Here's what happened: My husband and I took our grandson home for the night and visited the county fair the next morning.
Nothing went wrong, and when we brought this well-loved 4-year-old home 27 hours later, we all but kissed his parents' feet.
At home, we scarcely left the living-room floor, where we played with Matchbox cars, Jenga blocks and dominoes, the latter two of which we used not to play Jenga or dominoes but to build roads, ramps and garages for the cars. In the morning, after vetoing his plan to take the cars, or maybe two cars or even one car, we went to the fair.
Right off the bat, he saw a parking attendant sitting in a folding chair. "What are you doing?" he said to her. He didn't intend to sound like a drill instructor berating a recruit. He doesn't know what a drill instructor is. Still, a whiff of boot camp may have crept in. He's very enthusiastic.
In fact, I was reminded of the time we took this same boy to a bakery. We were enjoying cookies and milk when he saw the employee who had served us sitting at a table reading the newspaper. "Woman!" he said. (She was a woman and he wanted her attention.) "Why are you sitting down?" You'd have thought he was about to dock her pay, though I'm pretty sure he merely has a preschooler's fixed ideas about people's roles.
The look we gave the bakery woman then was the same one we now gave the parking attendant. It's the look that reminds me of John Cleese as Basil Fawlty, saying, "You'll have to excuse him. He's from Barcelona."
We came across a newborn calf suckling its mother. Our grandson paused at the pen the pair occupied, the calf still wet, umbilical cord dangling, then drifted right through the tent door to the next activity, which happened to be swinging on a guy rope.
We wandered on to goats, pigs, zero-turn lawn mowers and the racetrack, where a large yellow grader was smoothing the surface. He watched the grader while we watched him, cartoon hearts floating from our eyes. These hearts tend to present, as doctors say, whenever we're around our grandchildren. (We also sent a few hearts to a nearby litter of labradoodle puppies, though it felt disloyal.)
Given our heart condition, of course we went willingly to Kiddieland to watch a smiling boy travel in circles on a motorcycle, a helicopter and an apple worm. Then he decided to ride a small roller coaster. I was all, "Oh sure, go for it," until, at the last second, my grandson said, "You come, too."
"No adults," the operator said. He popped my beating heart into a car, snugged down his ball cap (my beating heart immediately loosened it again) and the ride began.
The rattling cars climbed soft slopes and swung around gentle curves for hours. I watched the operator's face for signs of sadism and watched my grandson's for terror and disappointment in his grandmother. I was wishing for a sword to fall on when the ride finally stopped.
"It was really fast," he said when he climbed down. I said I could see that. "You held up well," I said.
Later, home again, he regaled his mother and younger brother with his adventures. He saw a baby cow, he said.
"What was it doing?" said my daughter.
"His mama was nursing," he said. "Like you." So he did notice.
"And I went on a fast roller coaster," my grandson said. "But I held up well."
Now here's the thing. I'm a parent. I raised two children. But I'm not in the same boat -- I'm not even in the same ocean -- as parents today.
Today's parents are amazing. They work, raise great children and crush the myriad details of life.
Yet against all logic, they're rarely hospitalized for exhaustion. While I, after just 27 hours with a charming grandson, lay flat on my living room floor (and several dominoes) for days.
Today's parents are my heroes. They can go countless rounds, while I'm weaving like a punch-drunk boxer. But I'm not down for the count. Overall, in fact, I held up well.
Write to Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.