seen, at least that is what I am telling myself. I can still feel my youngest granddaughter hugging my arm as I sat next to her in the car and coming up behind me in the kitchen, wrapping her arms around my leg, and resting her head on me. I can remember the way it felt to lie next to my oldest granddaughter and read to her every night, giving her a hug and kiss before bedtime. I remember how she ran into the house the day we left and threw herself on her bed crying hysterically because we had to leave.
There may be miles and miles between California and New York, but there is very little distance between my heart and the hearts of my granddaughters. Our visits may be far apart, but love knows no distance. I love autumn in New York, but I was so grateful for the chance to experience the same season in California, even if there wasn’t an orange or red leaf anywhere to be seen. And the best part of all was experiencing a California autumn with my grandchildren by my side.