Being the photography nerd that I am, I always like to document family gatherings. That’s especially true when we gather for special occasions like birthdays.
Our oldest grandson recently turned 14, as you can surmise by the numerical candles in his marble birthday cake. I asked his siblings to join Evan at the table for a quick photo before the cake was cut. Knowing from past experiences that all three like to ham it up, I specifically asked Evan, Davis, and Maren for a decent shot. This is what they gave me. It was the only shot I took because their poses perfectly reflect their individual personalities. I couldn’t have asked for a more candid shot if I had wanted it. Welcome to the new definition of “decent shot.”
We love our grandchildren. No headline news in that statement, I know.
But since the oldest of the three was born 11 years ago, Nana and Poppy have watched the trio, Evan, Davis and Maren, grow up from afar. All three of our grandchildren were born in Austin, Texas. Nana made sure she was on scene to help at each birth. Poppy arrived once the excitement had waned.
It wasn’t easy having your grandchildren 1,450 miles away. But we managed. We visited as often as we could.
We went for birthday parties at fire stations, helped carve pumpkins at Halloween, and any other time we could manage. The physical changes in the kids between visits were visible.
When our daughter announced five years ago that they were moving to Virginia’s beautiful Shenandoah Valley, we were elated. Now they were only 350 miles away. The overland trip still took six and a half hours.
We visit as often as we can, and we still marvel at how all three change, even if it has only been a few weeks since we last saw them. A recent visit drove home that stark reality for me.
Evan is now nearly as tall as Nana. As you might guess, he is as active as any 11-year-old can be. He is a sports fanatic, with baseball his first love. That should be no surprise. From little on up, Evan enjoyed anything that would roll, or he could throw.
Davis is a very inquisitive youngster. You can tell he’s left-handed. Now nine, Davis has a gift to explore and imagine. He’s as happy playing with a stick as he is with an electronic game. How can you not like a boy like that?
At five, Maren is our pink tomboy. She is a girly girl if there ever was one. She enjoys helping Nana bake cookies. She hustles at soccer and baseball, too, even if her long, golden locks occasionally block her vision.
I remember as a youngster how much I loved being around grandparents. Though he had little, Grandpa Merle often brought us candy. Our dentist loved him, too.
I can still hear the hint of that soft, lovely southern Virginia accent in my Grandma Frith’s voice. My lips still smack at the tart taste of her made from scratch lemon meringue pies.
Nana and I want to create those same memories with and for our grandkids, too. It’s just a bit harder with all those old age mountains between us. Still we do what we can.
I’ve always played a guessing game with all three of them. I hide an object in one of my fists, and the kids have to find which hand it’s in. During a recent visit, Maren guessed with such accuracy that I encouraged her to go buy a lottery ticket. Her response? “What’s that?”
It’s been a joy to see each gain confidence. Davis fearlessly dove off a swimming pool diving board. He asks more questions than even I have answers. To me, it seems just yesterday that he was poking holes in Texas fire ant hills.
As the oldest, Evan strives to ensure that he is not usurped of that position as if that were even possible. Still, he’s one smart kid when it comes to mathematics and board games.
It’s nice to see our grandkids progress from diapers to where they are today. I just wish those eight mountain passes weren’t in the way.
We wouldn’t have missed this birthday bash for the world. As Maren’s grandparents, we were among the chosen few to attend her fifth birthday party.
Like we needed an excuse to visit. Nana and I would gladly traverse the 350 miles across eight mountain passes between our home and our daughter’s in Virginia’s always-lovely Shenandoah Valley to attend this special event.
Unfortunately, a dubious hitchhiker volunteered to accompany us on our trip. The nice Virginia weather changed to the stuff we had left in Ohio not long after our arrival in the valley.
We weren’t going to let a little discomforting inclemency spoil our celebrative spirits, however. The blue-eyed towhead Maren would turn five regardless of the climatological elements.
The party was just what Maren ordered. You would think a five-year-old girl who loves pink would go glitzy when given the chance to help plan her own party. But no, Maren only wanted family, plus a few close neighbors.
That is exactly what she got. She was the youngest in the cozy crowd.
Surrounded by her parents, her two ornery older brothers, and her MawMaw and Nana and Poppy, a festive evening of fun began with the opening of gifts and cards. What does a preschool girl get for her birthday? Why, jewelry of course, and books, and the one gift Maren hoped to receive, a Lego Dolphin Cruise liner.
The wet weather did postpone the only outside activity planned. The breaking of the piñata had to wait until the next morning.
While the kids went to a room to assemble the multitude of plastic pieces to create the boat, the table was set, and dinner prepared. Dessert was a delicious and preciously decorated cake done by a family friend. Of course, multicolored sprinkles, including pink, speckled the creamy white icing.
