Pat Debrovner

Close To Far From Plain Jane

I was busy at work one snowy morning, formatting the address my husband and daughter were going to give that Sunday, when the phone rang. It was our other daughter, Diane. "Mom, is there any chance that you could come over? Jane’s been saying that she wants to play with you."

"Oh, honey, I’d love to, but I’m in the middle of a big job on the computer, getting Daddy and Caroline’s talk formatted. Then I have a 1:30 physical therapy appointment. Maybe I could come over later, after her nap."

"Okay." Then I heard her tell Jane, "Grandma has some work she has to do now, but she’ll try to come over later."

I could hear Jane in the background saying emphatically, "I want her to come over now!"

There’s been a special bond between my granddaughter Jane and me for all of her three years. It pleases me so that she enjoys our time together as much as I do. Our relationship is closer than ever now, since I’ve become part of the team filling in for her nanny, Juliana, who’s undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Since the two of them love each other so much, we’ve all been concerned about how Juliana’s absence would affect Jane. I’m relieved and gratified to see how she’s rolling with the punches these days, adjusting to her new caregivers. She told me how much she likes Laura, her Barnard babysitter who often cares for her in the afternoons.

Her face lights up in an adorable grin when I arrive to pick her up at her nursery school. "Jane, it’s Grandma Patsy!" her teacher, Ashley, exclaims.

"Grandma!" Jane cries as she runs to me for a big hug. After I bundle her up in her jacket and hat and secure her in her stroller, we set out for home.

"Let’s stop at Old MacDonald’s!" she suggests.

"Okay! Here we go!"

We usually bring her chicken McNuggets home with us, but last week she wanted to eat them in the restaurant and, with no toys around to distract her, she finished them to the last bite. Sometimes her busy morning at school leaves her exhausted and on the ride home she’ll interrupt my chatter with, "Don’t talk!" and will fall sound asleep in the stroller.

But, once home, we play happily together with any number of her toys and art supplies. Something as simple as two balloons can provide an opportunity to gain athletic skills and have a lot of fun. "Balloon ball" involves each of us throwing a balloon to each other and trying to catch it. When I catch one of her "balls," she’ll often shout, "Congratulations!" Soon her imagination endows them with personhood. "Oh, my baby!" she’ll coo as she hugs and kisses a balloon in between throws.

She’s not quite ready to say goodbye to some babyish ways herself, like diapers. When I told her that we needed to change her poopy diaper, she said, "No. I’m not finished."

"Oh. How would you like to finish it on the potty?" I asked her. She paused and gave that some thought.

"Okay!"

So, I put her on the toilet with the potty ring and she did, indeed, manage to finish her business there, like us big people.

"Look! You did it!" I said with admiration. "Would you like to flush it down yourself?"

"Sure!"

Diane tells me that over this past weekend Jane wore underpants instead of diapers and was having a string of successes. But then she said, "I’m tired of being a big girl. I want to be a baby again and put on a diaper!" One day when I was with her, she didn’t feel the need for any clothing. She insisted on wearing nothing but a diaper.

But she does respond well to reasoning. When she doesn’t want to have me change a poopy diaper and I explain that I don’t want her to get a rash that would itch and bother her, she decides to cooperate.

One time this week, when we were playing with plastic alphabet letters, she suddenly threw them all on the floor with a mischievous look on her face, knowing what she had done was a no-no. At first, she balked at my request to pick them up. But when I suggested a little while later that we organize them in piles of the same colors, she joined in. Then, when she was lying in bed, ready for a nap, and I started putting the piles away in their container, she jumped out of bed and said, "I’ll help you."

When she wanted to ride her tricycle up and down the hall outside the apartment, she instructed me to wait for her at the end of the hall, quite a distance away. "Jane, I’m going to wait for you in the middle first, where the stairs are. I want to be sure you’re safe and don’t fall down the stairs."

She thought about it and agreed. "You wait by the stairs." Once she safely passed the stairwell, she liked me to race her to the end. The closer I come to overtaking her, the more exciting it was for her.

Jane loves to have me read to her, and she responds to how the actress in me dramatizes each story. I suspect the gene for performing has passed from me, through Diane to Jane. I have fun joining in on her flights of fantasy, being an old hand myself at make believe. Sometimes she likes to entertain the family with a show, like a recent one she called, "A rock-a-show! Sit there and watch!" she instructed us.

It always feels good when our time together seems to bring excitement and satisfaction to her life. The other day, as I donned my coat, ready for a good nap when I got home, I was more than compensated for the energy I had put out caring for her when she flashed a winning smile and said, "Grandma Patsy, you’re a beautiful baby sitter!"

Copyright © 2007 by Pat Debrovner