My granddaughter walked through the door and ran up to me.
“You’re not on a plane anymore!” she said as she wrapped her arms around me. I hugged her tightly.
“No. I’m here with you.”
She's growing and she's hungry these days. The first thing she wanted was a snack: Carrots.
“More carrots, Nana!”
While she ate she chattered, swinging her legs, wrapping her feet around the cared legs of her old oak “youth” chair. I stood at the kitchen counter peeling carrots and cutting them into toddler-friendly slices.
After she’d eaten her fill of vegetables and hummus, she asked to take a walk. The day had been cloudy and cool and already the light was beginning to fade. We put on our jackets and she asked to take her balloon along. The shiny orange Jack-O-Lantern was a gift from one of her aunts and she wears it like jewelry.
I tied the end of the ribbon that trails from the mylar balloon around her right wrist, to keep it from floating away as we walked. She also wanted her “flower,” a plastic tie-hanger that surfaced after a closet clean-out.
The object, white plastic ‘“spokes” that hold and separate a man’s ties, is curved at the end to fit over a closet rod. When held upside down, it looks exactly like a daisy. But you’d never know this, of course, without seeing it through a toddler’s eyes.
So, ornamented with the pumpkin balloon, holding the plastic “flower,” we stepped out into the chilly late-afternoon air.
She automatically turned toward the park, heading for the playground we visit most afternoons, but I knew our light jackets wouldn’t be enough as the temperature dropped. So I steered us in the opposite direction, down the street and deeper into the neighborhood.
She slipped her hand into mine and I tucked my sleeve over us like a glove. As we walked she chattered the way small children do. She stopped to look at the maple leaves collaged across the sidewalk, exclaiming at the yellows and reds. A dog barked and she stopped to look around, trying to pinpoint the “Boof.”
At the corner, intimidated by the ribbon of headlights threading up and down the hill, she stopped and pressed closer to me.
“Too many cars!” she said and tightened her grip on my hand.
We waited for a break in the home-from-work traffic and crossed the street. The next block is canopied by tall sycamore trees, a tunnel of gold this time of year, and the lawns and sidewalks are littered with fallen leaves. Some homeowners had cleared their sidewalks but others hadn’t yet caught up and in places the leaves were ankle-deep. I waded in and kicked my way through. This startled her. She stopped, again, and looked down at her feet. Then she did the same thing, pushing the leaves ahead with each step.
“We are kicking leaves!” she shouted. “We kick the leaves!”
We walked another block and then crossed to the other side of the street and turned back toward my house. Again and again we plowed through leaves when we found them and she laughed out loud each time.
We crossed the busy street again, not so threatening now that the rush was over, and, what with one interesting thing after another, it took another quarter of an hour to walk the last block home.
I was, I realized, in that shining second, as happy as I have ever been. I’d been given the gift of uncomplicated time with a small child, something I’ve missed since my own have grown up and away.
I have always been a little afraid of the secret part of me that is not unlike the balloon tied to my granddaughter's wrist. I could have floated away, drifting from one adventure to another, but my children were my ballast. In becoming a mother I chose to tie myself to them and that grounded me. And now, when I am free again, able to fly if I want to, I find myself making the same choice again.
We walked up the front steps, past the pumpkin on the stoop, and through the front door. Still holding hands we stepped into the warmth of the house. That must have triggered something in her memory because she turned to me again.
“You’re not on a plane anymore,” she said with a smile.
“No. I’m here with you,” I replied, smiling down at her.
And of all the wonderful places I have ever been, of all the places I would like to go, none is, or could ever be, as fine as where I was at that moment.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org