A candle in the shape of the number five topped the tiered, sparkly cake. A lone, perfect flame danced atop the crooked candle until one strong puff from the five-year-old snuffed it out.
Maren and her parents posed for a photo, and then it was back to the dry dock for the kids to complete the boat building. With three young engineers, the cruise ship was assembled in record time, encouraged on by teenage neighbors. The youngsters were all smiles when the last piece snapped into place.
However, there was one remaining meaningful gift for the birthday girl. The graduate school tenant who occupies the apartment in the basement of our daughter’s home brought a rather special surprise. It seems earlier in the year Miss Maren had secretly negotiated a contract with the tenant, who wanted to raise a garden, including watermelons.
Since Maren loves watermelon, she took it upon herself to wrangle a deal that had her receiving a portion of the ripe melons. Being a good sport, the tenant, majoring in peace studies, put her lessons into practice.
As the crops grew, however, nothing more was said about sharing the watermelons. Apparently, Maren was more satisfied with sealing the deal than cashing in on it.
Maren may have forgotten about the compact, but the tenant hadn’t. The last gift presented to Maren was a miniature watermelon saved just for her.
The watermelon gift was a cool idea that warmed the congenial birthday gathering all the more. Unless it was a stowaway, I don’t think the fruity cargo made the maiden voyage of the Dolphin, however.
My parents took my brothers and sisters there. My wife and I took our daughter and son there. And now, our daughter and her husband have taken their three children there, too.
“There” is Lakeside, Ohio. Nurturing body, mind and spirit, it’s an ideal family vacation destination. Activities abound for youngsters through oldsters, all under the umbrella of the Chautauqua community’s four pillars, religion, recreation, arts and entertainment, and education.
Of course, my wife and I were excited to have our daughter and her family, and her husband’s mother, too, join us for our annual Lakeside retreat. The last few years we had accompanied them to their beach vacations. I hoped the grandkids, ages 10, eight and four, would take to Lakeside the way they took to pounding waves on ocean beaches.
Located on the south shore of Lake Erie on the Marblehead Peninsula, there is plenty of water, just not much sand at the little Lakeside swimming area. There would be no challenging the waves this year, or so I thought.
Another concern was that Lakeside thrives on traditions of the past, when times and communication were both slower and life seemed simpler. I wondered if the kids would miss their high-tech toys in the quaint town, founded in 1873 as a Methodist Church camp.
Even at their ages, our grandkids are no different than any others. They can run iPhones, iPads and iPods, and I can’t. I hoped they would embrace Lakeside’s wide variety of low-tech opportunities.
Boy did they ever, partly because some of the educational and recreational activities involved technology. Kids and their parents, or in come cases grandparents, built Lego robots. Faces flashed accomplishment when their robots responded to command.
The four-year old painted a beach bucket in an art class. She also easily made friends playing in the sand with little girls she had never met.
While adults attended classes and lectures, the boys each had more fun building toy boats. When completed, they held their maiden voyage in the children’s pool.
Under the abundant shade of the giant hardwoods, the kids wore out the miniature golf course. It was in the same grove of trees where I had picnicked with my family decades ago.
Our grandkids discovered a Lakeside treat. They downed fresh donuts, made daily at an iconic seasonal restaurant. However, what really got our daughter’s family’s attention were the shuffleboard courts. Too concerned with watching boats and birds, I had never paid much attention to the game even though national and international shuffleboard tournaments are held at Lakeside.
Thanks to my grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law, that changed. I learned more about shuffleboard in one morning than I had ever known before. They shuttled the disks down the well-maintained courts until it was time to head out. In other words, they had a blast.
No Lakeside vacation is complete without at least one round of dominoes. The grandkids learn to play that game, too. I have a feeling the dominoes will click the next time we gather.
I was wrong about the waves, too. When the northeast wind kicked up large whitecaps on the lake, the kids stood at dock’s edge hoping to get spritzed. At the famous Marblehead Lighthouse nearby, they successfully dashed from one rock ledge to the other, teasing the waves.
It was great to see our family’s next generation enjoy Lakeside so much and in so many ways. It truly was what Lakeside is all about.
Time was running out. We had already visited with our daughter and her family in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley a month earlier.
With sport seasons and the school year both winding down, it was time to return if we wanted to see our two grandsons and our granddaughter play some ball games. We got our wish and then some.
All three of our grandchildren enjoy sports. Evan the 10-year-old, Davis, almost eight, and Maren, four and a half, all play baseball, and Evan and Maren also participate in soccer.
Games and practices were held after school of course. The weekends were wide open. Oftentimes the games for all three were played back-to-back or sometimes they even overlapped. Fortunately, both sports generally used the same field complexes.
