On May 6, 2000, I married M’s grandfather.
As I watched that cute little redhead wander down the church aisle, stop to dump out her entire basket of flowers, then take off her shoes, I vaguely wondered how I could learn to be a grandmother when I was still trying to figure out how to raise 12- and 14-year-old boys.
I had no idea how to “do” a little girl’s hair. I’d have to buy a rocking chair. I barely needed the sporadic Miss Clairol moment. But there she was, my new little granddaughter, acquired as part of the package deal to which I said “I do”.
It turned out to be quite a bargain, that package deal.
I bought a rocking chair. M rather liked having her hair flow free when she stayed the weekend. And somewhere in there I must have done something right, because at age 3 she stuffed every Barbie doll she owned into her little backpack and announced that she was running away – to me.
Eventually, her little sister S came along and joined us for those weekends: with two teenaged boys, two little girls and two dogs, we were our own weird version of Noah’s Ark. At night, I would wrap first one granddaughter and then the other in her favorite blanket and rock them to sleep, cocooned together in soft lullabies and sweet little girl dreams.
When their grandfather died, the girls and their parents became his legacy to me. It was always a forever kind of deal.
If the visits slowed over the years it was only because growing girls develop lives of their own and I live an hour away. Still, I go up for plays and awards when I can. The girls come spend a few days with me a couple of times a year. And as a buffer against the day they grew up, I made a promise: when each girl graduated, she could pick a city anywhere in the contiguous 48 states and I would take her there. It would be our last big adventure before they went off to adventures of their own.
17 years after she became my granddaughter, M graduated. A few weeks later, my son drove us to DFW airport and we were off, on our way to New York.
After rushing through security, we had barely enough time to grab a bite before they called our flight. That’s when I realized I’d lost my license. Leaving M with our bags and my breakfast, I raced (figuratively) back to the security checkpoint. It was the last place I remembered having my license. I remembered putting it in the tray along with my purse. I remembered the tray flipping over on its way down the conveyer. My license had to be there. Red-faced and panting, I reached the checkpoint and started my search, always aware that our flight might be called at any moment. It wasn’t there.
Maybe someone had found it. I turned around and saw a guard smirking at me, license in hand. “Name?” he asked, although who else looked like that woman on the license, I don’t know.
I rushed back and managed to swallow my breakfast and a few gulps of coffee before the flight was called. As we settled into our seats, I remember thinking, “Well, if that’s the only bit of excitement…”
I should never, ever think those things. Murphy always reads my mind.
I had decided on a shuttle bus to get us to our hotel, so we could see a bit of the city as we drove in. As it turned out, the bus had advertising on the windows, blurring everything around us.
About 20 minutes from our hotel, M’s mother called. She’d gotten a call from the man who had M’s suitcase.
We hadn’t known it was missing.
We remembered grabbing her zebra-striped bag. It was the one with the pink yarn bow and Mickey Mouse tag, wasn’t it? We weren’t sure. M’s mother had the man’s number. M called him from the shuttle. He was desperate to retrieve his bag. You know, the little red one...
Oh. Not the checked bag. The man had accidentally grabbed M’s carry-on. We agreed to a rendezvous point and set out to meet a stranger in a strange city to recover my granddaughter’s footwear, and somehow that set the perfect tone for adventure.
We spent a day on tour buses (the ones where you sit up top), and dodged low-hanging branches and got a little sunburned.
We shared our pretzels with the pedicab driver in Central Park and posed for a million pictures.
We dressed up one night and went to see The Lion King. We were mesmerized.
On our way out of the theater, a couple of shirtless young men in construction gear were bantering with passers-by and the tall one figured I was old enough to safely tease so he called me "white chocolate”, among other things, and I blurted out, “You’re old enough to be my son!” which confused him and made M laugh.
We explored the 9/11 memorial, went to the Met and took the ferry out to Liberty Island.
M navigated our walk from the hotel to the Empire State Building and became an expert at hailing cabs.
We ate at a deli, had a slice of New York pizza, found a diner near the hotel that served eggs with plantains, and got hotdogs from a street vendor.
We saw the homeless pregnant woman on the sidewalk. And the man terrified of a monster that only he could see.
We saw street artists and amazing dancers in parks. We stopped to listen to the saxophonist on a bridge.
And we asked for stories from every cabbie, every Lyft driver, every waitperson we could. Usually, we got more story than we expected.
I sat on a bench in the Museum of Natural History to rest, while M explored the vast building. Pretty soon another grandmother came over and sat down next to me. Her granddaughters promised her (in Spanish) that they’d be right back and they wouldn't get lost. I must have smiled or something, because my bench mate greeted me in Spanish and we had a nice chat. When her girls came back, the little one threw her arms around me and neither of us grandmas chose to explain that I was actually a stranger, not an old friend of her abuela’s.
M wasn’t ready to leave when our five days were up. Nor was I.
But then, I wasn’t ready for her to grow up so fast, either.
She turns 19 today. Happy birthday, dear girl. May all of your adventures be good.