The scene when we walk through the front door is familiar.
A few residents sit watching TV in the living room. Today, Dora the Explorer is on. Another resident has dozed off in a nearby recliner, buried underneath a patchwork afghan. An upright piano stands against one wall, covered in plastic. I wonder if it has ever been played.
And there she is. A frail, white haired woman nestled in the faded floral couch staring at, but not really watching, the adventures of Dora and Boots.
Would this be the day she recognized me? Will this be the day I will bamboozle myself back into her memories? I suspect as soon as I see her it will not be.
“Hi Grammie, it’s me!” My attempts to sound upbeat and carefree sound feeble even to my own ears. “How are you today?” I continue lamely.
She looks up from her cartoons. “Hello, dear,” she answers back. She sees me. But she does not see me.
We join her on the couch. We make lame attempts at small talk, while the kids watch Dora.
“How are your parents, dear?” she asks.
“They’re good,” I say, knowing my dad had visited her the day before.
We talk about what the kids are learning in preschool. What they’re going to be for Halloween. How my daughter takes after her mom more than I’d care to admit.
“Monkey see, monkey do,” Grandma quips back. I can’t resist smiling about this. The memories may be gone. But her sense of humor is something that has remained intact.
Our small talk winds down, and I realize our visit is nearing an end. I wave my daughter over, and say, “Come give Great Grammie a hug before we go.”
My daughter hangs back. “No,” she pouts.
“Come here,” I hiss. She cowers by her father’s knees and digs in with a resolution and stubbornness I know too well. I know it is not going to happen.
She is scared. She doesn’t really know her great grandmother. I felt guilty. Because it’s my fault. We live 10 minutes away. And yet, we visit rarely.
I make a thousand excuses for this. We get busy with our daily lives. But the truth is, my excuses are a lame attempt at bamboozling myself.
The truth is, I’m scared to visit. I wonder when we walk in the door if it will be a good day, or a not-so-good day. I wonder if she’ll remember me. I wonder if I’ll have glimpses of the grandma I remembered growing up, or if she will be as much of a stranger to me as I am to her.
The truth is, I’m selfish. When we visit, she is there physically. But she has not been there in other ways for some time now. I miss her. And I’m scared that I won’t be able to recapture moments when she looked into my eyes, or those of my children, and regarded us with more than gratitude to a stranger for coming to visit a lonely old woman.
As if reading my mind, my toddler son steps up to the plate. He reaches out and grasps her hand. He looks down, seemingly surprised by how soft it is. Almost like his own.
Grandma caresses his fat little fingers between her own. She doesn’t recognize him. But, perhaps, in the back of her mind, she recalls raising seven children of her own, and a time when her own children had hands that perfect and small.
“How old is he, dear?” she asks me for the fourth time since we arrived.
“He’s almost two,” I answer again.
“You’re doing a wonderful job with them. I can see how much you love them. It’s important to pass that onto your children.”
My vision suddenly goes blurry. I don’t want to cry in front of her. Or my children.
“Just like you did, Grandma,” I say. She just nods and smiles back.
“I love you, Grandma,” I say as we get up to leave. “We’ll be back to visit again soon.” And I know as soon as I utter the words that I may just be bamboozling myself again.
But my last words seem to resonate with her. She looks excited for the first time since we walked in the door. “Oh, would you, dear? These visits are what keep me going.”
I can only nod my head as I get up and try to make it to the door before the floodgates open. We will be back. I swear to myself, that next time, I’m not going to bamboozle myself with excuses not to go.
I owe it to myself to get over my own selfish excuses. I owe it to my kids to have memories of their great grandmother.
And, most importantly, I owe it to her.