When my daughter asked if I would come up and "babysit" her daughter--my Grand--for three days, she had her reasons. She had to travel for her job. Ordinarily, if she had to be away, she and my son-in-law would patch together a series of babysitters and play dates to cover the time away. But it was the first week of school. That can be traumatic any time, but even more so this year. Not only would my Grand be going back to school, she would be returning after a year in Berlin. I understood the request. I made it my business to get there.
It may sound like the easiest, most natural thing for a grandparent to do--grannie as nanny for three days--but it's not necessarily that simple. Work files have to be loaded on jump drives; bags have to be packed and spouses/grandfathers persuaded (that wasn't too hard) to drive you to the airport.
It may sound like a lark--taking over the care and maintenance of a child in school--but it has its not-so-easy moments. It can be a long day from 2:00, when I pick her up from school, until 6:30, when her dad comes home. And then there's the pressure to get my own work done.
So there we were, 4:00 on a rainy afternoon. She is banging out some songs on the piano and asking me if I think she's playing from sheet music or it's something she made up. I call out random answers while I have my laptop open and I edit a Q&A story on the mortgage interest deduction. She wanders over, pulls up a chair and asks me what I'm doing. I tell her I have to shorten a story I wrote--it has to lose about 200 words. She wants to help. We start with the introduction and I let her delete the phrases and sentences that can come out. As we move along, we come to a word, "sacrosanct" that I used to describe the deduction's place in the political pantheon. She doesn't know what it means. I tell her it is sort of like "holy." Well, she says, why didn't you say holy? I tell her some of the other subtle meanings sacrosanct has and why it seemed like just the right word to choose. We talk about it some more and then move on to another unusual word choice. She's interested in discussing why I called the deduction "the darling" of homeowning taxpayers. When I have to fact-check the year the mortgage interest deduction became law, she knows exactly how to go to Google, and we find the answer together: 1913.
Since this is a Q&A in which I have interviewed four experts, I have set it up so that each interview has a section of its own. The name and title of the person heads up each section. When we get to the first one, she wants to know if she can change the font for the name. Why not? She fiddles around and soon the name of the first interview--a housing economist--is maroon with a double underline. On we go, she deleting words as I tell her to, she redesigning the look of each name and title.
I can't say how long we worked on my story--an hour maybe--but it turned out to be the highlight of my visit. I was able to share with her a little bit of what I do--what writers and editors do--and she was able to show me how adept and creative she is at the computer. It was fun for both of us. But more than that, it made me realize that memories are made of this. Certainly, it was memorable for me--sitting side by side at the kitchen table, heads bent together, concentrating on what we were doing.
The three days may have had their tedious hours, but the reality is, you can't get to the heights of a memorable moment without trudging in the valley.
What did my editor think of the colorful copy I sent in the next day? He didn't say. But how often does he get copy with the name of the chief economist of Fannie Mae all dressed up in maroon Tahoma type with a double underline. For all I know, it may have been a memorable moment for him as well.