My granddaughter turned 21 last week. I still remember when she was three and a half-years-old and she looked across the dinner table studying my face. “Grammy, you have blue eyes.”
“Yes,” I said, “and they’re the same ice-blue color as yours.”
Our common eye color is coincidence, not genetics, but as in many stepfamilies, Vanessa and I share something much more important than DNA.
Earlier that June day, she had asked if I would take her to the “fairy forest” near our family cabin. We explored under the delicate tree canopy, among the sphagnum moss and plants that look like soft, miniature pine trees, and sure enough we found a fairy sign–a red stop sign. (Botanists would call it a fungus, hygrophorus puniceus, but we knew what it really was.)
At age eight, Vanessa wrote letters to the fairies. (Dear Bittersweet, you’re my favorite fairy in the woods.) Lo and behold, Bittersweet answered her back, telling her tales of how she and her buddy, Snip, (whom she describes as “persnickety but kind of fun, too,”) were chased by a badger. They got caught in a blackberry thicket and a mean boy found them and put them in a dirty bird cage. But our hero Bittersweet swung on the bird’s perch until she could reach the lock, and she saved the day.
That night, when we hunted for Bittersweet and Snip in the moonlight, we were sure we saw their glitter trail streaking across the sky.
We liked to hike to the meadow and pick wild daisies. I taught Vanessa the classic “He loves me, he loves me not” daisy chant. We plucked petal by petal. Seeing we were going to end with “He loves me not,” I showed her how to pluck two petals at once, an old family trick.
I let her climb to the top of a boulder and guarded her as she leapt off like a superhero. “Grammy,” she finally said, “I’m tired. Will you give me a piggyback ride?”
“All the way home, just like this little piggy?”
“Oh, yes, Grammy.”
Once home, Vanessa picked out our treasured book of the week and knew I’d abandon dinner preparations to read it to her. Our favorite page talks about a sister who has to change her sister’s dirty diaper. The big sister exclaims, “Pee-you!” and we hold our noses, make a scrunchy face, look at each other, blue eyes to blue eyes, and together chant, “Pee-you!” Giggle, laugh, snort, hiccup.
When Vanessa was six years old, she told her mom that a boy wasn’t being nice to her. He had called her “Mrs. Farthead.” Her mom explained that sometimes boys call girls names if they want their attention and secretly like them. Vanessa thrust her hands on her hips and said, “Well, I’m not impressed.”
Today, at age 21, we talk about her boyfriend, along with discussing her rigorous track schedule at UW-Milwaukee, and what books we’ve enjoyed. It turns out we both appreciate motivational books, and we exchange favorite titles.
Someday soon she might take a special child by the hand and play superhero, or pluck petals from a daisy, or give piggy back rides, or share a favorite picture book, or go fairy hunting in the moonlight. It won’t matter if she and the child share the same genetics. They will share a whole lot more.