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Her Other Name is Gran

Elaine and I splashed in the sea, not the ocean, the sea, according to my six-year-old Grand. We held hands, jumped waves, watched tiny fish swim, buried our toes in the sandy sea floor and marveled that we could see our feet through the clear water of the gulf beach.

When a girl, about ten years old, joined us, Elaine welcomed her by talking about the fish. “What’s your name?” I asked. She said her name was Chelsea. I said, “I’m Susan.”

My Grand picked up the social cue. “I’m Elaine and her other name is Gran,” she said as she splashed water with both hands toward me. And in that moment, I realized I’m no longer Susan, Daughter, Mother. I’m Gran.

Yes, I’ve been a grandparent for more than twelve years, but somehow until Elaine’s announcement, I didn’t think of myself first as a grandparent. My immediate thought was I’m glad I chose Gran, a name I like.

As I reflect on a recent beach trip with Husband and Grands and their parents, I chuckle to myself that it was my coming-out-grandparent week. I embraced the grandmother role. While the Grands and their parents took a lunch break from the beach, Husband and I sat under an umbrella and relished the relative quiet and calm. We watched a family of four with a toddler and arm-holding baby at the water’s edge. The mother held baby and tried to dig into the sand with her toddler. Giving up, she laid baby on a beach chair under an umbrella, and my grandmother instincts kicked in.

“I’ll be glad to hold your baby if you want to play in the water. I’m sitting beside your umbrella,” I said.

The mother smiled and told me she thought her baby was sleepy. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked. Mind?

“How about I hold him for a few minutes and see how it goes,” I said. So I settled in a beach chair and the mother explained that 7-month old Jonathan liked to watch people. His back against my chest so he could see his mother and my arms wrapped around him, Jonathan was asleep in five minutes. For an hour, I had the perfect excuse not to move.

Then there was the day that my Grands paddled an ocean kayak. “Gran, do you want to go for a ride?” my twelve-year-old Grand asked. David had proved himself capable, first with his dad, then with younger sisters. An ocean kayak ride would be a first for me. “All you have to do is sit in the front. I’ll paddle,” David said.

So I settled on the seat, propped my feet in the footholds, and we sailed away. “How far out do you want to go?” David asked. I shrugged. “Okay, just remember to sit still. Don’t lean to one side quickly.”

This is the last of four September columns to celebrate and honor grandparents. How appropriate that Elaine nailed my identity as Gran for the finale.




Beach Musings

DSC02633I pushed my beach chair directly under an umbrella so I could hide from the hot afternoon sun, and I sat down. I opened the book I’d saved to read during my beach vacation, but first I wanted to soak up the moment, which turned into more than moments, and I never read a single word.

How far to the horizon, where the bright blue sky meets the deep aqua colored water? A few people swam in the ocean; others strolled along the water’s edge; others, wearing ear buds and presumably listening to a favorite playlist, jogged; others sat two and three together. Children rode the gentle waves on boogie boards and ran after the sandpipers and dug holes in the sand that they filled with water. People all around, but it wasn’t the people that entertained me.

How can a sea gull stand on one leg for 5 minutes? His one black leg and webbed foot never wavered, even when the ocean breeze blew forcefully. He stood with frozen body as the feathers on his back ruffled and he turned his head from side to side. He lowered his leg, picked up the other, and stood even longer. After his rest, he flew, joining fellow gulls that soared over my umbrella.

How long do sea gulls live? Do they stay in the same general area throughout their lives? Do they have a particular place along the beach that is home? A place to sleep?

A lone dark gray and black pigeon thinks he’s a sea gull. He hopped, rather timidly, close to my chair and fluttered away when I threw sand toward him. Where’s his home? His flock? Did he get left behind?

Are the dolphins that swim from the west to east the same ones that swam in the opposite direction earlier in the day? How far do they travel each day? A small pod, five or six, must have discovered an early supper. They stirred the water, arching their sleek bodies above it. One dolphin thrilled all of us watching from the shore; he jumped high out of the water and danced on his tail.

