Friday, October 5, 2012

The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe

Five years ago today my life changed dramatically, and I never saw it coming.

In August of 2007 the last of four kids went off to college, leaving the proverbial empty nest. Thoughts of babies and toddlers and all of the things that go with that were far, far away, even though there was another child on the horizon. And while it would be my first grandchild, the impending arrival didn't seem to have a lot to do with my world. Another kid, sure, but it would be the job of my daughter and her husband to worry about it, raise it, feed it, take care of it.

Then, on October 5, Annie showed up.

I like to think I'm pretty good with words, but I can't describe the way that little newborn just reached up and grabbed my heart. I was totally unprepared for the emotion of being a grandfather, and was blown away by the realization that the little bundle in my lap represented a whole new generation of "my people," another link in a chain that goes back to my great-great-grandfather making the decision to leave Holland and seek a better life in America.

Coloring easter eggs
Just a few months after Annie was born, I began working out of my home, and she was there most days for day care. Her napping room was next to my office, and I'd usually be the one to hear her wake up in the crib and began banging her legs against the side. Unlike most babies, she seldom cried when she woke up. Instead, she'd just lay in the crib until I came to get her, she'd smile at me as I picked her up and we'd have a few minutes together before Penny would show up with a bottle.

There are multiple sets of grandparents, and so my daughter gave us all different names. Penny and I are "Oma" and "Opa," and while I can't say that Annie's first word was "Opa," it was in the first five.

It became apparent - at least to me - right away that she was a bright child, and I began referring to her in this blog as "The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe." I was struck by the fact that, even before she could speak, she remembered people and names and things. She liked to sit in my lap and watch hockey, and when she was just two, I took a three-ring binder and made "Anne's Hockey Book," a collection of small felt pennants from all 30 NHL teams. All you had to do was ask, "Where are the Predators?" or "Where are the Blackhawks?" and she could pick out the right pennant.

Watching her beloved Minnesota Wild
A short time later, she was sitting on my lap at the computer, picking out keys and spelling her name. At every age, she's been doing things that it seems she shouldn't be doing for a couple more years. Although she's still in pre-school, she READS. Not the "I memorized the words" thing in a kid's book, but she can actually pick up a book she's never seen, look at it and start reading it. I have no idea what they're going to teach her next year in kindergarten.

Showing off her artistic side
She loves her Minnesota Wild and knows virtually all the players, loves her Mikko and P-Marc and Heater, and was heartbroken last year when Matt Cullen got hurt. Earlier this year the family was driving along I-94 through St. Paul when she looked out the window and recognized the Xcel Energy Center. She let out a loud scream, and immediately realized she had screamed too loud. "Sorry," she said, "I was just SO excited."

Taking care of her baby brother Cal
But even if she wasn't the Smartest Little Girl in the Universe, she absolutely owns Opa. My heart still leaps when I hear her footsteps coming down the hallway, and most of the time it's to climb in my lap, get on the computer and find pictures of horses, or princesses or fairies or something to color.

And for five years, she's been reminding me all over again how it's possible to love someone else so completely and totally and unconditionally, which is a lesson all of us need to be reminded of once in a while.

Happy birthday, Annie, and thank you for being there for Opa.


  1. Love it. Love you. She's the best.

  2. You are the best writer in the universe. What a gre at tribute. Happy birthday Annie!