We are sitting knee-to-knee at the top of a long flight of stairs that runs from the first floor of my daughter's Los Angeles home, to the second. There are three bedrooms up here; two are empty -- the adults having left for the night. And the third, where my 6-year-old grandson was supposed to be slumbering, has just been vacated.
"Call Mommy and tell her to come home," he says, one hand on the banister and the other wiping fresh tears from his face.
"No, I'm not," I say. "Mommy needs a night out."
His tears, which I believe are as false as those of a screen idol, slide from a trickle to full faucet. I am impressed with this talent.
"I want Mommy," he repeats.
"I can put you to bed," I say. After all, I had already fulfilled the prescription left by his mother: We cuddled under the covers, I flipped the pages of a favorite book and read dramatically -- playing all of the characters in different tones of voices -- and, I kissed his sweet forehead before twirling the light knob off and slipping out the door.
"Call Daddy. Call Isaac. Call Faith," he said. His father, brother, aunt; I waited for him to add the postman, gardener, housekeeper -- anyone but bad Grandma.
"I don't feel safe," he said, tossing a grenade. I smiled as I heard a sentence likely gleaned from kindergarten warnings.
"What can I do to make you feel safe?"
"You're acting like a bully," I said. My grandson paused his tears for a bit and turned to look at me. He couldn't believe his ears, and his luck.
"You shouldn't call me a bully," he said. "That's not allowed at school."
I could see the scoreboard in my head, and his hometown team was trouncing the visiting one. Then, came my next foul: I started to cry. Not false tears as I believed my grandson was producing, and not sobs, just wet whispers of defeat.
"You win," I said. We had been at this for 30 minutes and I was ready to wave the white flag. "Let's go downstairs and call your mother."
When we reached the guest room where I was spending the night, he hopped in my bed, smiling as if he had been designated Most Valuable Player.
My cell phone had already received a text from my daughter. "How did everything go?" she wrote. "Were you able to put him to sleep?"
Self-pity turned to pique. My second born -- the recipient of decades of my love and devotion -- had predicted I'd encounter difficulty in putting her own second born to bed. She knew I was fresh at this, having lived in different cities for all of his young years. Why had she not warned me? Why had she allowed me to enter the game like a player without proper headgear?
I returned her text: "I failed. He wants you home."
"On my way," she sent back.
When I turned to tell him the good news, he was fast asleep on my bed. His mother arrived, shook her head, and then carried him upstairs.
The next morning, my grandson and I greeted each other warily. Instead of pouting, I opted to put the previous night's episode behind me. "What would you like for breakfast?" I asked, kissing the top of his head. "We have Cheerios, or if you prefer, waffles." I was acting Diner Waitress in a game we often played.
"Cheerios," he said, evidently also eager to erase our evening dust-up.
The next day after I returned to my Los Angeles apartment, my daughter phoned. "He said you called him a bully and that you cried."
"True and true," I said.
"You shouldn't have done either," she said.
"I was unprepared," I said. "I didn't plan my reaction and couldn't help my tears."
"You're the adult," she said. "You should've known better."
My shoulders sunk as I felt another round slipping away. "I'm sorry," I said. "I wish it had turned out differently."
That evening, I sent my daughter a text. "How about I come over early tomorrow and give him breakfast? You can sleep in."
"That would be lovely," she typed back. We were not opponents after all. Obviously, the three of us had regretted our actions, words, and wounds, but remain deeply attached.
Now, because my daughter is an award-winning TV writer and director, the unfortunate scene just described could possibly be fictionalized and turn up in one of her episodes. Luckily, I can first report it here, from my POV.
So score one for grandmas -- good, bad, and somewhere in between.