They are no longer merely delightful. They are moving along, almost 5½ and are now alternately delightful and aggravating — to each other and to me. When I get aggravated, Tyler calls me “Grampy,” as in Grumpy Grampa. With each other, they alternate between the Battling Bickersons and Best Buddies.
But there is still plenty of delight as Tyler and Bryce arrive each week to overturn my life and living space. I notice a hummingbird sticker from Papyrus Stationery on the teapot in my china cabinet. Animal stickers adorn my dining room chairs.
They pull markers and drawing paper, puzzles, Play-Doh and Legos out from carefully stored niches on and under the shelving by the front door.
“I like it when I burp and taste something I ate that I like,” Bryce observes. They had their first cinnamon roll that morning.
I love the way they resemble the English language.
“They put it all in them’s car,” Tyler says.
“How do it suppose to go on that?” he asks, and later, “I is a alien.” I attempt a gentle correction: “I am an alien.”
“No,” he says. “I is.”
I remind them I won’t be here next week because I’m taking a trip to California.
“We bemember,” they say. They haven’t mastered “R” yet — or “L” either for that matter.
When we read books, they drape themselves on me. Reading is a contact sport. Sometimes Bryce straddles my shoulders and looks down from on high. If we’ve read the book already, they join the narration, pointing out all the details on each page because a good kids’ book always has lots of visual detail.
I open a new book with a picture of what looks like a walrus with a spike coming out of its nose.
“Oh, a narwhal,” Bryce says, matter-of-factly.
“Where did you learn what a narwhal is?” I ask, astounded. “I don’t bemember,” he replies.
They’re on to me. They know I write about them. As they play with their 282-piece Playmobil Ghostbuster station, Tyler says, “Papa Ken, can you make a newspaper about this?”
“Maybe,” I say. “You never know.”
But mostly they’re still innocently unselfconscious, oblivious to their adorability. I love watching them move with effortless grace, bordering on dance. In fact, Tyler climbs on my coffee table and attempts a tap-dance.
Thich Nhat Hanh said (according to a greeting card I saw recently), “To be beautiful, be yourself.” I might quibble with whether that applies to grownups. We develop several selves and don’t always present our best self because we misplace or bury it. But kids are beautiful — even when they aren’t at their best.
They sing softly as they play, contentment suffusing face and voice as they weave a Ghostbuster narrative aloud — until it collides with the other’s narrative, at which point serious whitewater negotiations ensue, sometimes at banshee decibel levels.
They grow happily exuberant to the point where they don’t know how to calm themselves down and I have to be the wet blanket. Actually, wet wipes work better. For some reason, they love these cool moist sheets, which also signal the transition to lunch. I offer PB&J sandwiches or salami & cheese. One chooses the first, the other the second. If you give them a choice, 99 times out of 100, they won’t agree. The hundredth time, they agree that they don’t want either. I make PB&J for Bryce and salami & cheese for Tyler. As soon as they see each other’s plate, they want both. But the cheese isn’t the cheese they’re used to. They want to know its name. They nibble it mouse-like and, grudgingly, approve.
During lunch, Bryce asks what I like most of all. Tyler brightly replies, “Us!”
You got that right, buddy boy.
Last week was Valentine’s Day. “Why don’t you decorate, Papa Ken?” they ask every time a holiday rolls around. While I clean up, they work furiously on several pieces of art, then ask for tape.
As we climb in the car to drive to Grandma’s, Bryce continues our lunch discussion.
“Mama is number one,” he says.
You got that right, buddy boy. She’s the top, she’s the Coliseum.
I mention the potholes in the street and they want to know more. I try to explain about expansion and contraction of pavement as temperatures fluctuate.
I’m used to 50-cent words when 10-cent words are required. I do my best. Hitting a pothole explains it better.
After nine hours together, Mama picks them up. They’re done with me. Mama, after all, is number one. So I kiss them goodbye and head upstairs. In my bedroom, I find three pieces of paper taped to the wall, my Valentine decorations. One depicts the three of us, armless but with big smiles. Another features four elongated hearts, bright red, one of which seems to have a window or doorway to enter. The final one bears the magic word we hope defines and dominates all our days together: LOVE.
Bryce told me he wants to decorate that wall for every holiday.
I’m suddenly looking forward to St. Patrick’s Day.