Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Operation Grandma Surprise

video


We called it Operation Grandma Surprise.

Michelle and I didn't expect to travel anywhere for the Christmas break. We thought how nice it would be to spend the holidays alone – just us and that boy, Nathaniel, who invaded our lives and turned it upside down more than a month prior.

But Michelle had an inch she couldn't scratch, and that itch was Christmas time with her family. For a few years running, we've packed Hviezda the dog and ourselves into the car and driven to Iowa, to eat and be merry with Michelle's family. It had become a de facto tradition, and an enjoyable one at that, and I think she was reluctant to break it.

More to the point, she misses her family around the holidays, when her brothers (and a sister-in-law) come from Nebraska and they, her sister, mother and other relatives gather to swap stories and swig concoctions ranging from spiked Egg Nog to Lover's Wine.

I understood all this completely, and the fact is I enjoy these visits nearly as much as she does. That's a testament to the welcoming nature of my wife's family. But this year, with a newborn, it seemed too much. A two-day drive with a baby not even two months old? Too daunting. Travel on a plane? Too risky. So, we mentally shelved the idea of going anywhere, comforting ourselves with a stress-free (baby not included in that thought) break.

But, as I said, Michelle got itchy.

She checked airline flights and fares periodically. Once I got wind of what she was doing, I did, too. The week before Christmas, Michelle found fares that were reasonable: We'd leave Christmas Day and come back before New Year's Eve, our anniversary.

"What do you think?" she asked.

I thought about it. I liked the idea of not traveling. I also liked the idea of seeing Michelle's family, including her brothers and our sister-in-law, who had yet to meet Nathaniel.

What really clinched it was Grandma.

Grandma Finck, or Virginette as I probably should call her, is a stout woman who shows zero sign of slowing down at the age of 80. The woman is maniacal about cleanliness and tidiness. The floor in the unfinished basement of her century farmhouse is so immaculate you can eat off it. I'm not kidding. I have never, ever seen anything out of place in that house.

Grandma, too, had not been part of the waves of family to meet and greet Nathaniel chez nous. And it was important to Michelle that it happen. This was the best time, she emphasized.

I agreed.

So, away we went, on Christmas Day, courtesy of United and hassled, frazzled connections, to Iowa. Nathaniel met his uncles and aunt and saw his grandmother and other aunt again. He met a new friend, one whose mother is already plotting to pair in marriage in, say, two decades hence. He met and babbled to Pooh Bear, who hovered over his crib dressed in an oversized gardening hat. He got his first breath of bone-rattling cold that it seems only the plains can produce.

And the day after Christmas, he met Grandma, or great-Grandma to him, when we showed up unannounced at her door – Operation Grandma Surprise.

As soon as she opened her door and looked at him, she smiled. And as soon as Nathaniel looked at her, he smiled.

I smiled. Michelle smiled.

We're so glad we made the trip.

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