*Proper names have been changed to protect against potential embarrassment ;)
“Nana, measure me!”
The memory is still vivid; evoking the excitement of two preschoolers jumping up and down beside me as I hold the pencil and the ruler over one child’s head at a time. Oh, how I dread the day the grandkids will no longer want to be measured on the wall behind the office door.
It was a family tradition we had had when our sons were old enough to stand by our kitchen wall. Always excited to see what new heights they were reaching in their race to ‘grow up’. Their measurements showed separations due to a four-year age gap, then intertwined and danced along the painted wall like an earthly aurora borealis. Today, they share an almost identical height as age made no impact on growth.
Growth. Growing up. Grown up. Growing older.
My granddaughter, Celine, is younger than her brother by two years. But fiercely competitive – even with growth charts.
“Nana, why didn’t I grow more?”
Time for a science lesson on biology? Or time to talk about differences with boys’ and girls’ growth patterns and statistics?
“You will grow, sweet pea. There will be a time when you will grow faster than Connor. Should we mark your line in purple for your growth today?” And with the utmost care, the tiny line just a millimeter above the earlier one was made more distinguishable.
Measurements were not just about growth. Our sons’ lines had been painted over in those last months before my husband and I left our home of 35 years. Underneath the coat of grey galactic winter, measurements marked the events of a family living in the 80s and 90s. The memories were tied to birthdays, new school years, holidays or just “can I see how much I’ve grown?” Thus the kitchen wall recorded and held the spirit of our family’s existence, like an indelible ink written upon parchment in The Book of Life.
There had been no plan to measure the grandchildren when we downsized. When they were still so very young and coming to our old home, I would trace their bodies on large sheets of roll-end newspaper. Cutting the shapes out and having them color in facial features and clothing, I taped their outlines to the wall. “We’re not babies anymore.”
Serendipity. Connor and Celine and their very first sleepover in the new home. A time of exploration (“let’s play hide and seek, Grandad”) and excitement, sleeping in bunk beds at ages of “almost four and almost six”. The realization that time was slipping away with new activities and preschool and kindergarten and their own little friends. A comment about how they were growing so much as they were about to go home.
“Is it ok if I measure how tall they are?” And a spontaneous decision to use the narrow space behind the French door to the office. A ruler and pencil in a nearby desk and the first lines were drawn.
Measuring Connor and Celine became an expectation at every sleepover. The lines were a visual wall calendar of the times they made cookies together with Grandad, some art or craft project with Nana or just enjoyed the work of being a child.
“Can I show you a magic trick?” when Celine was determined to master the art of illusion. “Hey, Nana, knock, knock,” when Connor shared his ‘tried and true’ jokes.
Family meals and family celebrations. And always, the movie night with popcorn popped on the stove, root beer floats, chocolate-covered peanuts and gummy candies.
On one visit, Connor was so excited to show his parents his height, that he rubbed his finger over the fresh line. And because I had used a soft B pencil, the markings smeared. Both his and Celine’s. Adding another memory in my heart as I treasured his “come and see” excitement.
There was the sleepover that made for a mad dash to the all-night pharmacy when Celine was ill and wanted to go home. With Mom and Dad away for short trip, a little girl missed her parents when she wasn’t feeling well. “I’m ok. We can still measure me.”
After that visit, there were now photos printed off at home, pulled from their suitcases and taped to the wall by their bunk beds. Photos that were switched around on the very special night that Celine achieved ‘top bunk’ status. She was now tall enough and old enough to climb the ladder to sleep on the exclusive bed that had an unique attraction. The bed lined up with a basement window that was wide enough for a six-year-old to hide on the sill; with the curtains covering her. “Nana, is it ok if I keep this notebook and pencil up here?” “Of course, you can. Is there still room for a Kleenex box and your flashlight as well?”
The lines in the office tell of giggles and whispers and fights between siblings. Of late nights and of too-early morning awakenings. Of times when they wanted Nana to sing their songs before they went to sleep or times when Grandad read each child the same book, over and over again, even though it was a picture book without words.
And then Covid happened.
The lack of measurements in the office matches the seriousness and precautions that were taken by all of us. An early visit in January, 2020 (with corresponding measurements), pit stops on the door steps or backyards of our homes. Thanksgiving celebration in their garage. “Come and see the autumn tree I painted.” A masked Celine steers us to the tall cardboard tree in reds and oranges. “Watch me shoot hoops” as Connor practiced and practiced his layouts and footwork on the driveway, in the cold.
Covid meant that Connor and Celine were now being measured at home and telling us what those numbers were in metric. Statistics that we never added to our wall of visits though.
Instead, we had FaceTime calls. “Will you show us how much you are both growing? Stand back to back and we can take a photo, ok?” Other times, they stood back to back with their parents. And we saw just how tall they truly were growing.
Vaccinations for all of us adults and finally, for them. One overnight in the summer. With star gazing and their version of a mini-Olympics, complete with ribbons and cookie medals. That had been the summer of 2021, before they returned to school and we had all tested negative so we could have the visit. They took home ‘gold’ for their growth …emotionally, physically and cognitively.
At the end of 2021, we celebrated Christmas with them and they had two overnight visits with us during their holidays. That is when we discovered that I had made some poor measurements.
“Nana, how come I was higher last summer?” Connor hadn’t failed to see the discrepancy of his last two sizes in height.
“Well, maybe your hair was higher?!” I really couldn’t admit to fudging results that gave just a little bit more growth to either of them. “I guess I wasn’t very careful in holding the ruler straight, eh?”
We had a visit this year before they returned to school in January. Somehow, in the hustle and bustle of the visit, no measurements were taken. The regret of a missed measurement hits me whenever I am in the office and spy the smudged and confusing lines that have been haphazardly recorded on the wall. Why hadn’t I insisted on their parents waiting while we completed this one rite between two generations sharing a moment in time?
Today, I am at their aunt and uncle’s home, caring for the grand-kitties, when Connor, Celine and their mother come for a walk along the river valley. Another visit that again will have no measurements; no lines on our wall at home. Just a discussion on my short story.
“I’m writing about how you have been measured when you come to stay at our place. But I have no idea how to end the story.”
“Just write ‘Can we measure you, Nana?’” Celine doesn’t even pause to think about it and Connor grins and shakes his head ‘yes’.
I have to laugh. Connor stands at my shoulder and Celine is just below my shoulder. I wrap my arms around one on each side of me and say “yes, you can measure me.”
For in the future, the near future, they will no longer want to visit us for sleepovers. They will be too ‘grown-up’ to be measured on a wall.