A flock of pelicans flew overhead in a V formation. One line of the V was shorter than the other. When the leader at the vertex drops to the back of a line, will it find its place on the shorter side? If the same number of birds fly on each side, does the flock stay together better?

What possible purpose could small black flies have? One lit on my leg and before I could smack it, it bit me. How can something so small cause such an intense pain?

The dragonflies are gone. Not a single one in sight. Yet, two days ago, as the gray rain clouds gathered, dragonflies swarmed around the green shrubs and grass planted outside our rented condo. They lingered for twenty-four hours, some wandering to the beach. Why did they come out in full force when it rained? Where do they hide on warm, sunny days?

I close my eyes. Ah, the beach. A perfect place to nap.


At the Beach

DSC00876I hold her hand tightly.  She tiptoes along the dry sand and then onto the wet, just washed sand.  Together, my two-year-old Grand and I stand as the ocean water laps our toes.  Elaine wiggles her hand out of my grasp and marches toward the breaking waves.  She stops when the white water covers her ankles.  “Let me hold you hand,” I say.  “We’ll jump the waves.”  I covered her hand with mine.  She looks up at me, jerks her hand away, and shouts,  “No, Gran!”  The next wave is bigger and stronger.  She flings her arms out to maintain balance.  My hand on her shoulder gives support.  The water retreats.  She turns and runs to her mother who is standing on dry sand.  Mother lifts Elaine into her arms and Elaine burrows her head in Mother’s shoulder.  “Are you okay?”  Mother asks.  Elaine sniffs and says, “The water fall me.”

I carry my young Grand perched on my hip and walk along the seashore.  Just where the water surges onto the sand.  “Ah, Elaine, the water tickles my toes,” I tell her.  She lays her head on my shoulder.  “Tickle, tickle, tickle,” I chant,  “Oh, my toes are wet.”  She jerks her head up and leans her body to see my toes.  “Tickle, tickle, tickle,” I say.  She wiggles and slides down my leg.  Her toes touch the water.  She stands still; her body rigid as she watches the salt water cover our feet.  She grabs for my hand and clutches my finger.  “Tickle, tickle, tickle.  Our toes are wet,” I say.  Together, we stand and let the water lap our toes.  I pat my foot and the water splashes onto her knees.  She stomps.  “The water tickles your knees,” I say.  She stomps, again and again.

Elaine and I hold hands and walk on the dry beach.  “Shell, Gran!” she shouts.  She picks up a tiny broken white shell and runs to me.  “Hold it!”  I open my hand and she lays her treasure onto my palm.  “Hold it tight!”  She runs a few yards, stops, and gathers the shell fragments around her feet.  Her small hands are full.  “More shells,” she says as she unfolds her fingers and drops her shells into my hands.  It was a short walk in distance – maybe twenty feet.  A long discovery walk.  Shells of all colors.  White, brown, black and all sizes, but no whole and unbroken seashells. Yet each a treasure in Elaine’s tight fists.

I rest, reclined under a beach umbrella, and Elaine sits in my lap.  We watch her brother and sisters and parents and Pop swim and play in the ocean.  Pop and Elaine’s older sister are jumping waves; Pop lifts Elaine’s sister high as each roaring wave breaks under her feet.  “What they doing, Gran?”  Elaine asks.  “Jumping waves.  Can you hear your sister laughing?”  I say.  Elaine nods and stares at her sister and Pop.  “Gran?”  she says.  “I wanna’ jump.”

I stand beside Pop and lift Elaine as he lifts her sister.  The white water splashes her feet.  “Higher!  Gran!  Jump higher!”  Elaine shouts.  She grips my hands and stands knee deep in the water, waiting for the next wave.

Motion Picture Show

     A cool, rainy day during our family beach vacation wasn’t a bad thing.  An excuse to sleep late, to get out of the sun, and to explore the area.  A day to browse a bookstore’s shelves.  A day to drive seven miles for a special hot dog, one with sweet potato mustard.  A day to shop the big box stores that we don’t have here at home.  And best of all, a day for the monarch butterflies in South Carolina to realize it was time to fly further South.

