My brother and I had the best possible babysitters – our two sets of grandparents. Sometimes we stayed with our grandparents who lived in town, but more often we would stay at the farm. Our parents dropped us off before dinner on Friday evening, and we stayed until Sunday.
When I was eight and my brother almost four, our parents went to Florida for a week. My brother stayed at the farm, but I went to our town grandparents because they lived closer to my school. They did their best, but I was unhappy. I missed my mom and dad, and because I’d been reading a book about an orphan, I was convinced they were dead and never coming back. I cried every day. I cried at breakfast, I cried in school when I tried to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and I cried at night in the little bed in my father’s old bedroom. Because I was afraid to tell them what was wrong, my bewildered grandparents took me to the farm at the end of the week to be with my brother. There, soothed by the familiarity of the place and by my Grandma Hall’s ample lap, I told her my fears. After reassuring me that my mother and father were coming back, she fed me dinner and sent me upstairs to bed in Ellsworth’s room.
This small bedroom at the top of the front staircase had been my grandfather’s bedroom when he was growing up. The bed was in an alcove and sported an enormous number of blankets – I once counted ten. When I snuggled under them to read my comic books, I was pleasantly stuck in one position by the weight of the covers. The pillows were soft, and there was a light over the bed that I turned on and off by pulling a long string. I don’t think I’ve ever again slept in such a comfortable and comforting bed.
But the two attic doors at the opposite end of the room were not comforting. There were rat holes in both doors, and I was scared that the rats themselves would come out while I slept. It was a legitimate worry, but minor compared to the fear of losing parents.
It’s hard to tell what children are thinking. When my daughter and son-in-law spent the night at the hospital after the birth of their second son, I stayed at their home with my four-year-old grandson. We read books, took a walk, went out to eat Chinese food, brushed our teeth, and put on our pajamas. But as we were climbing onto his bed to read stories, he began to sob so hard that it caused a “spill” (his word for throwing up) of the wontons and the soy sauce all over the bed covers.
While my lap is nowhere near as ample as my grandmother’s was, I try to be a reassuring presence for my grandsons. So after the cleaning-up, and the drying of the tears, and the calming-down, I asked my grandson if he wanted to sleep with me in the big bed. He did, so we went upstairs, tucked ourselves in, and watched a cheerful cooking show about making cupcakes. He was fast asleep before the cupcakes came out of the oven.
On Wednesday: Farm Cats