It was an early autumn afternoon, and it was just the two of us at Jonah’s backyard jungle gym. This grandson, with the thatch of dark brown hair, always has had a special place in my heart because he is in that unenviable middle child position in a family of three boys.
Jonah is the gentle son, the dreamer, the poet. On one side of him is Danny, the red-haired little fireplug. On the other is Sam, the leader of the pack by virtue of his seniority. So many times, Jonah has had to bulldoze his way to attention, and so many times, he has simply retreated in surrender.
But on the jungle gym, Jonah shines. Without too much fanfare, this grandson can scramble to the very top of the backyard gym, one remarkably resistant to the abuse of three boys. He can hang, upside-down, from places that make my heart stop. He can clamber, hand-over-hand, across what seems to me like perilous rings meant for a circus acrobat.
That jungle gym is Jonah’s homeland, the place in the world where he seems to feel the most in his element. It is his special little kingdom.
And on this day, he wanted so much to transform me from cautious grandma into brave playmate. He wanted me to climb into that world.
I wasn’t buying.
“Come on up,” Jonah pleaded from his perch high above me. “You can see everything!”
With my feet planted firmly on terra firma, I offered my string of excuses.
I was too old.
I would hurt my already tricky back in the climb. I was wearing the wrong clothes.
Jonah looked at me solemnly, those hazel eyes clouded with disappointment. More than anything, this little boy wanted me to do it. To prove to himself and me that he could be my mentor, my guide, my coach.
I am, by nature, cautious. I hang back from anything that smacks of danger. I am decidedly not daring, nor am I brave.
And I’m not easy with heights. Never have been. So there we were, a grandmother and her beloved grandson, at a stalemate on a fall afternoon. Although this was never spoken, Jonah would have me test myself — and trust him to see me through. I was on the brink of dashing that hope.
We could have gone on and on, but when Jonah looked down at me with such abject sorrow on his wonderful little face, I felt a seismic shift.
This climb would mark not just a test of spunk; it would say, again without spoken words, that this grandson could care for me. That he, the little middle guy, was somebody mighty strong and brave himself. I knew how much that message would ultimately matter to Jonah.
So when I looked up at the boy on the top of the monkey bars and said, “OK, teach me!” his megawatt smile was all the inspiration I needed to start my climb.
I would love to report that magically, masterfully, I conquered that jungle gym and its bars gracefully and deftly. That all terror subsided.
But that would be a total fabrication.
With Jonah urging, coaxing and cajoling, I held my breath and prayed. I made my way more like a tortoise than a gazelle. Several times, I lost my footing, and several times, I did the jungle gym equivalent of getting back on the horse. “Go, grandma!” Jonah shouted. And I did.
Then it came — the moment of conquest of my Everest — a wooden playground piece in a suburban back yard. My hands trembled as I reached out to hug Jonah, who was shouting his delight at my triumph.
For one long moment, we held on to one another, madly, deliriously happy. The decades that separated a little boy and his grandmother vanished. Our joy was unrefined. And oh my, what a view.
Not in the literal sense, of course. All I saw from the top of that jungle gym were other back yards in the dwindling sunlight.
But for Jonah and me, the symbolic view was magnificent.
We’d done it.
And on a fall day in the twilight of my life, and the sunrise of his, that was quite enough. ••