“It isn’t going to happen Miche, so just drop it.” Barry slams his phone down on the table.
Charlene’s eyes are wide with concern, “What did mom want?”
He just looks at her, considering whether or not to answer.
“It’s about Gran’s birthday party, isn’t it?” She persists.
“Yes Charlie, if you must know.” Already he’s picking up his phone again, starting to scroll.
“You sounded mad,” Charlene pries cautiously.
He glances up from his phone and sighs. “They’ve changed it to my night with you, so it isn’t going to work.” Scrolling again, he’s muttering now. “They’ll just God damn have to change it back if they want you there.” He’s not really talking to his daughter anymore until he notices her silence.
He glances up to see the concern, the tears welling up, and he softens just a little, the signs barely visible, the tautness falling from his shoulders, the line of his mouth relaxing ever so slightly. “Don’t worry. They’ll make it work,” he grumbles unconvincingly.
“But what if they don’t? I’ll miss the party!”
The softness has already gone. “That’s not my God damn fault.”
I’m a witness to this from my old chair in the corner. I know its not my place yet I oblige myself to speak. “Barry, Mryna is her grandma.”
He looks over at me, reminded that there is another person in the room. I’m easy to forget. “You’re her great grandma and I don’t see any of them getting bent out of shape if Charlie misses a moment with you,” he snaps.
“This is different. It’s Mryna’s birthday.“
“This is between me and Miche. Stay out of it.” He’s trying to end the argument with his tone of authority but I’m just winding up.
“Oh, don’t be so pigheaded!” The words slip out of my mouth even as I try to pull them back, a symptom of being old when no one really listens to you anymore, anyways.
“And when did you start caring about not being pigheaded?” he demands. My words have touched a nerve but he’s right. I’ve lived my own life my own way, stubbornly leaving others behind. Who am I to judge? Here I am an old woman living in my grandson’s house. What do I know about anything?
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” I mumble. Chastized, I withdraw back into my irrelevance.
“Thanks for trying Nana,” Charlene whispers as she climbs gently onto my lap, nestling her soft curls into my shoulder. “It’ll be okay. I don’t mind not going.” She’s putting on a brave face.
“Don’t bother your Nana,” her father barks, calling her away.
“Nana likes it when I cuddle her,” the child insists, speaking for me as they tend to do now.
She lifts her head to smile at me, checking that’s she’s got it right. I smile back. Our eyes meet acknowledging our collusion. She has her mother’s eyes but the determination in them is very much her dad. I recognize her pain in them too, but her father doesn’t notice. He’s back to scrolling through his phone. He might as well be a world away and yet he protects this time with his daughter at all cost. It’s his currency.
Don’t do this to her, my inner voice is screaming. Don’t be such an ass. But I know better than to get involved in his fight. He and Michelle need to sort it out on their own and they aren’t asking for advice, especially advice from a redundant old woman. It’s only been a few weeks that they’ve been apart. This isn’t the first fight. I don’t expect this one will last for long though it’s already been longer than usual. They just need a little push.
Suddenly he sets down his phone, clearly annoyed as he strides across the room and picks Charlene up, standing her on her feet. “You need to listen. Now go and get ready for bed.” He pats her on the bottom, sending her on her way, his tone all the warning she needs to break the conspiritorial connection as our eyes go their separate ways. Order in the hierarchy has been restored.
He’s angry at me too. “You can’t do that Nana. She needs to know I’m still in charge and I can’t have you siding with Michelle. She gets way too much time with Charlie as it is and I don’t care if it’s her bitch of a mother’s birthday.”
Oh Barry, just listen to yourself. But instead I nod, trying unsuccessfully to smile, all my energy directed to squashing down what I want to say to this hot headed grandson of mine.
He’s not finished with me. “You may think you know better but everything is changing so fast. It’s different now than when you were raising kids. And you were lucky. Your in-laws didn’t meddle.”
No, I counter only in my mind. We appreciated their advice.
“I mean, my God,” he continues “Charlie’s already ten and they think she still shouldn’t have a cell phone. I know, I know, you probably don’t either but that’s only because you don’t even have one. What would you use it for anyways? It’s different for kids these days. Myrna and Max think its okay for her to be the only kid in her class without one. And they do that with everything, always filling Michelle’s head full of doubt. What do they know of technology for God’s sake? They don’t seem to understand how relevant it is, how important. Charlie’s got to learn this stuff or she’ll fall behind. It’s the future. Myrna and Max just don’t get it.”