For a couple of days, we’d seen a few lone monarchs fluttering near the vegetation on sand dunes.  Beautiful, bright orange butterflies with black markings.  But when I walked on the beach in the early morning after our cool no-beach day, I had to dodge to avoid a butterfly that tried to sideswipe my ear.  They flew in small groups, three or more together, with an occasional single one fluttering fast to catch up.  They weren’t a mass of orange, like the film produced by National Geographic, but they created a calming motion picture show along the shoreline.  Right where I had my beach chair and my Grands played.

I knew enough to tell my Grands that these creatures were flying south to Mexico where they’d live through the winter and then fly back to their northern homes next spring.  And that they didn’t need a map; they flew by instinct.  After my Grands ran out of hearing range, Husband asked, “But don’t butterflies have a short life?  Just a few weeks?”  That complicated my explanations.  Would these same butterflies make the long 3,000-mile flight to Mexico, winter in tall trees for several months, and then fly back?

The migrating butterflies we saw, appropriately called migrates, are the great great grandchildren of the monarchs that flew north this past spring.  Monarchs go through four generations in one year.  Four generations from eggs to adults.  Next March or April, the butterflies we watched will return from migration to lay eggs on milkweed plants and die.  The first generation will live only two to six weeks after laying its eggs.  Same for the second generation that will be born in May and June, and the third generation, born in July and August.  And then the long lifers, the migrates, will be born in September or October.

“Look at the monarch that landed on my toe,” I said.  He sat, still, with wings outstretched.  My Grands weren’t impressed.  Maybe because I’d talked about monarchs all day.  I was amazed.  These small insects were imprinted with an inherited behavior that would bring them back along this same beach next March or April.  With lots of luck, I’ll remember how to make the 500-mile trip from Cookeville, without a map or a GPS, and meet them there.

After all, monarchs are the only butterflies that migrate.  Someone should greet them to celebrate their successful journey, and the sequel promises to be a picture show worth seeing.


When? How? Why? Will you?

“When can I open my first bag?”  my Grand asked.  Just like all five year olds, she likes surprises, and her mother had packed five bags for her to open while she rode with her Pop and me to the beach.  A five hundred mile car ride.  Her mother’s suggestion was that my Grand open a bag, filled with snacks and quiet sit-in-your-seat activities, to mark each hundred miles, 100 to 400, and one for whenever I thought she needed it.  She needed it to mark twenty miles travelled.  And her question was the first of many that my Grands, ages 3, 5, and 7, asked during a week’s vacation with their parents, baby sister, Pop, and me.

How big is the beach?  How much water is in the ocean?  How far is it across the water to land?  How long would it take to get there?  In a boat?  On a plane?  Where did all this sand come from?  How far can we see?  When do the waves stop?  Do shrimp have bones?  Does a starfish have meat?  What lives in those little holes on the beach? Will the dolphins swim close to us?  How come high tide isn’t the same time as yesterday?  Why don’t we have little tiny frogs at home?  How long does it take a monarch to get to Mexico?  Do we get a special treat (such as ice cream) every day while we’re on vacation?

Some answers were easy, some a guess, and some required research, and all were answered to satisfy each Grand’s curiosity.  I don’t intend to repeat the answers – except a few.  I answered that starfish do not have meat, but they do.  They are best eaten after they’ve been boiled, and several should be served since there is only one small bite of meat in each.

Those little holes in the sand?  I’d assumed they were critter holes, and I was wrong.  I googled coastalcare.org and learned that while some tiny sand fleas jump into them, these holes aren’t homes for sea life.  They are formed by the rising tide.  As waves crash onto the beach, the airflow under the sand is so strong that air is pushed above the surface and makes small openings.  They are often called ‘nail holes’ because none are larger than the diameter of a large nail.

Of all the questions my Grands asked, my favorites required no thought, no research, and a simple one-word answer.  “Gran, do you want to jump in the waves with me?”  “I’m going to make a blueberry sand cake with drippy icing.  Wanna’ help?”   “Gran, will you come play with me?”  I couldn’t get out of my beach chair fast enough.

I hope my Grands never stop asking questions.