When Sooby spends the night at our house, she is usually the first one awake. I will be lying in bed in that state of semi-sleep that comes with early morning, and I will hear her feet brushing along the carpet by my side of the bed--whereupon I will turn back the covers, scoot closer to Pa-pa, and make room for her to climb on up. She will snuggle in and try her best to be quiet, and for about five minutes or so, she can usually manage to do that.
That's why, when her morning routine varied from this not so long ago, we all knew something was up. On that particular morning, everyone had come downstairs except her. I was sitting in my overstuffed living room chair, gazing occasionally toward the stairs and wondering why she seemed to be sleeping in. She had never done this before.
And then, like a storm cloud, Sooby materializes at the top of the stairs. Her beautiful little face is fixed in a frown, with eyebrows furrowed and lightning flashing from those blue eyes. She takes the stairs slowly, one step at a time, looks daggers down on all of us, and spits the words out like sleet: "This is a hateful day."
The problem soon became apparent: This was the last day of the family's visit, and Sooby did not want to go home. She never wants to leave, and I never want her to. I think that is the hardest thing about the kids' living so far away. It seems like we are always saying good-bye, and doing that never gets any easier.
In fact, I can't even bear to stand in the driveway and watch the van back out and turn down the road out of our subdivision. So I stay in the house while Pa-pa assists with the carrying out and buckling in and final drinks of water.
Alone, I face an empty house where remnants of their visit still loom large in every nook and corner. The pack-'n'-plays are still up, and toys are scattered everywhere. A scum of dried food covers the kitchen floor. In the summer, wet swimsuits and towels litter the clothesline on the back deck. The bathtub toys are still wet, and three little toothbrushes stand at attention around the bathroom sink.
For empathy and comfort in these situations I turn to words of the immortal Charlie Brown: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it sure makes the rest of you lonely." He is, of course, right. Another time, he said, "Goodbyes always make my throat hurt. I need more hellos."
The irony, I suppose, is that the goodbyes are necessary in order for there to be hellos to anticipate and revel in later. I love hellos. These days, the kids are into ringing the doorbell when they arrive. Pa-pa and I go to the door and act surprised and delighted to see them standing on the porch. The surprise is fake, but the delight is not. Hello is what I live for.
It is almost time for the annual Christmas visit with its whirlwind of food and presents and general mayhem. It will be our first Christmas with Beenie and Zoomba, our grandsons born nine and six months ago. I am looking forward to a couple days of early-morning snuggles and good morning hugs involving little elfin creatures in flannel, footed pajamas. I am looking forward to hello.
On the distant horizon, another of those inevitable hateful days may be brewing, but I refuse to think about that right now. The hello side of a visit is a thing to be cherished. Surely, even Charlie Brown, in his infinite wisdom, would understand that.