And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

We decided to take Grandbaby Maya Mae to the Racine Zoological Gardens. She’s been to the Milwaukee County Zoo a number of times, so we thought a visit to a smaller, more intimate zoo would be a great experience. We didn’t tell Maya one of the benefits of the Racine Zoo – it’s right next to Lake Michigan.

I was excited. Maya has three sets of grandparents. One has a backyard swimming pool, and another is installing one of those infinity lap pools, so Maya is well-acquainted with chlorine. But Lake Michigan…

I remember well introducing my own kids to large bodies of water. Rehoboth Beach and Virginia Beach and a beach in Rockport, Texas, for my first three kids. Myrtle Beach, St. George Island in Florida, and Waldport, Oregon for Olivia. And for everyone, Lake Michigan.

Once the zoo was thoroughly visited, I helped a hot, sweaty and tired Maya into the back seat of the convertible. “We’re going to someplace special,” I said. “Lake Michigan.”

“Yay!” she said. “What’s that?”

Oh, education time.

We found an incredible beach a short distance away from the zoo. As I parked, all Maya could see of the lake was a strip of blue over the edge of my car. She asked if that was part of the sky. “Yes,” I said as I unbuckled her, “the wet part. The great part.”

And then she stepped out. And froze. Instantly dumbfounded. “Whoa…” she said quietly.

“We’re going to it,” I said. “You’re going to put your feet in Lake Michigan.”

She leaped straight up and then plunked down on the sand to take off her shoes. “I’m going in the ocean!” she crowed.

I looked toward the lake. Many times, returning from Oregon and my visit with the Pacific, I would dare to look out the window of the plane (I normally keep the shade closed) and admire the sheer presence of Lake Michigan. It is our ocean, on the Midwest coast. I always felt like she welcomed me home after my trips, and reminded me of her presence. But how to explain the oceanic personality of this great lake to a five-year old? I decided to keep it simple and let the lake do her own talking. “It’s not an ocean,” I said. “It’s a lake. A great lake.”

“Lake,” she repeated.

“Its water isn’t salty. It’s fresh,” I said. “But it’s big, like the ocean. And it’s blue, like the ocean.” We began our walk across the sand.

“It sounds like the ocean,” Maya offered. I brought her a conch shell from my retreat this year. Maya met me at the airport and she held the shell to her ear all the way home.

We stood on the edge of the lake. We just looked. Then Maya took my hand. “I’m a wittle bit nervous,” she said.

“It’s okay,” I said. “She’s big. She’s going to feel cold. But she won’t hurt you. Besides that, I’m here.”

And we walked in. Maya shrieked and laughed and exclaimed over the way the sand shifted under her feet. “I can’t believe I’m here!” she yelled and flung her arms to the blue sky.

And I thought back over four kids, getting their feet wet for the first time. And now a grandchild. I can’t believe I’m here either.

“Look, Gamma Kaffee, look! I’m on my knees!”

There she was, this “wittle bit nervous” girl, on her knees, her dress floating around her waist. She repeated the arm-fling to the sky, bringing up a great slosh of water, which of course, fell right back down on her.

She wasn’t in a swimsuit. We didn’t have a change of clothes. We didn’t have a towel. There were no outdoor showers. Ohboy.

When we finally got back to the car, we scraped her off as best we could. We wrung out her dress. She laughed the whole time. And it was then that I learned that invaluable benefit of being a grandmother.

We gave this sand-encrusted, sweat-layered, soaking wet child back to her parents. There was no washing the child in the tub, and then washing the tub from the child.

And best of all? Maya said, “This was the best day of my WIFE!”

More grandchildren, please.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The boys’ first sprinkler experience. Christopher, on the left, was 3 years old. Andy, on the right, was 17 months. They thought it was heaven.
Rehoboth Beach, in 1992. First ocean experience. Katie is on the left, in the two-piece suit. She’s 5 years old. Next to her, in blue and white trunks, is Christopher, who is 8. Andy is in front of them, holding on to his father. He always was the bravest. He’s 6. They’re now 34, 32, and 31.
Olivia, at six-almost-seven, dances with the Pacific Ocean at the little house by the sea.
Me and Maya, on the shore of Lake Michigan. 8/11/18. Maya Mae is fivealmostsix.

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