answer: 7.5 hours

Question: How long does it take to drive to Los Angeles from Oakland, when squiring a newly-minted 4-year-old child?

Important related question: How long did it used to take? (Answer: 4.5 hours—pretend this was written upside-down because that would make it so much more authentic and Wacky-Packs or something and pretend that it doesn’t prove that I was frequently driving 100-miles-per-hour when I used to drive home from college in my hot-shot 16-valve 1990 VW Jetta.)

Question: How long have my husband and son been asleep? (Answer: 1 hour, eight minutes.)

Will I ever go to sleep? (Answer: unknown.) Related question: What does it take to cure insomnia?

Last night I woke up three times between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m., totally meaning to get out of bed and watch the eclipse. But I was only awake enough to get out of bed the first time. I was also probably excited about our road trip.

Today we drove from Oakland to Los Angeles. It’s the first time I’ve made that drive with a child in the car. We’ve always flown. But we’ve been flying a lot lately, this trip was VERY LAST MINUTE, and the thing with Jonah’s ears hurting. Three strikes and we drove.

The last minute thing—my grandmother died. On Thursday. She was 101. It wasn’t unexpected. The doctors had given her two weeks to live back in October. My dad says she just didn’t know how to give up.

Indomitable spirit.

Question: How many people have to chastise me about not blogging for me to start blogging again? (Answer: two. My dad, and my awesome cousin Bonnie. Hi Bonnie!)

I was taking a well-earned break. But just like daily blogging had its momentum, stopping has its.

Entropy.

And then my grandmother died and I could feel the need for a post about her and the inability to post one. So here I am, up late, not writing about her or my trip today. This is what one might call “live blogging” my insomnia.

Let’s go with trip:

Jonah was a rock star. He barely complained the entire day. And it took all, freaking, day. About five-plus solid hours buckled into his carseat, and multiple gas-station-bathroom stops, with one overly long stop for lunch at Harris Ranch. Won’t repeat that mistake again, neither the losing-track-of-time lunch break, nor the eating at Harris Ranch. Yuck.

He did start to lose it just past hour six. We were heading over the Grapevine. Scott and I were insisting on listening to a podcast of This American Life even though Jonah was not finding it as delightful as we were. The podcast ended. Into the silence, Jonah started shouting: “Ugh! Stupid PATIENCE! I hate you PATIENCE!”

We yelled and groaned with him. And then we all started counting red cars, and spotting motor boats on Pyramid Lake as we passed it, and listening to the more kid-friendly They Might Be Giants “Here Come the 1-2-3s.”

Miraculously, if asked, Jonah says he prefers the driving trip to L.A. over flying. So I guess it really wasn’t that bad. The mid-first-half tootsie pop and early-second-half chocolate chip cookie certainly helped.

I bribe, therefore I am a mother.

Okay, now let’s go with grandmother…

I am feeling complicated about her being gone.

She was, bar-none, the absolute master of guilt. So the fact that in her passing, I feel guilty that I wasn’t a better granddaughter? Totally thematically appropriate.

She was a lot of other things too. Right now, I can remember how she smelled, and the texture of her skin and flesh—papery over thick and soft. She could close and open her eyes so slowly when displeased, it is the most powerful gesture on earth and impossible to imitate. I should have called her more. She had a professionally-coiffed halo of orange hair up until a few years ago when she finally let it go white and hid it under a scarf, in her late 90s, in the nursing home. She had hard candies in her purse when we went to the movies. She always had a stash of chocolate in her room.

My cousins knew her better than I did. They grew up with her in Baltimore. I saw her a few times in my life on her visits here or ours there. I visited her house once, in my 20s, with my friend Heather when we drove cross-country. Grandma drove us somewhere that day in her giant car, at 15-miles per hour, drifting into the center divider, her craning to see over the dashboard and cursing at the other drivers.

She always made apple strudel when she came to visit us. (Will find the recipe and append this post.) She also sent me care packages when I was in college. Seven-layer cookies and bags of pistachios. California pistachios. (Insert irony here.)

She was not easy to be around, or to talk to. But she had stories. There was a rooster, and the Spanish flu. She won bridge tournaments. She traveled to China. When I was studying abroad in Russia, I had a photograph taken of me by a street vendor. I was wearing a giant fur hat. I mailed the picture to her. She displayed that picture in a frame on the bookshelf in her apartment in the “Retirement Hotel” that preceded the nursing home.

She would leave phone messages like they were little postcards, always signing off, “Love, Grandma.” She graded the performances of the various grandchildren and we always knew where we stood in her estimation. I was content with not holding the number-one position.

Some years, I sent her a grandmother card on Mother’s Day.

We threw an awesome super-glam wedding and she got to be a part of it. That was good. We gave her her own song for the processional. But instead of going slow, which we were expecting given her advanced age, she booked down the aisle.

She was there at all of my major events: bat mitzvah, graduations, wedding, bridal and baby showers.

We brought Jonah to visit her five times. The first time, he was a tiny baby. The second, he played hide-and-seek with her around the chairs in her room. The third, he ignored her and was overly concerned with some smooth rocks in a lobby water feature. The fourth, her 100th birthday bash, a party put on by my cousin and featuring a hoola-hoops artiste, a magician, and black forest cake. She was thrilled with the attention and the performers and cake, but in the end irritated by the gifts. “What do I need this for?” she asked, gesturing.

The fifth visit, she somewhat ignored us, this being earlier this year, and life was getting really physically hard. We were there during lunch. She had needs regarding her food, staff members were not meeting them swiftly enough. A mysterious woman, somewhat older but not old, rail thin, dressed entirely in orange from hat top to shoe tip, but with lipstick—red, arrived to take Sadie for a walk. A volunteer. She saw us and thought she should leave.

No, we reassured her (practically grabbed her). Please stay. It’s so kind of you, what you do. We were just leaving.

Tomorrow is the memorial. I did not volunteer to say anything. My cousins who grew up with her might. My dad will, his sister may as well.

My grandmother was a strong woman, an extremely smart woman. I am who I am in part because of her.

I imagine I will continue to feel complicated.

2 comments for “answer: 7.5 hours

  1. December 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    Much love. I have a lot of conflicting feelings surrounding my grandmother as well.

  2. December 12, 2011 at 7:17 am

    I am so sorry for your loss. Life is messy and compicated, I wish it were otherwise.

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