My mother has joined us at the beach on Anna Maria Island. This is her first time in Florida. It’s also the first time it’s been too foggy to see the Gulf of Mexico, which normally glistens outside our window.
I’m acting as if the weather has a personal vendetta against me. My logical child is trying to remind me that weather systems are separate from any individual human. He’s talking about heat flow, and I’m thinking “how we will cram into this small space without driving each other mad.”
Past family gatherings have involved birthday cakes for Jesus, full readings of the declaration of independence, and climbing onto rooftops to feed crackers to cats. I don’t imagine we will make our odd version of magic this week.
Stuck inside for the second day, my mother watches my son’s science video.
She’s known for pulling away from the curb when I still have a foot on the ground. “I thought you were in already.” She steps over relaxing bodies in yoga class. “Shavasana is a waste of time.” She clears half full wine glasses from the hands of guests. “I thought you were done.”
She is not a patient woman.
In forty years, I have never seen her sit still without a manuscript on her lap. If she’s not working, she’s jabbing the counter furiously with a sponge, making endless lists for her daily grocery store run, or unloading a third full dishwasher.
“Who can wait for a full load of dishes?” She lives between 5 minutes and twelve months in the future. At Thanksgiving dinner, she is planning the plating for the following year. At lunch we talk about dinner. On Monday we discuss Friday – because who has any use for Tuesday to Thursday.
Those are superfluous days.
Back at the beach, she watches the video. It isn’t until after she’s started that we tell her it’s 30 minutes long. Thirty minutes of a ten-year-old explaining the hierarchy of matter. As she nears part four of eleven, I look over at her perched on her stool. I expect her body to be twitching.
Instead she is rapt.
When my boys were born we discovered the friction to her perpetual motion machine. She would lie for an hour in the hammock pretending to to be a lost boat at sea rescued by the dedicated coast guard workers. She read children’s books on repeat.
She slowed her walk to the pace of toddlers.
“I hope your teacher watches the whole thing,” she says, my mother, the Harvard professor. “Of course she will, pronounces my excited scientist.” Hmmm, deflects my mother.
At minute 24 she looks up from the laptop. 80% through – I figure she’s given it her best. But it’s not impatience that interrupted her. It’s the activities of her other grandson, who stands across from her, offering color commentary on the video as he snips bits from a soccer sock he’s wearing on his left arm.
The sock stretches all the way to his elbow and the puff of the heel does not please him. So he will customize.
“What is that?” she asks. “A sock arm.” He answers. She simply looks back at the screen.
“I really hope your teacher watches the whole thing.”
“Of course she will,” answers the budding scieintist. “It’s her job,” adds the sock arm wearing long haired boy. “Yeah, right…” she mutters skeptically.
In the twilight of a long and lauded career I imagine she has taken some short cuts.
She’s not taking a short cut today. Even as the video continues to freeze she sits through the buffering without a buffer. Waiting for her grandson to continue to express his amazement over the universe.
Finally, the video is over. The sock arm walks into the big sliding door facing the blank beach. He bounces off with a reverberation and the boy laughs with glee. My mother is on the other side of the door on the phone with her partner.
She doesn’t see him so he bounces again turning his accident into a bit of physical comedy.
On the phone with her partner I hear her sign off. “Dittto.” I interpret this as a response to a lyrical declaration of love. So efficient. Then come her blond grandsons.
“I love these boys,” she tells me. “I love these boys so much” she says kissing their heads in sequence.
And she does. Present in this moment.