When you are apart from the people and things you love, life often unfolds as a series of snapshots, not as a continuous rolling film.
For grandparents in particular, the lights-camera-action moments can only be experienced by traveling long distances. And that explains why I am just back from Australia, where I grew up and where my daughter Allison, who was born in Pittsburgh, is living my life in reverse. Except the part about writing a newspaper column. She is way too smart for that.
Allison has settled in Sydney with her husband Christopher, who is originally from Boston and is known to everyone as Critter, although he is not really a critter, just unusually quick and feral in his movements. He could do wallaby impersonations if he weren't always leaping about on a surfboard.
Allison and Critter Gilpin are the proud parents of a new baby, Lucy Louise, now 4 weeks old, who joins her little big sister Tillie, now 2 1/2 years old.
Once Lucy was born, the international cute signal went off -- "Cute, cute, cute, calling all grandparents, cute, cute, cute." So we lost no time, traveling 24 hours in the economy cattle class of airplanes from Pittsburgh, to see the new baby, the mother and the surfing wallaby.
And, imagine our surprise, little Lucy was as cute as advertised, although -- as I often say -- it's easy being cute if you are a baby. It's being cute at 66 years old and above that is the challenge. Of course, I am not in the least biased, but Lucy is fluffy cloud cute. Indeed, as I cradled the wee child, an old Beatles song kept playing in my mind, only with a Down Under twist to the lyrics: "Lucy in the sky with Vegemite."
(International-minded readers will recognize that Vegemite is the edible axle grease that Aussies put on their toast to make themselves tough.)
Tillie is good with her new sister, bending down to give her a kiss at every opportunity. Indeed, Papa -- that would be me -- was jealous of this because Tillie, herself a blond, blue-eyed pixie, has become more discriminating about kissing visitors from America, even if closely related. Her mother has taken to calling her Little Miss Attitude. It is further proof that the Terrible Twos are a worldwide phenomenon.
I understand her reservations. If I were small and cute in my own right, I too would object to large, wrinkled persons who have failed the cuteness test wanting to hug me. Allison says this is just a phase. Of course it is. But I'd jump off the Sydney Harbor Bridge if it didn't cost about $250 to climb it.
Still, we had fun. We took Tillie to the famous Taronga Park Zoo, where we saw a platypus, a wombat, a tree-climbing kangaroo, lions, tigers and, oh my, a huge silver-backed gorilla, which Tillie did not like -- perhaps thinking he looked a bit like Papa, although perhaps I am being a little sensitive. After all, the gorilla had more hair.
We went to the library with Tillie, who loves books. She picks up books and has a great time pretending to read them in a little Aussie accent as Lucy sits nearby and squeaks in a tiny Aussie accent.
We went to Tillie's ballet class. Dancing has not been a traditional strength of our family -- occasionally someone's pants will catch fire and he or she will bust a few moves -- and it will take dancing lessons at 21/2 to break the trend.
Or not. Tillie certainly wears a fine tutu. Her dancing consists of running across the studio, with a wallaby prance she gets from her father, while imitating a blossom. She did this until one of her little pals did an errant pirouette and sent her sprawling. Then she spent the rest of the class on injured reserve.
This was the story of the people we loved as the action unfolded, quite different from the snapshot impressions gained intermittently on Skype -- closer, more complicated.
Unfortunately, Sydney with its glorious beaches and harbor is one of the world's most expensive cities. If you get off the plane and experience a throbbing in your side, it may not be deep vein thrombosis. In Sydney, it may turn out to be deep wallet thrombosis.
All I can say is that it is worth the pain, especially if you are surrounded by dolls of various sizes. All grandparents know that feeling, wherever they are.
Reg Henry: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1668.