My son is on his annual trip to Grandparent Camp in the heart of Texas on my dad's ranch. Every year since he was an infant he goes to Texas in the summer and stays awhile. He absolutely loves it and it is a trip that we all treasure. It's good for everyone. My dad and stepmom treasure the time with him, he loves every minute of it and my fiancé and I enjoy the extra time for ourselves.
For my son, it's a chance to learn about nature and enjoy it. We no longer live in a world where your kid can run out the front door and play outside unsupervised for hours on end but at the ranch it is a mandatory activity. There are few pools you can find with diving boards these days but at the ranch you can cannon ball off of the diving board 80 times in a few hours. There are vegetables to harvest, hundreds of acres of land to water and animals to discover (Armadillos, axis deer, wild turkeys, owls, foxes, bats, skunks and rabbits all roam the land). There is a herd of longhorn cows to feed, rocks to throw in the Guadalupe River, weeds to pull, and tennis courts to ride your bikes on. In quieter moments he sits on dad's lap and just rests while watching hummingbirds after a long day of ranching. There are no iPad or game requests. There is no need for TV. He is way too obsessed with real life, old school style.
It's not just my son who reaps the benefits of these days. It's an incredible joy to see the effect this trip has on my dad. For a really long time my dad never aged. In recent years a few health issues have set in and though they are manageable it is a stark reminder of the preciousness of time. Nothing brings more joy to my dad than time with his grandchildren. My son, more than most of the kids who visit the ranch, wants to hang with my dad and be a ranch cowboy. They are summer sidekicks who work the ranch all day and that bond between them is one that I hope my son will always remember and treasure. The moments, captured in pictures like the one here, stop me in my tracks to consider the value of this time. I try to tattoo the memory in my heart and brain to help it remain fresh over the years.
Every year my dad and stepmom teach him things we need him to know. In past summers it was how to use the potty, how to ride a bike, and how to swim. This summer they are teaching him phone manners, keeping his emerging math and reading skills intact and sharing some basic lessons on how to drive the Mule (sort of like a golf cart that you drive around the ranch).
It's hard to get used to such a quiet house back at home. I miss him but there is no substitute for the kind of experience he is having with his grandfather on the ranch. And it's enormous fun to hear the stories of their ranch adventures and the things he is learning. Here's a snippet from last week:
"Mommy, we saw the baby calves today. We looked to see if they had weenies and one does! So that one is a boy. We saw the mommies feed the babies. I also saw a skunk spray but he didn't spray me. We did a rain dance and it worked. Last night it rained! I got to drive the Mule! Also, I saw an owl and a bat and I walked out on the porch and there was an axis deer RIGHT THERE!"
Such tales bring my heart joy and I can hear the sheer happiness in my dad and stepmom's voices. They teach him good manners and the importance of being a strong leader, following the rules and the importance of sticking to the rules that you know when you find yourself in a situation where the rules are unclear. They are building his character. In the summer before first grade, it's a critical time to understand these lessons.
As I have posted pictures I have received numerous messages about how lucky my son is to have a grandparent who is willing and able to spend this kind of time with him. That's very true. My son has seven grandparents. They all love him deeply and spend time with him. But there are limits to their time with him and the places they are able to experience. In my own life I had one grandparent, my Maw, who left a tremendous impact on me. She lived the longest and was more fun than the rest of my wonderful grandparents. When we were little we cried when she would leave. In later years she helped me understand and navigate life all of the time. We lost her in 2012. She died two days after I visited her with my children. It was as if she hung on long enough to say goodbye to us. I like to think of her and sweet Bella having tea parties in Heaven.
This week a dear friend lost her mother. All week I have thought of her and her children who are old enough to cherish a relationship with her and form lifelong memories with her. The love of a grandparent. is irreplaceable. I'm always thankful for the gifts my son's grandparents give him but never more so than this week as I receive precious memories in the form of pictures and stories and as I talk to my son at night and cant get a word in edgewise because he has so much to share with me. In a week where one of your best friends is saying goodbye to her mother, it's impossible not to want to cling to these moments. As our parents age and become frail, we will someday care for them. In some cases we already are. One day we will have to say goodbye to them. In the meantime, one of the greatest gifts we can give our parents and our children is the benefit of being together and bringing joy and wisdom to each other. I'm not even offended that my presence in this picture is not needed. I know they love me and they will be excited to see me again. They're just having too much fun to miss me. And that is lovely.