The Child and the Garden

My daughter’s daughter is exactly 18 months old today. She lives near Denver, Colorado, and she is a joy.

‘Of course,’ you will say. ‘Every grandchild’s a joy. Every child. Every baby. C’mon.’

‘No,’ I will say as a truly objective grandfather. ‘This one is really something.’

Let us see. What might be so special about her?

I’d start with her name — Genevieve. It is nice and it has a soft hidden twist, like nectar in a blooming vine of honeysuckle. We call her Vivi for short, but her mother calls her Nugget, Nunu, Nago, Love, Little Bob, Peanut, Packet (that’s for the way she was wrapped the day she arrived home from the hospital), Sugarplum, Babe, Button and Bop, in no particular order or preference. When she calls her Genevieve, even their miniature schnauzer knows to start paying attention. By the way, the schnauzer is appropriately named Spartacus.

Vivi is about two foot tall — thirty inches, my daughter corrects me, because she knows everything. Vivi weighs 24 pounds. Her legs look shorter than her upper body, a fact that gives her the charming proportions of a duckling. She is close to the ground, which means gravity is under control. No doubt these proportions will change and her legs will shoot up like bamboos, but for now she reminds me of the chubby angels decorating people’s front yards.

Her skin is smooth like marble, except it is warm. It has a perfectly peachy color and pulsates with life. Every part of her body is totally perfect, even when it is not.

Her hair is straight and resembles straws warmed by the sun. She never had a haircut. Her mother trimmed her bangs once or twice. And her eyes…her eyes are dark blue, or maybe blue-gray. They have the colors of the cloudy sky, with various shades of mild summer storms. They have a little green in them, a little brown, and a few sparkles of gold. And her lashes are long. My wife and I argued about the hard to define color of her eyes for a while and neither held the upper hand.

I asked my daughter to describe her daughter and she said Vivi was snugly. She said that at night she sleeps on her head (on my daughter’s head, that is). ‘She is playful,’ my daughter said. ‘Thoughtful, precocious, inquisitive and courageous. I love her. She’s a bundle of energy. She doesn’t walk — she runs. She dances with her daddy to Queen and Lady Gaga. And she’s into everything, you’ll see.’

We did. We visited for several days. She popped up under the kitchen sink, on the steps to the basement, on the coffee table and in the yard. She climbed. She came running, gave us huge smiles and then disappeared in an instant. Yet, we noticed she was cautious and smart. She navigated her world with care, first looking, then touching, then crawling, while holding on with her hands. When she got stuck, she looked around expectantly. There was rescue, no matter what.

The parents are always there. They know how to behave with the child, taking their clues from her and giving her as much freedom as possible. Intervening when necessary. There is no artificially imposed structure in their life, except what developed as the natural flow of their daily routine. If she’s ready for bed, she sleeps. She eats when she is hungry. The three of them, together, are happy.

Vivi loves their garden, the soft grass right off the porch. Whenever she’s out there, Spartacus is next to her. She cannot say his name yet and calls him ‘Tatty.’ Spartacus doesn’t seem to mind. Raspberry bushes grow against the back fence. Vivi runs to them and chomps raspberries by the fistful, with a satisfied smile on her face and raspberry juice trickling down her chin. A very large, old maple tree stands nearby, a swing tied to its lowest branch, which is as thick as a monster’s neck. A cast iron bench and table are placed in its shadow. A bird feeder is attached high above. Far to the left there is a small grapevine on a trellis, too high for Vivi to reach. (I think the grapes are safe for a year or two.) To the right is a lush patch that looks like a miniature jungle, with too many different bushes and flowers for me to name. A narrow path cuts through it. Strung through gnarly low branches are Christmas lights, Chinese lanterns, Tibetan prayer flags, an old rocking chair and handmade wind chimes. Vegetables occupy a sunny corner. They grow happily entangled and entwined: tomato plants, peppers, cucumbers, squash, onions, kale, herbs. When my daughter needs fresh ingredients for their dinner, Vivi accompanies her. She patiently waits with a basket and follows my daughter’s gestures with curious eyes.

Vivi eats everything — by comparison to other children, I mean. Hummus is her favorite dish. A lot of what she doesn’t eat ends up on the floor to the delight of her four-legged friend.

She doesn’t speak yet. In addition to Tatty, she says Mama, Dada and ‘dah,’ just like the Russian ‘yes.’ You ask her: ‘Vivi, are you hungry?’ and she responds, ‘Dah.’ ‘Sleepy?’ ‘Dah.’ ‘Come here.’ ‘Dah,’ and she walks away.

She gurgles. It sounds like long sentences. When I hear her, I think of Tolstoy.

Sunday morning we drove to see the Red Rocks Amphitheater, near the town of Morrison. There are about one million steps to climb from the parking lot to the Visitors Center, from where one can start exploring the site. Vivi’s father didn’t come along. He’s been there before, he has a bad knee and we didn’t want to ride in two cars. I don’t know if being one mile closer to the sun makes a difference, but the sun was merciless. My daughter picked up Vivi vigorously at first and then put her down. ‘She’s heavy,’ my daughter said. ‘And it’s hot.’ ‘Let me help you,’ I said. My daughter grabbed Vivi’s right hand, and I took her left — first one step, then another, and then, like a little giant, Vivi climbed two steps at a time all the way to the top.

I was exhausted when we returned and sat down to rest on the porch with a nice glass of wine in my hand. Vivi’s father was there. My wife came out, too. My daughter was taking a shower, while Vivi and Spartacus ran into the garden. We were talking about our visit, when I noticed Vivi climb onto the metal table and from there into the swing. But she made the wrong move and ended up holding on with one hand, with her head down and her feet in the air. Before I managed to yell the first ‘vi’ of her name, her daddy was there, bad knee and all.

And that’s how I know she is special: because she has a mother and a father like that.

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Under the pen name Tudor Alexander I have written and published five novels and one collection of short stories. Please visit www.tudoralexander.com.