Walking Full Circle

"We're at the lake, Grandma!" Devon's excitement marks the beginning of a five-hour trip spanning three miles around Lake Nokomis, and fifty-plus years of family history. A circle of life beginning at a bridge.

Grandmothering is really different.

I wait by the water's edge, poised and ready to catch Devon if he leans too far over the cement retaining wall. One by one, the rocks splash into the mouth of the creek as it flows quietly into the lake. "See those breakers, Devon?" I ask.

"Grandma, you try."

His four-year-old voice commands obedience as he holds out the precious rock. I throw it in as he watches me. Splash! Devon looks intently at the water. He throws another rock, looking closely, as it splashes. He turns to me. "Let's stay here," he says.

"Devon, should we find a fishing spot?" I ask. Graciously he takes my hand; we walk along the shore until we find a small sandy spot where he can throw the bundle of sticks he gathered along the way. One by one they land on water. "Sticks float, " he comments.

"Why do the sticks float," and not the rocks?" I ask.

"It's what they're made of," he answers.

I stand there, looking at him. How does he know that?

We move on to weeds, and I feel my friendship with this little boy deepening. A friendship built of joy, held together with rocks and sticks and wonder. We walk along the water's edge, he on the edge of his toddlerhood, me on the edge of a transition from active mothering into the empty nest. I find this freedom exciting, but I long for the comfort of lasting family bonds. I find them while we fish for weeds. Devon holds his long stick, a tree branch from the recent storms. Into the water he dips, and up comes a slimy weed. "Here!" he shouts with glee. "I caught this weed!" His happy voice reminds me of the relativity of everything. I remember the dandelions of my early girlhood, and of course, the art of peeling sticks. Some things never change.

Weed fishing takes awhile, so bring your patience. Slowly he works, one stickful at a time until all the weeds within his reach are caught and dropped into a pile upon the sand. He offers me the stick. "Grandma, you catch that one." He points to the clump beyond his reach. I fish them in. He approves. I note the authority of his mannerisms, seeing in my mind the continuous barrage of do's and don'ts to which he must yield himself each day. I decide to put him in charge for the rest of the day, wherever possible. We look with pleasure upon the weeds we've caught. "Good job, Devon," I offer praise. We move up the bank onto the grass.

"A park!" Off he runs toward the sandy beach, into the water while I chase behind. What is Rachael, his mother, going to say, I wonder. He shows me his "swimming" technique; I stand by, praising and encouraging. I help him float. We walk into the "deep water" up to his chest. He grabs my legs. We head back to shallow water and he plays again. I check for signs of chilling, and lead him out with mention of a hot dog. Devon agrees, and we make our way across the sand to the concession. So far we have walked about a half mile. We are hungry, and it's lunchtime.

We eat and feed the birds from a box of popcorn. Devon enjoys feeding the birds. He asks curiously about whether they like popcorn, and where they like the popcorn to be put. He spreads some on the ground, and makes little clusters of popcorn in a few places. Swallows and bluebirds come, and he delights in them.

"Devon, do you want to take a walk all the way around this lake?" I ask. He looks across the water, and agrees. I am wondering whether this is a good idea or not. Last year we came here often, but I had a stroller for him when he tired. He is four now, and he doesn't use a stroller. Three miles seems like a long walk for a four-year-old, but he walks all day, every day. We can rest as much as he wants, I think, so our trek begins. The first milestone is the bridge. Devon runs part of the way, and walks happily until we get to the first lookout. He is awed by looking down at the water. We talk about not leaning too far through the bars of the railing. Starting again is an effort for him, aided by his sight of the second lookout. When we reach it, I give him the sticks I've gathered. He throws them, all at once, into the water below. He notices our second landmark from this lookout, so we move on toward the fishing spot. This spot has small rocks, but no weeds. It is also a resting place for ducks. We stay there a long while, watching the ducklings and their mother. He picks rocks and throws them in, giving me some, too. I wonder at the tenacity of his rock-throwing effort. Again, again, and again he throws them in. Each one a new excitement, just as thrilling as the one before.  

