Hit trees with sticks, but not hard

How to take a walk with your granddaughter

a Sacramento freelance writer
Originally published in the April 2012 issue of Under the Gum Tree, a Sacramento-based digital literary-arts magazine published quarterly. To get a copy of the current issue or to submit your own story, visit www.underthegumtree.com.

Ab—my short form for my granddaughter’s name, since it seems cute, though she’s never indicated she thinks so, and I’m just too lazy to keep repeating her whole name—is 3, and I am to baby-sit her for the day for the first time by myself, wondering what on Earth or in the known universe I am going to do with her. (Ab’s grammie, as she’s known, would have had in hand a dozen games and “pwojects,” as Ab’s brother calls them, all organized, “off-the-shelf-ready,” prior researched as appropriate for a very precocious and active 3-year-old girl.)

What do I have? Zip, zero, nada, niente.

So pathetic that I have butterflies and begin to sweat as I approach the house of my son (Ab’s dad).

At the house, Ab’s parents review the essentials: food location, phone numbers in case of some emergency I can’t handle (doubtless there are many), on-site games and the like. Suddenly, some insight of unknown origin leads me to blurt out, “Ab, what would you like to do today?”

Deep in thought, finger to her chin, Ab responds, “Grampy, let’s go to the park,” referring to a beautiful greenbelt, fields, playground and nature preserve nearby. Whew, it’s a start! I feel like I’ve won the lottery, hit a grand-slam home run or similar euphoric achievement.

What follows is a glorious experience where I am alternatively a spectator of her ingenious choice of the most obvious and simple things to do and co-participant, feeling returned to days of my youth when out of school, without encumbrances like books or lunch pails, my friend and I would explore the Oakland Hills—a sense of freedom I don’t remember feeling as an adult.

Today Ab and I study tiny, bright yellow and red bugs that crawl up, down and around leaves, grass and rocks—for what seems like hours (though more likely minutes). We gather two small sticks and Ab announces, “Let’s hit trees with sticks, but not hard, Grampy; we don’t want to hurt them.” I don’t ask why we are doing this; it seems so reasonable, on this day, in our universe.

Next, we stretch out on the slightly moist grass and describe for each other the people, animals, and things we see in the billowy white clouds of the day’s partly azure, partly white sky.

“Look Grampy, there’s Mom and Gumby [Ab’s dog]. Isn’t that one like a rabbit? And there, my teddy bear?” The entire sky fills with familiar objects, and if I don’t often see them, she always does.

Still later, we walk on an impossible-to-stay-balanced-on (at least it was for me; she did fine) beam, then to the playground where she undertakes a game on the merry-go-round that I can’t grasp—the rules seem to change constantly with each revolution as if dictated by some invisible presence.

“Grampy, don’t you get it yet?”

Finally, after several hours of this sheer joy, a kind of blissful meditation on the magic of childhood, she keels over—well, not literally, but pretty close: It is nap time.