I bit into a piece of dark chocolate as I sat in my favorite living room chair. I poured a small cup of coffee and exhaled loudly, forcing myself to take an afternoon breather while my toddler napped.
I was in the thick of packing for a trip back home to see our families for the holidays. We would be traveling over 700 miles in the car with a toddler and a second-grader.
I closed my eyes in my now-silent house and took several deep breaths, imagining calm and zen. Things were especially crazy with activities preceding the school break and I was looking forward to a few possible rare evenings alone when we got to our destination. Thank God for grandparents, I thought.
Our little family of four hit the road the next day, and we chose a different route than usual. As I celebrate more birthdays past 40, I find myself yearning more for the simple. We chose a route of mostly two-lane side roads, similar to what my my husband and I grew up with, and it was fabulous.
It was easy, with very little traffic or the hustle and bustle of big cities. Every town we came to felt like Radiator Springs from the movie Cars, and we even enjoyed several courtesy steering-wheel waves in rural areas.
It’s nice to get away to the quiet, which is exactly what we were headed for on our first destination. My in-laws live in a sleepy little town with a population of less than 300, and I love going there. Thank God for grandparents, I thought.
We were greeted warmly, and we enjoyed a nice big family gathering. My kids got to enjoy time getting reacquainted with cousins. There were light saber fights, intricate puzzles, and LEGO builds. We had a nice meal and opened presents and shared lots of laughs well past everyone’s bedtime.
Day two was filled with watching the kids play with their new toys and eating leftover pie. After a long road trip and a lot of visiting, this introvert felt a need to retreat, so during the lull of the day, I prepared to take the longest, hottest shower known to man. My husband was off running errands. Thank God for grandparents, I thought.
I felt grateful for the hot water pouring down onto my closed eyes and face, the only sounds I could hear were the sounds of the water moving through the pipes, and the thick swooshes of water hitting the shower floor as I rinsed my hair.
I stood there for several minutes, just thinking about the memories we already made. How good it was to see family, the laughter as my sister-in-law opened her duck call gag-gift, and how she proceeded to use it immediately.
How beautiful it is to see the kids following their grandparents around and talking to them, using the words “grandpa” and “grandma” in person, as opposed to Skype, speakerphone, or Facetime. I am grateful for the technology we have to keep in touch, and it’s fun to listen to grandma and grandpa figure out if the webcam is on or not, but all of the new-fangled gadgets in the world could never replace warm hugs and grandma or grandpa’s lap.
It was heartwarming to see the kids running around excited to see other adults, bargaining for various permissions and frosted Pop-Tarts. They have snuggled and watched movies and read books and eaten lots of cookies. And grandma came to a scared toddler’s rescue when he woke up in the middle of the night in unfamiliar surroundings.
I heard my kids squeal with laughter as they were being chased around and battling light sabers with grandpa.
Grandpa absorbed every single detail about Minecraft with grace and dignity and the patience of a mule, and it was proven that his comforting hugs were just as good as mom’s when someone tripped and fell, or ran into the end of the kitchen table.
The water splashing down onto my face started to turn cold, so I shut it off. As I stepped out of the shower, the steam rolled out, and the sounds of life rolled back in. Through the bathroom door, I could hear the usual “stop it,” “no, you stop it,” “it’s mine” sibling sequence of events along with the winning bells of the Price is Right in the living room.
A grandparent’s patience is often steadfast and unwavering — even on the third day when the shock of our visit has worn off and the curtains come down on best behaviors. A general consensus on the toy-sharing situation was reached by mature negotiators, and life went on.
We enjoyed another relaxing evening with full bellies and the further exploration of new toys. We knew it was our last evening together for a long time, so we attempted a picture on the couch before bedtime. We came away with candids, which was as good as it was going to get.
And on our third night away from home, I laid down with my toddler to get him to sleep. His eyes were getting very heavy, but as he fought to stay awake in those last few minutes, he gave me three of the biggest, twinkly-eyed smiles I’ve ever seen. And he smiled in his sleep.
I felt the same way about our visit. I enjoyed several early morning chats with my mother-in-law over coffee, next to the familiar sound of the pilot light on the gas stove in their quiet house. It was warm and cozy. And simple.
We hit the road again the next day, but we were not only sent on our way with full bellies and a car full of new things, we were also sent away with a fresh batch of hugs, kisses, and full hearts.
Yes. There isn’t a single, solitary doubt about it. Thank God for grandparents.
More on Babble:
An open letter to me and my wife in 30 years
Sometimes I regret moving away from my family
Are we relying too heavily on grandparents to babysit?
9 gifts every grandparent needs (but might not ask for)
The grandmother my son will never meet
Audra Rogers's website is realhonestmom.com.