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My Turn: Lessons from Lily

Tasting our homemade chocolate chip cookies on a cool March day on the deck of my older son’s home near Lake Tahoe, my granddaughter and I chat:

“Where’s Poppa John, Grammy Candy?”

“Back home in New Hampshire, Lily girl.”

“You don’t live with him anymore?”

“No, sweetie, we don’t live together anymore.”

“Who is your husband now then?”

“I don’t have a husband now, honey.”

“You don’t have a husband, Grammy?”

“No, Lily, I don’t.”

“Well, then you better buy one, Grammy.”

I love the practical, no-time-for-sadness, move-on-girl attitude of my 5-year-old granddaughter, who was 3 the summer afternoon she offered me this advice.

Ever since she first began to chatter, Lily and I have shared straight talk. She’s frank with me, which can feel hurtful at times, although she never means to be, and I try to share my 60-something wisdom with this fast-skiing, ballet-dancing, soccer-star little girl.

We have developed certain rituals for my visits west over her brief years, which always include a visit to the nail salon.

Last Christmas, we chose to alternate one red nail with one green nail on each hand with a few sparkles added to hers.

This July, I took a leap and went for her color, “No Time for the Blues,” on my toes, avoiding my usual “Chick-Flick Cherry” or a pale pink, “Better the Second Time Around.”

We often bake cookies and play a round of mini-golf, where magical castles and hand-sized spiders quickly pocket our pink and green balls. She collects several hole-in-one shots each time we play, despite wild swings, and I usually lose, although I do have decent hand-eye coordination from playing tennis.

Occasionally we get out early for a hot blueberry muffin or a chocolate croissant at the Tahoe House with her baby brother, sweet Miles, whose 2-year-old swinging mood can turn us right around if he says it’s the wrong day.

This summer, after a morning visit to the town library to collect a few new stories and Dr. Seuss DVDs, Lily talked me into the sushi bar in Tahoe City for lunch, introducing me to vegetarian California rolls, which I loved at once, having avoided raw fish most of my life.

We liked them so much that the next day we bought a container full of avocado sushi for half the price at Safeway and sat with the hatchback opened, dipping them in soy sauce with heat steaming up from the asphalt parking lot.

Lily has also introduced me to the Thursday morning farmers market, where we nibble on Indian pumpkin-filled pan bread and chutney sauces, and buy fresh raspberries and artichokes to take home.

We build puzzles and LEGO houses and play princess – or possibly prostitute – with a red taffeta dress, silky scarf and black vinyl boots that reach the top of her short legs.

This summer we tubed the Truckee River together for the first time, holding tightly to a rope connecting us and laughing hysterically when Grammy got stuck on a large rock in barely a foot of low rushing water.

Each night we read stories and snuggle together in the big blow-up bed her parents set up for me in her purple-walled bedroom.

One night this summer, when I was home alone with the two little ones while their parents had escaped to the Russian River for a well-deserved weekend alone, my head began to pound.

It had been the second day of nonstop granny care, and I had forgotten how exhausting two young children could be, even when the younger one takes a long, midday nap.

After we put Miles to bed and got into our own jammies, Lily suggested she go to the kitchen freezer to find me an ice pack for my head. We fell asleep by 8:05 that evening, lying flat on our backs side by side, each with a book in our hands.

Lily worries about my forgetfulness and can’t understand why I might mix up Ashley with Charlotte, the two little Montana girls I had just met who were visiting their grandmother next door this summer. I told her my students often get called the wrong names, too, until I finally learn more about each of them.

One afternoon, as we drove to pick up her mom at the Truckee Surgery Center, we discovered her mother needed another 20 minutes before she could leave work. So we got directions to the Dairy Queen to beat the heat.

I couldn’t find the DQ just down the road at first, although I knew it was across the street from Ace Hardware, the Truckee store that sells everything from pepper spray to wine glasses to toilet parts to hiking shorts.

When I couldn’t find the driveway, Lily shouted to me from the backseat, where she sat strapped in next to her younger brother.

“You see, Grammy Candy, I told you that you forget things!”

I tried to explain to her that misunderstanding directions in an unfamiliar town was not quite the same as forgetting the name of a new acquaintance.

Lily sports jacked little arm and leg muscles that have emerged from her swinging on the monkey bars at the Commons Park and her determined skiing on the Squaw Valley Ski Team.

She is trying to understand how her body will one day grow breasts and possibly babies (she regularly stuffs her toy animals under her shirt to imagine the changes), and why my body seems to be at the other end of the spectrum.

One day as we were each getting dressed, she turned to me to ask, “Grammy, why is your skin so . . . loose?”

I laughed. Clearly my recent efforts at arm weight lifting and tummy core work over the winter had not done what I had hoped. Perhaps it’s not all bad that this child sees how a woman’s body changes over time.

Soon after this, she made amends by sharing with me, “Grammy, you always smell so good.”

Lily and I have become fast buddies, and with each visit I take west, I think of how one day I will fly out to the tall pines and wide open skies of northern California and stay for good, so that I can kayak with her in the deep lake, hike behind her along the winding trails in the National Forest and watch her grow into a strong, thoughtful young woman.

This sweet granddaughter and I have many more stories yet to tell one another.

(Candice J. Dale teaches humanities at St. Paul’s School in Concord.)

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