I’m grateful as he mistakes my look of disagreement for one of confusion and so he continues, “That’s what started the fight we had, Miche and I. It started with the cell phone.”
I’m just a sounding board now. I contort my face into its listening mask as he continues on rehashing the details of Michelle moving out to get a bit of space and clear her head.
“Myrna has not only convinced Miche that Charlie shouldn’t have one but that we all need to leave them at the door. That we have to limit Charlie’s screen time. All these stupid rules. I mean I got it when she was little, but she’s practically a teenager now. There are kids her age already making money on Instagram, for God’s sake! And Miche knows I rely on social media for work. I can’t just ignore it all, turn it on and off as I please. I’ve got to stay on top of it. It matters, right?”
I know he’s not asking and I don’t answer. I just nod as I listen and ask myself how all this social media stuff is relevant to anything that really matters. But what do I know?
“But she’s making everything so God damn hard, moving out like this. It’s so unfair to Charlie having to go there every day after school, making me come home early. All this back and forth, my days, her days. It’s not right. I mean we’re a family, right?”
My eyes inadvertently give Charlene away, standing quietly at the door. I could have lightened the mood if I had dared to announce it. Fastest pj change ever!
“Whoa, that was quick. Good girl. Now, did you pick a movie?”
“I was hoping I could play cards with Nana instead.” It’s really a question.
My smile comes easily.
“Nana’s got things to do,” my grandson answers for me though I have no idea what he thinks could possibly be more important to me than a game of cards with my great granddaughter.
And now I’m second guessing. Will he also take this as me challenging him? But I muster my courage. “Oh, I can spare a few minutes.”
Barry scowls. He too is considering if this is a challenge. He's weighing the difference between giving into a card game against an extra night at Michelle’s parent’s house for the party. If he gives into the game will it upset the balance? Can he still stand strong on refusing the extra night for the party? The scales of justice lean in my favour and Charlene and I get our card game though she and I both try hard to not look like we’re having too much fun.
“Last game you two,” he announces as we start another round.
“Will you play it with us Daddy?” She’s trying to lure him away from his ever present phone, his incessant scrolling.
“Daddy’s busy pet.” He hasn’t even glanced up.
“No Daddy, pleeeeaaase? It will be way more fun.” She’s talking to him but grinning at me. She’s a charmer this one and now we’re conspiring again. If we can get him playing we’ll get more than this last round.
“Ya Daddy” I join in. “Come play. Pleeeeaaase…” I mimic the girls tone and we giggle together until he has to give in and leave the coveted phone. My irrelevance is fading.
“How’d you get so good at Rummy, Char?”
“Nana taught it to me and Gran and I play it every day after school.” Her cheeks redden as she realizes she’s ventured into touchy territory. “But I like playing it better with you.” She’s quick to cover her tracks.
The slip doesn’t go unnoticed but he’s trying to rise above it.
“What else do you do with Gran?” He’s probing as his awareness shifts.
Her eyes dart to mine. She’s looking for confidence. She needs to know this isn’t going to get her into trouble.
“Well,” she starts slowly, “Gran and I are reading Harry Potter together. Have you read it Dad? It’s really good.”
Barry smiles. He nods slowly as he replies thoughtfully, “Sure. I love it.” He’s unsure now too, probably wondering how he left it to Myrna to introduce what was once his favourite book. His eyes meet mine and I know he’s remembering he and I reading it to each other. “What else?”
“Well.” Another pause.
I smile and nod.
“She’s good at other games too. Did you know she plays Bridge, Dad? She says she’ll teach me if I want to learn. And she’s got Sagrada. It’s pretty hard but I like all the colours. And sometimes we get Grampy to play hide and seek with us. I think he just pretends he doesn’t know where I am but he’s so funny. It’s so fun there Dad.” Suddenly she stops, the red rising in her cheeks again, wondering if she’s said too much.
But she hasn’t. I’m watching closely, witnessing his pain, his tenderness evident, and I know he’s seeing her now. He’s here for her.
Barry’s smile breaks the tension as he lays down his winning hand in triumph. “Ta Da” he announces.
Charlene grins as he gently leans over and wrestles her into a snuggle. “Now monkey, off to bed. I’ve got a phone call to make.”
The little girl raises her eye brow questioningly.
“Yup, I’ve got to call your mom. We’ve got some stuff to work out and we better get it done before that party. Right?”
She leans in and gives him a kiss. “Thank you Daddy! Can Nana tuck me in?”
“Of course sweetie,” he winks at me and smiles. “Of course she can.”