Madison is our oldest granddaughter. At 10, she's all grown up, according to her. She's beautiful, smart, funny, and in the family tradition, an eccentric. Her super sized brain is always humming. Churning over ways to drive her mother nuts, keep her sisters and brother in line, put together the perfect outfit, and in her spare time, plan world dominion.
But, she loves camp. And, cooking.
When she was much younger, and we lived much closer, she'd stay with us for a week in the summer to go to camp. But, first things first. She'd charge through the front door, plop her backpack down and head to the kitchen.
“You’re going to be a gourmet you know,” is what I'd tell her.
At first, when she wasn't even walking, she'd fake cook with Tupperware and wooden spoons. She’d crawl over to the Tupperware drawer, pull herself up, yank it open and throw it all out. Armed with the ice cream scoop and measuring cups, she’d cook for hours.
Then, she graduated to cooking the coffee. I’d sit her up on the counter and she’d measure out the coffee grounds, spoonful, by painfully slow spoonful, and dump it in the coffee filter. This. Took. For. Ever. I was reminded why I didn’t have the patience for this sort of thing when I was a young mother.
Now I’m a Saint. At least that’s what I'd tell her.
When Madison was 6, going on 7, she and great grandma (my mother) came to visit for a week of FUN IN THE SUN! Madison arrived, primed for a week at beach camp, and more serious cooking since she was BIG.
My mother, you should know, is a miracle of medical and psychological science - a four time cancer survivor, the first of my father’s seven wives, the 2nd wife and widow of her recently deceased 2nd husband, and a lifelong smoker. She's a heavyweight, make no mistake.
I’m an only child, so my children and grandchildren are her only, too. She's as overbearing as you’d think. Or, perhaps more than you’d think. After the birth of my son, she came over every day. Not every other day, or every third day...every single day. To point out everything I did wrong. Which was, apparently, a full time job.
Probably, overbearing doesn’t quite cover it.
I'd finally decided to have a serious talk with her about boundaries. We were both adults, after all. So, the next day, when I heard her station wagon roar into my driveway, right on schedule, I hid behind the couch and pretended I wasn't home.
As you might imagine, the passing years have only made her stronger.
She hovered over Madison like a plane waiting for runway clearance, which clearly rubbed Madison the wrong way. That, and the kissing. Great grandma's cigarette/coffee breath was more than she could bear. So, having to spend nearly three hours with great grandma in the car, plus the idea of a whole week in the same bedroom with her, seemed a high price to pay for a week at camp.
Understandably, Madison arrived at my house in a mood, but the prospect of cooking had potential. She'd celebrate her 7th birthday during her visit, so things could definitely pan out.
Despite great grandma's continual, nagging interference, the days flew. Madison spent from 9 to 3 every day surfing and kayaking. Life is a cabaret when you're 6, going on 7. Every evening, we’d cook dinner. In between those times she and great grandma tussled over all things minor.
"She's old, but she means well." Is what I'd tell her. Good luck. Every man for himself is what I'd think.
Soon enough, Madison’s birthday arrived and it was time to make birthday cake. Because Madison was so BIG, she'd graduated to measuring, stirring, and sifting. Chopping, the stove top, and the oven were still pretty much off limits. At least that’s what I'd tell her.
Ever the optimist, when it came time to cut the cake she'd so painstakingly helped make, she reached for a butter knife, expecting me to do the usual protesting. However, in the family of knives it was a relatively harmless one, so she thought there was a slight chance I might relent.
To her surprise and delight, I handed her the serrated cake knife, which to her might as well have been a cleaver. I put my hand over her much smaller one and guided it over the cake. Together we cut the first slice and I told her, “The knife has to move right through without sawing back and forth. It can be more dangerous to use a smaller knife when you need a larger one. You have to have the right knife for the job.”
We proceeded to cut several more slices. The only thing that made this more perfect for Madison was great grandma making suck, suck, sucking sounds in the background. The kind she makes when she wants everyone to know she disapproves heartily of whatever’s going on, but far be it from her to say so.
All in all it was a pretty good day for a 7 year old - sun, sand, ocean, cake, and semi-supervised rebellion with a big knife. Not only was great grandma taking in air like the Hindenburg but Madison felt pretty sure her mom wouldn’t have liked it either.
Life was good, my friend. Life was good.
The rest of the week flew by and soon it was time to go. After the usual Madison/Grandma breakfast wrestling match everyone packed up and headed to the car for the long trip home. Madison burst into tears and clung to my legs.
I should note that Madison, much to her mother’s chagrin, is not a sentimental child. At the ripe old age of 3, in a room full of youngsters, she gleefully blew Santa’s cover. This bombshell wreaked havoc all around and ensured employment for therapists for years to come.
So, as saintly, and as grandmotherly, as I had behaved during Madison's stay (we did get donuts every day, and there was that one time I wore flip flops), I still suspected that the prospect of missing me wasn’t what brought on the torrent of tears. Madison insisted otherwise and protestations ensued.
She just couldn’t possibly stand the thought of leaving me.
Now I felt really sad.
Truth be told, I was going to really miss her.
I am much more “grandma” like than I want to admit.
Could it be? Had it finally happened? Had I finally wrestled the “best grandma in the world” crown away from my mother?
I grew misty eyed remembering how I let Madison ride up and down the escalator at Nordstrom’s 6 times, even though it was the half yearly sale, and that woman in stretch pants was holding the last pair of Stuart Weitzman leopard print stilettos in a size 5 ½ when she was clearly a size 8.
It was possible after all!
I could see that crown hovering over my head, maybe a little wobbly like Queen Anne going to the guillotine, but I wasn't going to get hung up on pesky details when a victory was in sight…
I pulled Madison aside, and I told her, “Don’t forget I love you very, very much. You’re my favorite in the whole wide world. I’ll call you tomorrow and you can call me whenever your mom says you can.”
I told her over and over so she’d never forget.
Finally, on the verge of tears myself, I put my beloved granddaughter into the back seat of the car, great grandma already in the driver’s seat (suck, suck, sucking sounds). I strapped her into her seat belt, kissed her forehead and still wet cheek - my fallen angel.
Madison faced straight ahead, ramrod stiff, and moved only her eyes sideways to look at me. The biggest, bluest eyes in the world, eyes that are exactly like her mother's, and but for the color, very much like my own.
With my heart breaking, I said, “you won’t forget what I told you, right?”
Staring, with laser like intensity, at the back of my mother’s head, Madison said, “No, I won't. You have to have the right knife for the job.”