Le Petit and I were in the midst of a power struggle over hand-washing the other day when Grandpa walked in the door. Suddenly the squirmy, recalcitrant three-year-old was all sunny and eager-to-please. The metamorphosis was startling and immediate, and a moment later the hands were clean as well.
My father and stepmother were visiting from Seattle, and for five days le Petit got a daily dose of Grandpa and Gramby. It was like a boost of healthy vitamins for him, or better yet a special dessert, like the cake you only get once a year on your birthday. Le Petit was beside himself with excitement. There were new toys, and new books to read, and two new voices to read them out loud. Best of all, there were two new laps to sit in.
Of course in no time at all he expected them both to be at his beck and call and often they obliged. They take their job as grandparents very seriously. Le Petit got "surprise plates" at lunch with his favorite foods sliced into bite-sized cubes courtesy of Gramby. He sang songs with Grandpa -- often the same song, over and over again -- and was accompanied to the park, to the merry-go-round, to the square with his scooter.
"It's not square!" he informed us. "It's a circle!"
Because, sure enough, his English blossomed during the visit, enough to pick up new ambiguities in his "mother" tongue. He was right, I replied; the nearby square *is* round.
He quietly recited his new Dr. Seuss books to himself and I listened in, amused and encouraged. Then tonight, Grandpa and Gramby's last night in town, he ran around the house madly (preschoolers, like cats, have an early-evening 'witching hour') singing an approximation of 'America the Beautiful.' He's an American after all, thanks in large part to an American family who loves him and won't let him forget it.
Le Petit learned, too, that family from any corner of the globe will accept you as you are. Once their novelty wore off somewhat, he treated Grandpa and Gramby to plenty of his signature three-year-old stubbornness. He even threw his first-ever tantrum in English, screaming repeatedly "I want my hat!" -- his winter hat, scandalously left at home on a table -- on the sidewalk outside the apartment and refusing to go hatless one block to the nearby pharmacy. Grandpa took him inside to get the hat, then calmly escorted him back to meet me and Mademoiselle at the pharmacy. Grandparent patience often magically kicks in when parental patience is wearing dangerously thin.
Meanwhile, during the visit, Mademoiselle was serenely observing these two intriguing people. She seemed to know already, instinctively, that they love her immensely. For five days there were extra arms to hold her and two new faces to smile at, with voices attached that sounded a lot like Mommy's. She took this all in calmly as another reassuring truth in her new world.
I, in the middle of the whirlwind of life with two small kids, was grateful for an anchor, a steadying presence, and a reminder of where I come from. I was also grateful for ready help with the dishes and the ever-accumulating laundry. Perhaps best of all, I didn't feel like I had to act perfect, or be anything other than a mom winging it in the middle of everyday, comfortable chaos. To me, a recovering childhood perfectionist, this was a gift.
I cried when they left. I held Mademoiselle on my shoulder as I hugged them both goodbye, and wondered if she or le Petit would notice the sadness in my voice or the tears on my cheeks. That's OK, I decided: they'd simply learn that sometimes the best visits end in (joyful) tears.