This grandchild of mine, my first-born grandchild, is quite a little lady...the first time I saw her, she was only hours old, lying in a hospital cradle. Tiny, perfectly formed, with no hint of anything but a peaceful countenance. She slept, with her hands folded up in a cluster of tiny fingers, and tucked tightly underneath her chin. Looking at her thus, there was no way in this Universe any of us could have predicted the strength and fury that was to develop inside that miniature human being...
My first recollection of the strength of her personality comes from a weekend when she was in my care, while her parents took a much-needed break away. The hours were passing peacefully enough, we spent the time with her sleeping, eating and listening while I read stories to her, one after the other, as she curled up on my lap. Then, about half-way through the last day that she was to be with me, slowly but surely, she began to test me. This almost-year-old darling little girl walked over to my stereo, pushed her tiny hands on the front of the glass doors on the stand, rocking the whole darn thing....and looking over her shoulder to see if I was watching.
"No, darling," I cautioned, quietly and softly..."Musn't touch, Sweetie..."
She rocked it again.
" No, no...you cannot do that, my child..."
She rocked it harder, smiling at me over her shoulder.
" NO, I said NO!"
She stopped, thought a minute and then rocked it really hard....rattling the bevelled glass doors alarmingly.
I stood up, slapped my hands together and said, " Now I mean it, you must STOP!" ...and took a few steps toward her...
She ran as fast as her 1 year old legs could manage, and promptly tripped over the edge of the carpet, falling face-first into the corner of my coffee table.
Shrieking, she lay on the floor, her face turning first scarlet, then white and then blue...
I ran to her, scooped her up in my arms, sickened when I saw her little lip cut, bleeding and swollen...we cuddled on the sofa for what seemed like an eternity, and then as her sobs subsided, she pushed herself upright on my lap, turned her tear-streaked face towards me, looked me straight in the eye....and smiled widely through her tears! Hiccupping her way through to the other side of her sobs, she slid off my lap, onto the floor and toddled toward the cupboard, where her afternoon bottle of milk waited. Looking over her shoulder at me, and smiling again, she reached up for the bottle.
We sat a long time after that, with her in my arms, a blanket wrapped around both of us, her bottle firmly planted in her wee mouth, and we looked each other in the eye for a very long time as she drank her milk, her eyes never leaving mine...at that moment we established a bond that has only grown stronger over the last 20 years. It was the one and only time that she tested me, seeing where the boundaries lay...pushing me and pushing me, until my line in the sand was drawn, and she was content.
We laugh today about the old, green Chrysler that I drove for several years..a huge, wallowing "4 door sedan" that the Chrysler company would advertise as a "family car." Before the Kyoto accord became a household word, cars like this were gas-guzzling monsters that were as safe as safe could be...far too big to ever allow the occupants to be hurt in an accident!
She was 4 or 5, the summer she learned about the dangers of the faux-leather seats in this car. I picked her up for a sleep-over one hot, hot summer day, and as she slid her tiny frame into the huge front seat, her shorts hiked up, and the cracks in the vinyl upholstery on the seat snared a bit of her skin and closed around it.
"OW!" she yelled, glaring at me from under beetled brows, her cobalt-blue eyes blazing at me.
"What happened, Nellie?" I asked, puzzled by her cry of pain.
"Grandma...you need to get a new car!"
"Why do you say that?" I asked...
"BECAUSE," she stated loudly and insistently, "This car has pinchy seats !"
The strength of her personality...one of the things I love best about this granddaughter of mine...she has the courage of 10 people, the stamina of 20 and the resilience of 100. This past few years, she was one of the high-flying stylists at a very toney salon in a luscious resort in the mountains, a few hours from home. Everything about the place, from the stunning mountain grandeur that spread before her as she looked out of her living room window to the lush, posh atmosphere of the lodge's main lobby and shopping area was a treasure in her eyes. When you're 18 and holding the world as you know it in your hands, it's pretty heady stuff. From an evening sharing a drink with some of the stars of the Edmonton Oilers NHL team to working her fingers to the bone organizing and helping to host an AIDS benefit in a local lounge, living and working in this mountain retreat was so seductive for her, that it took a few years for her to realize that it was not all glitz and glamour.
The edge began to wear off when her sensitive soul was bruised by the treatment she received on a regular basis from some of the guests at the lodge. Bored, waiting for their spouses to get out of the long boring business meetings that went on in the dark wood-panelled boardrooms on the lower level of the lodge, some of these people were unflinching in their treatment and criticism of the stylists at the salon. This child of mine waded through the worst of it, smilingly and calmly treating the rude and sometimes cruel clients with the "experience of the lodge" philosophy that she had been taught from the first day she began working there.
Gradually, after repeatedly being smacked with this rude and unfamiliar treatment, cracks appeared in the total delight that she took being in this place, doing this job. Then finally, after a "straw that broke the camel's back" day at the salon, she handed in her resignation, packed her bags and moved herself, her furniture and her beloved pet rabbit back home.
Today, she is working at an oil service company in town, making double the money she was making in the mountains. She's going back to school this fall, to university to study wildlife conservation, and her bank account has started to swell, finally. It's not a toney job in a swell resort facility, but it's good honest work that she gets paid good, honest dollars for, and the people she sees every day at work treat her with respect and kindness. Her strength and grit gets her through this stuff...it gives her the incentive to do something better for herself. It is this that I admire and love most of all about her...a sturdy, strong soul coupled with a determined, courageous spirit.
She'll go far, this child...not easily and not without pain. The beauty of it is that she still remains the epitome of generosity and thoughtfulness, in spite of the last few rough years.
When she was very little, we had a ritual that developed over a few months of sleep-overs at my home. I'd tuck her into her bed at night, hug her tight and say,
"Goodnight my darling child...I love you..."
"I love you more..." she'd reply, looking deep into my soul, with those cobalt eyes.
"No, I love you most," I'd tell her, smiling...
"I love you best, then, Grandma."
"Well, then I'll love you forever, Nellie," I'd say back to her, doing my best to keep from laughing at her stick-to-itiveness.
" Fine then, I'll love you forever more, Grandma!"
Most, best, forever, more...
Most, best, forever, more...
That's become our way of saying I love you to each other...she writes it on her cards and gifts to me, I 've had it engraved inside a ring that I had made for her graduation, it is on a set of ceramic tile magnets that I found for her locker door and we say it to each other at the end of nearly every phone conversation.
There's nothing better for me...most, best, forever, more....from this tiny, delicate, resilient young woman, my firstborn grandchild.