Something very special happened in August. Our grandson, River stayed with us in our cottage in France and after being together day-in, day-out for a week, for the first time I felt I really knew him. We understood each other and shared jokes and when there was a hint of a smile or a cry, I knew how he felt and would feel for him. We were as one.
During his stay, River was the centre of attention and this blog is all about him. Well almost! It is written by a biased, besotted grandfather and perhaps might be better named – ‘River and me’!
I first met River at his birth eighteen months ago (see ‘Mother and Baby are Doing Well’, 1 April 2018). Then, and for many months after, he felt a little distant. My wife, Rohan, and I often visited him, and him us. We also kept in touch via Skype. However, those early moments together offered me little when compared to the relationship that developed during our holiday in Tréguennec. During the week, we had a privileged position; while his parents (our son Joshua and his wife Ali) looked after his everyday ‘toddler’ needs; we could relax and simply watch, play, cuddle and melt. For River, for whom I am ‘Gar’ and Rohan, ‘Nana’, we were now trusted members of his family.
When he arrived at the cottage he soon discovered the toys and games that Rohan had dotted around the house. Everyday he would entertain himself playing with tractors, diggers, bricks, puzzles, a water trough or whatever took his fancy. It was inspiring to watch the wee fellow puzzle over how things worked, develop strategies to resolve problems and generally learn new skills – it’s what life’s about.
On outings he was fascinated by new experiences. There was such delight in his face when he heard his first countryside cow moo, watched baby goats gambol, or sat at the steering wheel of a real fire engine. And, with the delight, his face told how he, like his grandfather, often liked to contemplate.
To top all this, was the pleasure he got from running on our vast, sandy beach – if there was a choice, running was his preferred option. The fun and freedom to rush around and splash when the tide was out without being called back or feeling at risk of getting lost was evident – it was something of which he never seemed to tire. Being with him as he took advantage of such freedoms was a joy.
Yes, watching him soak up new experiences outside was a delight, but seeing him as he behaved within the family was even more special. With us adults he was attentive, thoughtful and responsive. One afternoon soon after the family arrived he was playing on the floor with a digger. We grown-ups were talking on the other side of the room and I asked his parents if they thought that River would be able “to reach the front door handle and get out”. They replied how ‘Time would tell’ – it didn’t take long! Without prompting, River stood up, walked to the door, reached up to the handle, pulled it down, opened the door, and then walked back to his digger with a hint of a smile. It was a simple act but the pride I got from seeing such an assertive and clever gesture from a child who only spoke words sparingly was enormous – how could he have known what had been said?
On another occasion he showed how he could ‘tell’ and enjoy a joke. I have always clowned with him and now it was his turn. At meals he sat in his high chair at the head of the table and I further down on one side. Suddenly, he caught my eye through the gesturing arms of adults. Looking at me he pulled a funny face. I replied in kind; he smiled and the cycle was repeated. After a few exchanges he clapped his hands. In response I clowned so when I clapped, I contrived to make my hands miss one another. On seeing this he burst out laughing and then did the hand-missing trick himself. It was, apparently, the funniest joke ever and just as funny when he did it himself. No one else saw what was going on – it was our game and it showed clearly that we now had an entertainer in the family! I could not ask for more.
All too soon a wonderful week of discoveries in which River and I got to know each other was over. Dare I dream that next time it will be even better?
The illustration is a photo of River in a contemplative mood.
For help with writing this blog I would like to thank River, Ali, Grace, Monica, Rohan and Vivien.