Goodbye never gets any easier

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2014

This is not, as they say, my first rodeo. I know the drill. I’ve done it plenty. But it never gets easier saying “goodbye.”
Some years ago, when my husband changed jobs, we left our families and friends in California to move to Las Vegas.
It wasn’t easy, but we made the best of it. Our one big regret is the 500 miles it puts between us and the people we love. So we try to visit often, especially since adding grandchildren to the mix.
The difference between grown children and grandbabies is not how you feel about them. I love and miss mine all the same. But the little ones change overnight.

Skip one month in the life of a toddler and you’ve got to start all over. Not only will he forget you, he will look and act like an entirely different child.
My grown kids don’t change quite that fast. And if I don’t get to see them for a month, at least I know they’ll remember me.
They’d better. I’ve spent a lot of years chiseling my name in their memory banks. I started when they were born: “I’m your mama,” I whispered in their tiny ears, “don’t you dare forget me.”
I said it so often that in time I didn’t need to say it. I could just give them a certain look and they knew what I meant.
So far it seems to be working. Either they remember me or they’re pretty good at faking it.
The grandbabies are different. I don’t see them often enough to do much chiseling. But I try.
For starters, I send them stuff. Books, usually, that cost $3.99 and ship for free. I order online and a few days later, I get a call from a little voice: “Thank you for my book, Nana, I yuv it!”
Every time they see a FedEx truck, they shout, “Nana!”
When I go to visit, as I did this week, I try to spend time alone with each of them (preferably without their parents) doing whatever they like best.
Randy is 3. He likes to build train tracks. I built a trestle that went nowhere and he doubled over laughing when I showed him how trains can fly.
Henry is 2. He likes to play with his jungle animals. So I threw a jungle party and they all showed up: the lion, the rhino, the gorilla, the giraffe. And we danced until I dropped.
Wiley is 1. He likes his mama. I can’t do much about that. But he also likes to eat. So I fed him his favorites: eggs for breakfast, yogurt for lunch, pizza for dinner, crackers for snacks. And he gave me a big Wiley kiss.

I bathed them, diapered them, zipped them in their jammies and read 50 books, give or take. (“Goodnight, Gorilla,” “Giraffes Can’t Dance” and “Snuggle Puppy” were the biggest hits.)
Randy said, “Thank you, Nana, for being my nana.” Henry called me his “little darling.” Wiley pointed at me with his chubby finger and grinned.
Then I tucked them in bed, rubbed my face in their curls and asked God to watch over them forever and always and bring their parents home soon.
It was easy. Exhausting, yes. Even my teeth got tired. But it was a breeze as it always is to do something you were born to do. The hard part, as usual, was having to say goodbye.
It’s an unnatural act to leave someone you love — especially a child who can’t understand why you show up for a few days to build train tracks and throw jungle parties and let him eat too many crackers, only to get on an airplane and fly away.
There is no way to explain it. So I kissed their parents and promised to come back soon. Then I hugged those little boys tighter than I should and whispered in their ears, “I’m your nana, don’t forget me.”
Then I flew home and went online to send them more stuff.
You can’t buy love. You can only give it freely and hope to get it back. But $3.99 is a small price to pay for a memory.
At least until they’re teenagers and want me to buy them a car.
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