Stoop Time: When Living in the Moment Is Harder Than it Seems
By Casey Mulligan Walsh for Next Avenue
Alexis, my daughter's middle child, is enjoying a solo overnight with Kevin and me — her Papa and Mimi. No one does stoop time like Lexi and Papa, she telling him her secrets as he teaches her how stoop time is done.
She learns how to shout at the imaginary people who pass by...Hey, Joe-eee, whatcha doin'?...and how to look for Charlie Pretzel, the delivery guy who'd give the leftover pretzels to the kids in Papa's Queens neighborhood. They'd eat a few, then toss the rest until the street was littered with trampled pieces of boiled, salted dough. In 1957. Apparently, Charlie's still trolling upstate neighborhoods, if one watches closely enough to spot him drive by.
Next, Lexi holds court, expounding on her world view with unshakable certainty. As the sun sets and the late-spring sprinkles turn to downpour, they move inside.
Lexi dons a dress from the dress-up box, and we convene at the island with guacamole and drinks. After discussing the intricacies of her latest braids (patterned cornrows with satisfyingly clicky beads that dangle to her shoulders), Papa poses the essential 5-year-old's question: "So how's school going?"
"Great! This is how you walk in the hallway, Papa, see?" She demonstrates, striding with purpose across the floor, one finger placed neatly in front of her pursed lips, demanding quiet. The other hand is raised high above her head, displaying a proud V. Exactly what kindergarten victory this represents remains unclear.
"I know how to behave in the hall, so the teacher always makes me the line leader."
A little bored now, she hums her latest obsession, straight from "Frozen". Papa regales us both with his mock-baritone rendition of the ubiquitous "Let It Go," and Lexi throws back her head and laughs till her buttons nearly burst. Then she launches into her own version, belting out bizarrely mature vocabulary while working toward the emotional climax as only a preschooler in a lacy pink dress-up gown can.
Fun on a Friday Night
It's Friday night and I'm in the mood for a party, so I hop off the stool to find us some music. Kevin and I twirl around to an upbeat tune — "Hey There Delilah" or maybe "Build Me Up, Buttercup." Anything happy and fun (and anything not from "Frozen") is just what we're after on a night like this.
Lexi, arms crossed at first with a questioning sneer, is on her feet soon enough, and there we are, the three of us — two oldish fools and a young one, I think — spinning and dipping and laughing till we've had enough and it's time to settle down for dinner.
From there, things get a little crazy, as they always do when the kids are around. Our typically quiet Friday-night-for-two morphs into Lexi time, culminating with the tucking in ritual and the obligatory reading of "Is There Really a Human Race?"
In the morning, it's cooking and breakfasting, showers and nails, arts and crafts and games. Lexi feeds the kitties and flurries about, organizing, until finally, our visitor dragging her feet, we pile in the car to ferry her back home.
It's life in the moment when the little ones are here. At least that's what it looks like, our dropping the routine in favor of spontaneity. But I know better. While we laugh together at those stoop-time antics, a part of my mind is channeling a much older Lexi as she flashes on memories of this life at Mimi and Papa's house, back when she was little.
Coming through the door from the garage, I see this view in her mind's eye — the island and the stools where we snack and chat, the table where big family meals happen, through to the fireplace where Papa makes the flames dance with color.
I imagine Lexi decades from now, wishing she could be here again for just one day. She'll take a mental walk through the toy room and up the stairs to the bedrooms: the guest room and the office and the one for the kids, with the big bed and art supplies and books. So many books. Finally, the oversized one where we slept, where lucky grandkids nestled in to watch a movie with three cats as company, or splashed around in the jetted tub whenever they liked.
Feeling Happy-Sad About the Future
This makes me sad…happy-sad. This meta-life of mine — always thinking about thinking, thinking about the past and the future, all the while wanting to be fully in the present — it's the eternal conflict.
I take such pleasure in all of it, every holiday and birthday, every seemingly insignificant moment, knowing that we're creating the memories each of our grandkids will take with them as they move through their lives, the vignettes that will help them know who they are and where they came from.
Yet knowing one day we'll no longer be here to love and support them, to enjoy their lives and our own, realizing we'll miss out on it all — that's the sad part. I don't want to go, selfishly. And it's tough to think of them without us. Yet this is the natural course of this messy life. The full catastrophe.
I smile when I think of Lexi one day, sitting on the front steps of her brownstone in the city or her cabin in the woods, in New York or Nebraska, Prague or Provence, telling her own granddaughter about stoop time.
"Those were happy days," she'll say, "sitting on those steps with my Papa. He and Mimi used to dance in the kitchen, isn't that crazy?"
Maybe it will cross her mind then, how the little girl will remember her when she's gone, what will stick and what will fall away. Maybe she'll feel sad for a moment — happy-sad.
But I'm pretty sure our great-great-granddaughter will set things straight. She'll say something clever, belt out her favorite song or plead for another overnight, just her and her grandma.
And Lexi will happily turn away from her memories to join the little one in the present.
Casey Mulligan Walsh is a writer and former speech-language pathologist whose essays about life at the intersection of grief and joy, the search for belonging, and embracing the in-between have appeared in HuffPost Personal, Barren Magazine, Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog, among others, and are forthcoming at The Manifest-Station. She is currently querying a memoir, The Full Catastrophe.