Shiva | Credit: Rick Doehring

Our one-year-old granddaughter was coming for her first visit to Santa Barbara. We were thrilled. But then we realized we had to get ready for her.

First we had to thoroughly clean the house. We don’t usually crawl around on our knees — but she does. So when we actually started cleaning, we found places we hadn’t visited in quite a while — wiping down the baseboards was expected, but I was shocked to find dustballs under my bed larger than the ones that chased the Joads out of Oklahoma.

We placed objects out of her reach so she couldn’t hurt herself. You can never predict what a one-year-old will get into, and we debated whether to put our Complete Collection of Calvin and Hobbes in a closet. I wasn’t concerned that she might tip the books over on herself; I was worried that if she actually saw some of the strips she might start sledding like a maniac and wondering why her own stuffed animals didn’t argue with her about the meaning of life.

We continued prepping: We rented a high chair, we put together a special box of toys to give her something to do during the few hours we’d be home, and we made dinner reservations at our favorite restaurants. We also made a list of places we wanted to take her, such as the Old Mission, East Beach, MOXI, the Botanic Garden, and the Zoo. Our plan to give our granddaughter the visit of her short life was ready. Then something happened that changed everything: She arrived.

Dinners-out became dinners-in — her nighttime sleep schedule pretty much meant it was easier to stay home in the evenings. So we got takeout and ate dinner sitting around her high chair just watching her. She knew she was the star of the show and played to her audience, separating and prioritizing her food as she ate, completing her act with a yum-yum-yum sound track. She also pretended like she was going to drop her water bottle — which you were supposed to catch. And, as soon as you sat back and relaxed, she did it.

Obviously she already had the perfect timing of a slapstick comedian.

A morning walk in Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden substituted for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden because her nap time — just like Grandpa’s — came an hour after breakfast. Besides, Keck had ducks, turtles, and squirrels — her favorite animal! No garden could beat that lineup. In fact, it was so good that we went back three mornings in a row. Unknown to me at the time, we were practicing a Montessori teaching method of repetition and learning. I had ignorantly assumed we were just looking for rodents.

Our planned visit to the Mission turned into … what was I thinking? Why would a one-year-old want to see an old building? Unless it happened to be a prune packaging plant. Because she loved prunes. They were her favorite food. And, fortunately for her, we were well-stocked. Hey, we’re grandparents.

She and Grandma played for hours — not with the toys we had put in that special box — but with a piece of red string that they repeatedly tied and untied around a small statue of Shiva we’d stuck in a corner of the living room. Shiva first scared her, then enthralled her. Mom explained that her daughter wasn’t being precociously religious — she liked Shiva because babies just really like looking at faces. Maybe. But I’m getting that little girl the pop-up book of Hindu Sutras for Christmas just in case.

Though born in Wisconsin, our granddaughter might be a California girl at heart: She hates the cold, she loves wearing sunglasses, and Shoreline Beach Cafe quesadillas became her favorite new food during her visit. And she loved feeling a warm wind blow through her hair for the first time. Let me explain that last one: By the time she had any hair it was late fall in Wisconsin, and she had to be bundled up every time she went out — so her face lit up when she felt that warm Santa Ana — just like when I gave her that first spoonful of McConnell’s ice cream. Bad Grandpa.

Our plan to go to the MOXI was replaced by playing outside on the veranda with metal measuring spoons and tin containers she’d found in the kitchen. Living her entire crawling age during a Wisconsin winter meant that she had never been able to simply crawl outside her house and keep playing. And apparently they don’t have metal measuring spoons or tin stacking cups with colored plastic lids in the Midwest — because these objects fascinated her for hours — so much so that any trip to MOXI for STEM learning seemed utterly redundant.

The trip to the Zoo turned into a walk down our street listening to, and looking for, mockingbirds, crows, wrens, and woodpeckers. When they flew away, our granddaughter signaled for “more,” confident that her grandparents had the power to summon birds out of trees and bushes at will. She loved seeing these free-forever birds so much that it suddenly became difficult to explain why we’d ever wanted to take her to see caged animals in the first place.

We did decide that she had to see East Beach so that she could dip her baby toes into the Pacific. We had barely arrived when a wave crashed thunderously 10 yards from her, scaring her so much that we had to take her home. We may not have had time to roll out the blanket, the umbrella, and the sand toys — but somehow we had managed to scar our granddaughter for life by giving her cymophobia … the fear of waves.

So — we actually didn’t do much of anything on our list. And yet we had done much much more. Because we were with her the entire time and had experienced her world on her terms. We had begun to learn who she was, what she needed, and what we could mean to her.

We also realized how to plan for her next visit. Or, rather, how not to plan. You don’t need planned stimulation when everything in your life is new and exciting. Keeping your life that way is a lesson I relearned during her visit.

Therefore, instead of planning to go to the Santa Barbara Bowl or the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, her uncle will play the piano so she can swing and sway the way she likes to, and we’ll make sure there’s plenty of crayons and paper on the veranda. We will also fill the lower kitchen cabinets with safe things she can discover. And we’ll remember to dust off good old Shiva.

And I think we will try the beach one more time — we’ll just make sure that the tide is out and that the waves are small and gentle, just like her. Unless of course she’s got her water bottle in her hand.


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