What Happens at Grandma's House

>> Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Each time I take the girls’ to Grandma’s house, I half expect my mother to open the door wearing a miniskirt toga, golden sandals that wrap up to the calves, and a wreath crowning her head.

“Good evening, ladies,” she says, presenting a cocktail tray of pacifiers and lollipops. “What’ll you have?”

“I’ll have an orange sherbet Push-up with a chocolate milk chaser, please!”

“I’ll have a Cotton-Candy Pacifier!”

“Of course, right away.”

Grandma-slash-Cocktail Waitress turns to fulfill their request and the girls run after her, headlong into the din of toddler sin -- where chocolate milk flows from the faucets, where jelly beans are a suitable side-dish with Mac and Cheese, and where little mirrors with bubble-gum straws and piles of sugar are placed on the coffee table next to ceramic chickens and DAR memorabilia.

Because what happens in Vegas -- er, Grandma’s House -- stays at Grandma’s house.

If Caesar's Palace is the place where Michael and I enjoy nudie shows, stay up all night, and eat until we want to puke, then Grandma’s Palace is where toddlers watch non-stop Sponge Bob, stay up til midnight, and eat chocolate appetizers before dinner.

There’s a stage show, too -- a good one. Imagine visiting a magical place of wonder, where baby fairies hide in pumpkin patches, where a mystical storyteller weaves enchanting tales on command, and where wishing rocks can be found in every room.

It’s Cirque de Grandma.

And just as every Las Vegas resort has it’s magic show, so does Grandma’s Palace. I learned this after Elizabeth made an offhand comment about her beloved pacifiers. “Grandma’s magic only makes pacifiers for babies -- not big girls like me.” I assume this meant that Grandma produced a small pacifier and not the large, going-to-college sized ones that Lizzy has at home. But wait...

Grandma’s magic?

Apparently, Grandma provides a pretty decent magic act. Only, instead of making an elephant appear on stage, Grandini produces pacifiers... on demand... at any time of day -- which is something we forbid at home now that Lizzy practically has her driver’s license.

What happens at Grandma’s Palace stays at Grandma’s Palace...

When Grandma’s Palace opened a few short months ago, Michael and I struggled a bit at first. We were liberated. This meant we could go out, as adults, by ourselves. But we were equally frightened. What about all that hard work, instilling proper eating habits and inspiring the girls to read instead of watching TV? Would it all go to hell after a few hours at Grandma’s Palace?

We crossed our fingers and hoped for the best, but it wasn’t long after we brought the girls home that we heard the words we feared most:

"Grandma let’s me do it!"

I shuddered. What should I do? March over to Grandma’s Palace, confiscate the pacifiers, bring cotton-candy-sniffing dogs to route out the secret sugar hordes, and wire snippers to disconnect their cable TV? Should I establish certain laws -- laws regarding bed times and proper food and educational television? Would this require surveillance equipment?

Suddenly I imagined myself pacing back and forth in a general’s uniform with a whip in my hand barking orders to the cat who was furiously taking notes. I must confront the enemy. Send in provisions. Reestablish territorial boundaries. Because I’m in charge. Me. Me, me, me!

Then I looked over and saw a picture on my bookshelf of the enemy sitting next to a giant Elmo doll and smiling. I walked over to the picture and examined it. There was a button, so I pushed it -- it didn’t explode. Instead, I heard a voice:

Hi, Samantha! This is your Grandma. I love you so much and I can’t wait to visit you and see you again! Here’s a big kiss...smooch!


The “enemy” sent pictures to the girls of herself before she and Grandpa moved to California. In those days, Grandma traveled every two or three months from Florida just to see them. Sending “talking pictures” of herself was one of many clever ways she connected with them across the miles.

Then, like all great battles, I realized the enemy was within. For a moment I doubted who was in charge -- which is why I felt the need to fight for it. This is understandable since Grandma is actually my mommy who, for 18 years, was THE mommy in charge. Now that we were in close proximity, I was confused: who's in charge now?

It dawned on me like one of those obvious revelations we forget because they’re right under our noses. Like Oh look, I have skin! I realized, Oh, yea. I am in charge! Me. Mommy. In charge. Duh. No doubt. I didn't need to fight for it -- it was there for the taking. Like Dorothy and her red slippers, all I had to do was click my heels and voila! I'm Mommy.

We picked the girls up from Grandma’s Palace. They were minutes from sugar meltdown and total exhaustion -- but they were safe and happy. Then Grandma pulled me aside to explain she’d yelled at Elizabeth for something. Who knows what? It sounded reasonable to me. But Grandma went on and on. She really felt badly for punishing Lizzy, even though she was clearly right to do so.

And that’s when I realized something important once and for all. Grandma doesn’t want to be the boss any more than I want her to be the boss. Grandma doesn’t want to be Mommy. She wants to be Grandma. And what could be better for the girls than having a Mommy and a Grandma? Not much.

I put away my whip. In time, we learned that Grandma’s Palace provides a little It’s-OK-To-Be-A-Toddler Yin to our Do-As-I-Say Yang.

“Can I suck my pacifiers?” The girls were back home, nursing their glucose-hangovers.

“No, Lizzy. Not until bedtime.”

“But Grandma let’s me do it all day.”

“I know. But you’re not at Grandma’s house and we have our own rules here. Do you understand?”

“But I want them!”

No.Click, click, click. I am Mommy.

Elizabeth thought for a moment, acquiesced, then said, “I want to go to Grandma’s house.”

Of course.

I smiled. There was something familiar about all this. I’d heard these words before. In fact, I’d said them myself, to my mother, many years ago. Because as a child I knew: What happens at Grandma’s house, stays at Grandma’s house.

“Maybe you can visit next weekend,” I said and hugged her.

Hell, even toddlers need a day off once in a while.

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