Nevertheless, it still took much planning and preparation to ready three youngsters for their games. Baseball required them to bring their own bat and batting helmet. Mom had to have their uniforms clean, too.
When granddaughter Maren played, her team, the Buttercups, had all of three players. The boys’ team they played only had two show up. It was tee-ball after all. This late in the season the coaches did throw a few pitches for the hitters before having to resort to the batting tee.
The coaches kept the players on their toes, although with so few players, that really wasn’t necessary. There was no time for playing in the dirt or lounging on the outfield grass, which according to our daughter were not uncommon occurrences when the games dragged on. Young attention spans can be as short as the players.
I’m happy to report that Maren got a hit with her pink bat and her pink helmet, and she scored a run as well. Defensively, she literally had first base covered.
Lefty Davis usually jumped on the first pitch thrown to him. In one game, he batted four times and saw only five pitches in tallying four hits. It was fun watching both the youngsters field the balls that came their way, and the throws they made. Their play reminded me of a few Major League teams I’ve seen this year.
Evan is a real sports enthusiast. Tall and solid for his age, he did a fine job of pitching. I won’t mention that he hit the first batter in the head. Besides his competitive drive, Evan has excellent form both on the mound and at the plate, and often makes all-star teams.
We spent much of a Saturday morning watching Maren learn soccer skills at different stations using several creative interactive games, like Stuck in the Mud. Players had to stand with their legs wide apart and a soccer ball above their head. They could only move if another player kicked a ball through their leggy wicket.
The activities served their purpose well. Valuable and essential skills were taught without the kiddos going away winners or losers.
Evan’s soccer game was more aggressive, and the older players’ skills were most evident. It’s nice to win, but it’s nicer still to see the emphasis based on the game’s fundamentals.
Of course, we didn’t spend all of our time at the kids’ sporting events. They played board games, and electronic games, too. I’m not sure where they were when we were pulling weeds around their house though.
Spending time with the grandkids is always special for us. For Nana and Poppy it was time splendidly spent, and always a win-win proposition.
This winter’s wicked weather altered many well-laid plans, especially for travelers. My wife and I were no exception.
We delayed our trip south by a day due to a winter storm in the Appalachian Mountains. The extreme cold air followed us all the way to northern Florida.
As we readied to return home at vacation’s end, yet another major winter storm was chugging up the Ohio Valley. We weighed our options about our return trip. It would have been delightful to remain in place. But we needed to return home. It was time.
South Carolina and North Carolina were still recovering from one-two punches of unusually extreme wintry weather that downed thousands of trees and caused massive power outages. We didn’t want to risk being stranded there either.
Fortunately, we had an attractive option that would take us well out of the way home. We decided to visit our grandchildren in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a year-round scenic place. It was a big sacrifice, I know.
We hadn’t seen our grandkids since Christmas. It was only logical that we should avoid the storm by detouring to Harrisonburg. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
Oh, we had a lovely two-day drive to their hillside home near the university where their daddy, our son-in-law, works. But the storm detoured, too. The morning after we arrived we awakened to three inches of snow overtop a quarter inch of ice.
It snowed all day, doubling the snowy accumulation. Of course, schools were closed, giving us bonus time with our three grandchildren, Evan, Davis and Maren. It was a vacation within a vacation, like finding a diamond ring in a box of Cracker Jacks.
The backyard where our daughter and her family live is perfect for sled riding. The day we left Ohio a month earlier, it was 15 degrees below zero. So I had plenty of warm clothes to wear, including the pair of waterproof shoes I wore while walking on the beach.
We bundled up, grabbed the day glow orange toboggans, and went out into it. We had a riot. Little Maren, the daring four year-old, really isn’t so little anymore. She laid supine in one of the sleds and zipped down the gentle slope and slid right into the neighbor’s backyard.
The boys whooped, and Maren immediately recognized her amazing accomplishment. She jumped up and screeched with glee, “That was just like a rocket booster.”
That’s pretty much how our two and a half days with them went. We would play outside until the cold drove us inside. As soon as his jacket was off, Evan was setting up the game boards, or dealing the playing cards. He loves table games, not only because he is competitive, but mostly because he usually wins.
Davis was content to unwind and warm up on his own, playing his creative, imaginary games with his Lego people and assembled utilitarian pieces. I hope I’m alive when he is awarded the Noble prize in the sciences.
If she’s not playing with Davis, Maren knows all the buttons to touch on the screens of the iPad or laptop whichever is available to her. When I get over my pride, I’ll have to have her show me how to operate them.
My wife and I may have arrived home a week later than we expected. But in this case, the delay was no inconvenience at all.