Nanna Lou, aka Louise Owens Finney, and Papa Gary were married 37 years. During these years, son Clayton and daughter Lee Anna were born, loved, educated and married. Nanna and Papa have now been divorced 11 years and live in separate houses across town from each other. My goal is to practice civility at all times, especially when we travel together to Houston to visit Clayton’s family and to Chicagoland to visit Lee Anna’s, as well as when their families visit us in Fort Smith.
This summer has provided real-life, extended opportunity for practice of the art — of civility, that is.
Sometime back in the winter, I mentioned to Jenny and Clayton that it would be fun if Liam and Claire could spend a week of summer vacation with grandparents in Fort Smith, confidently assuring that the 6-year old and 4-year old would be fine with Nanna Lou, Papa Gary, MiMi Phyllis and Papa Bob. Before finalizing dates for their visit, we learned that Papa Gary required medical attention.
Naturally, Lee Anna wanted to support Papa by driving to Fort Smith with 8-year old Evan and 4-year old Anya, arriving four days before Clayton’s scheduled arrival with Liam and Claire, whom he dropped at Nanna’s on his way to business meetings in Washington, D. C.
Living far apart, the cousins have spent very little time together. Much of their bonding has come from parental stories inspired by refrigerator photos and from occasional FaceTime chats. Therefore, Grandma Camp sounded like a lot of fun. And it was fun — at first. Evan and Anya put away their tablets to build Mega Blok structures with Liam and Claire. They all four sat nicely at the table during dinner, snapped on helmets for a late-evening scooter ride to visit Ms. Fritz and brushed their teeth before bed, just like good little boys and girls.
The first glimmer of shadow crept over the happy camp around six o’clock the first morning when Liam excitedly woke Evan for another fun-filled day. Grumpily, Evan muttered to his mom, “I was trying to sleep in.”
Mom quietly explained that Liam and Claire were accustomed to waking early, reminding Evan to ask politely, “ Liam, please let me sleep.”
Anya cheerfully offered Claire her extra princess gown for playing dress-up but adamantly declared that Claire would not sit at her place at the table or sleep on her couch Nanna had prepared for her. Liam built amazing Tinker Toy towers, only to have the girls destroy them. When the noise level became too much for Evan, he retreated to Nanna’s closet.
Born only four days apart, Anya and Claire are the same size. Sunday morning, Nanna dressed Claire in a dress she declared was hers, not Anya’s. When Anya came out of her room and saw Claire, she rushed forward screaming, “That is my dress, Claire!”
Lee Anna confirmed that the dress was indeed Anya’s. Two adults and four campers tiptoed into church 20 minutes late just in time for the anthem. After the service, as I picked up and cleaned up our pew, I heard Lee Anna explain to the father of a childhood friend, “I think with all four children, Mom and I are in over our heads.”
On our way home from church, we dropped off Liam and Claire at Papa Gary’s. They both fell asleep in their chairs watching NASCAR.
Even Nanna and Lee Anna had civility training this week. Although having similar preferences and ideas, we do occasionally disagree. I guess I could say as Mama did, “Occasionally there is friction between us.” She is my baby; however, I try very hard to step back as she assumes her role as a capable, caring adult. Most of the time, I think she would agree. Admittedly, this week our bond required a little oil.
One morning after a bumpy start, I sat on the bed while Lee Anna combed her hair. Sensing that we both needed to “clear the air,” as Mama said, I philosophized about individual differences, environmental impact on behavior and the possibility for valuable life lessons learned during trying times.
Whether or not my words made much sense to either of us, they did trigger neurons that enabled Lee Anna to say, “It seems like you have disagreed with everything I have planned. It’s like I’m 8 years old again and am here waiting for you to tell me what to do.”
I acknowledged her feelings and owned responsibility for behaviors contributing to them, expressing my reasons for disagreeing and encouraging her to do likewise. We verbalized the frustrations of Grandma Camp, reminding each other of life’s unplanned circumstances leading up to camp. I assured her that Evan’s displeasure with the unaccustomed noise and confusion could help prepare him for coping with certain future difficult situations. We both laughed when saying that Evan needed to get used to confusion if he wanted to become a U.S. Marine.
Having aired our souls, Lee Anna summed up our communication with, “I know it, Mom, and we will be just fine.”
Grandma Camp is winding down. Lee Anna, Nanna Lou, Papa Gary, MiMi Phyllis and Papa Bob have tried very hard to practice polite, reasonable and respectful behavior. Hopefully, our four campers will leave with happy memories, the beginning foundation for practicing civility and the confidence that we will all be just fine.
Louise Owens Finney is a retired secondary teacher and part-time minister in Fort Smith. She can be reached at LouiseOFinney@gmail.com.