“I thought you'd be younger”

It was sweet by comparison to hear “Grandpa!” as a stand-alone greeting coming from a squeally voice, instead of following a string of expletives out of a swerving monster truck on the I-5.

A cozy couch cushion of grandchildren

A cozy couch cushion of grandchildren

   The purpose for Carol and I traveling to Chicago in January was to meet and babysit for my side of the generational issue of grandchildren. The run-up to Carol's meeting of Harper, 7, and Juno, 3 1/2, was upbeat. “She sounds nice,” Harper had told my daughter. This was to me anyway, in sharp contrast to this exchange with Juno on my previous visit at Thanksgiving:

Me: Did you have fun with Grandpa?

Juno: No.

Me: Are you sad Grandpa is leaving?

Juno: No.

Me: But you're going to miss Grandpa, right?

Juno: No.

  

The annotated Carol and Harper portrait

The annotated Carol and Harper portrait

   Getting crossways with Juno is not difficult, however. A simple gesture such as singing along with her as she belts out a verse or two of “Let it Go” is enough to secure her enduring displeasure. After a faux pas of that magnitude, even showing up with a stuffed animal buys about as much lasting goodwill as substituting M&M's for green beans, which is to say momentary at best. When my daughter piggybacked Harper up to bed the night before they left for their trip, Juno said she wanted a piggyback, too. I said to her, “Do you want Grandpa to give you a piggyback?”

   “No,” came the reply before I had the chance to finish ‘piggyback.’” And this after paying the better part of a king’s ransom in M&M's throughout the day

Grandpa in a dress, from Juno's famous "blue period”

Grandpa in a dress, from Juno's famous "blue period”

   I knew, though, the scent of grandmother lay heavy upon Carol, and within a few minutes of their meeting, I could tell my role during the remainder of the babysit would be to lay low and keep a close eye on the M&M inventory.

   Even storytime, which had been a hallmark of my previous visits resulted in a relegation this time around. When I announced it was time for bed one night, I was unceremoniously informed by Juno, “You read a story to Harper and Miss Carol will read a story to me,” In one cold, callous reset, I had lost half my bedtime audience. And I suspect it's not a temporary reassignment either.

   It had all begun so promising. At dinner the first night, Harper and Juno drew pictures of Carol and I. Harper's renditions were mostly of Carol and her together. Juno's were mostly abstract expressions of me wearing a blue dress. I should have realized roles were being formulated even then, but I didn't.

Harper teaching Carol the finer points of Mariokart

Harper teaching Carol the finer points of Mariokart

   There was a small measure of satisfaction that came when Harper, apropos of nothing, suddenly said to Carol in that non-circumspect way of a seven-year-old, “I thought you'd be younger.” I smiled with the satisfaction of seeing the two plus years of being my junior that Carol has come to revel in, if not assert some hairsplitting advantage, dissolve in the dulcimer pronouncement of an innocent child.

   But it was Juno who reclaimed the moment. “You're fun,” she declared to Carol.

    I should have kept mum, but I couldn't. “Do you think Grandpa is fun, Juno?”

   “No.”

   I realized later I should have been holding a bag of M&M's when I asked.