But I realize now that I only knew those stories because they were told to me by other people. The night of Mindy Perlmutter's terrarium party, my grandmother was telling me the things she wanted me to know. She talked about dances and boys and a silvery blue dress she'd sewn with her sisters. She told me about a time when all her friends were doubled over with laughter because...well, I'm not really sure what it was they found so funny. There was a honk and the glare of headlights, so I gave my grandmother a fast peck on the cheek and flew straight out the door. She went into the hospital the next morning, and she never came out.
I sit playing Candy Land with the great-granddaughter Rose Kogan never got to meet. Julia Claire closes her eyes, blows on the dice, and whispers, "C'mon, c'mon, Mama needs a pair of deuces."
I have no idea why my 6-year-old sounds like Edward G. Robinson, but I make a mental note to quit letting her play blackjack with the doormen. She rolls "snake eyes" and becomes my little girl again. "I want a do-over, Mommy."
I start to explain that we don't really get do-overs in this world, that you kind of have to play it as it lays. I believe the parenting books call this a "teachable moment," but my follow-through leaves much to be desired. I hand Jules the dice and say, "Go for it, kid."
The truth is, I want a do-over, too. I have ignored my instincts, I have embraced my neuroses, and there have been more than a few serious lapses in judgment over the years—hell, I once painted my bathroom aubergine. But if I could get just one night back, it would be a chilly October evening when nothing mattered more to me than hanging with my friends in Mindy Perlmutter's basement.
I would have taken off my coat and sat back down, only this time I'd have faced my grandmother instead of the driveway. I would have asked her if the good times outweighed the bad, if there were nights she'd do differently, if she'd ever felt like giving up—or if that was even an option. I never told her how smart and talented and brave and lovely I thought she was. I never heard what was so great about Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver. I never found out what she did to make her skin so soft and her matzo balls so firm or if she'd have preferred it the other way around. And I never thanked her for being my go-to grandma in the unconditional goodness department.
Julia and I finish the game and say our goodnights. I am eager to return a couple of calls, get her lunch packed for school, and watch the episode of Mad Men I've got waiting on our DVR. But my daughter is feeling chatty. "Mommy," she begins, "do you know why the Princess Barbie Musketeers have swords that match their ball gowns?" Before I can answer, she announces, "It's because they're royal squashbucklers." I tell her I'm pretty sure the word is swashbucklers, and she tells me she's pretty sure I'm wrong and goes on talking. She doesn't want to let go of the night, and so I nudge away two stuffed poodles and curl up beside her. The calls and the lunch and even Don Draper can wait, because I have learned the hard way that my job is to sit quietly in the dark and listen to whatever my daughter has to say.
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