But even mother ducks can't hold the attention of a four-year-old for very long. We begin the third phase of this incredible journey, and we don't go far before Devon finds an unenexpected treasure: a natural tree house. It is a big old tree, a joining of several trees, with a rounded out floor space, bounded by the uprising trunks of the original trees. Devon and I climb in. He explores each nook and cranny of the treehouse, asking about its "windows" and its "floor." We both enjoy the magic of being in the treehouse; it feels the same at fifty as it does at four. This discovery brings me to the essence of what "young at heart" really means. I feel really happy, in love with life, with Devon, and with myself. Our friendship strengthens, and we moved on.

By now we've walked about a mile and a half. We're about halfway around Nokomis, and all is well. The hot sun feels warm upon our heads, and for the first time, the words "Grandma, will you carry me?" are spoken. I had known this would happen. I had prepared myself to see him through this walk successfully. "Let's walk together, just a little further, Devon, until we get to that dock. See that dock, where the fish are playing? We'll stop there to rest. We'll find a shady spot." He accepts this guidance with no trouble, but I can see he's getting hot. I hope we'll get to the fountain before he gets really uncomfortable. I move off the path onto the grass, where shade keeps us cooler. We make our way while picking more sticks. Devon finds a peeled stick, which he keeps as a wand. His mannerisms have softened on this walk. I notice how he negotiates with me, rather than commanding as he did when we first started. Being in charge makes one less likely to dominate, I observe. This too seems the same at fifty or at four.

Walking at Lake Nokomis on a Sunday afternoon means meeting many dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, friendly, dogs, aloof dogs, excited dogs, and affectionate dogs. Devon embraces any dog who shows a liking for him, and expresses a curiosity about every other dog. His liking of dogs makes him open to new friends--the owners of the dogs--and Devon's pleasure in these new friends cheers me. Airplanes, too, interrupt his continuing task of picking sticks to throw into the water. Each airplane brings him to my legs, and I hold him. Last year he loved the airplanes, this year he fears them. Why?

"Stick em up, you're under arrest!"

"Devon! Where did you learn that?"

"Bugs Bunny," he replies triumphantly. We laugh together and walk on. My thoughts turn to Devon's great grandfather, my dad. I consider what he would say if he could see this delightful boy, his great-grandson. Dear God, I pray, let this boy have peace in all his life, Amen.

By now we've arrived at the fish dock, and he runs toward the wooden planks. People on the dock are fishing. "Shhh! We'll scare the fish. Look! See those baby fish!" Devon is lying down now, his head over the edge of the dock, mesmerized by the school of baby minnows swimming just inches from him. Another boy is trying to fish. They strike up a conversation. Something here is very real. I can feel the life energy of these two boys, their brotherhood in learning, and their pure enjoyment of a summer day.

After awhile, we head for the fountain. Devon's head is hot. He whines, "Grandma, carry me." I have mercy, and pick him up. I carry him about ten paces, then, I gently put him down. We make it to the fountain just in time to prevent a too-hot boy from crying. It's a pump with a fountain to drink from. A man is pumping when we get there. Devon drinks and drinks and drinks. Then I wet his head with water to cool him. I drink too, and he wets my head with water to cool me. I receive the love of this child, my grandson. The cool water washes my face. The unknown man pumps for us until we have drunk and cooled ourselves. I thank him. We rest there, and Devon plays with the pump.  

We've walked about two miles. We're getting tired. It's almost the time I said we would be home, but we haven't finished our walk yet. Not far to go, though, and Devon has definitely gotten his second wind at the pump. We walk gently, talking and resting, until we come to the bridge where we started. We sit on a bench. "Devon, can you see accross the lake, where we already walked?

"Is my treehouse there?"

"Do you remember the hot dog place?" I point to it.

"Yes, where is my treehouse? Can we go there again?" he asks.

I show him the full circle we have walked, pointing out where the treehouse is. "It's too far to walk today, but we will come back. Devon, you walked all the way aound this great big lake, what a fine, strong boy you are!" There are no words to describe the joy upon his face.

"Now it's time for us to go."

Georganne Krause lives in Minneapolis. She is a grandmother to four grandchildren, and will welcome another grandchild in the spring. This is her first contribution to Minnesota Parent.

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