The trick in grandparenting these days is to be cool, as well as warm.
It used to be so easy -- you visit your gramma or grampy, spend the day getting hugs and kisses and a good hot meal and then you go home.
But now, they're not around the corner any more. Now, in the global world, they can be anywhere -- like Florida, for God's sake, or in our case London. And so visiting them -- or having them come to us -- requires considerable planning.
I think we've figured it out. And I think this could be a template for others in our situation.
Every summer, our London-based Jane flies to New York from London and spends some time with us before going to an Upstate camp for three weeks. Those days with us are precious, and we have tried to be creative. She explained to us after living in London for a few years, "I've seen most of the capitals of Western Europe, but I haven't even seen my own."
Thus, we set out to make sure she enjoys herself and goes home thinking how fabulous her New York grandparents are. Two years ago, we took her to Chincoteague, the island of wild horses off Virginia's eastern shore. Now almost 12 years old, Jane has been enamored of animals, and horses especially, since cuddling stuffed animals as an infant.
So Chincoteague was a slam-dunk. You can walk among the horses -- although you're admonished not to touch them (especially when a park ranger is looking). It was a transformative experience, reminding me of our African safari and of driving alongside lions in the bush.
On the way back to NYC we stopped in Washington so we could see the capital of Jane's homeland, and snapped a great picture (take a look) of her contemplating the White House.
Last year, we made it up to Boston for her annual Americanization fix. We stayed at the Taj Boston, giving Jane a taste of the good life as well as being close to things important to her: the Boston Children's Museum and the Aquarium. The Taj -- part of a worldwide chain of some of the most sophisticated hotels -- was remarkably child-friendly, and the staff made us feel as if grandparents with kids were as welcome as VIP business travelers.
This year, we decided we were going to do all animals, all the time. Destination: Catskills in New York State.
I have a thing for the Catskills. It conjures a time, a place, a memory that I never want erased. For many people, the Catskills evokes a certain type of hotel, or a summer spent in what we used to call "the mountains."
But I also discovered a place called the Catskill Animal Sanctuary -- a world where dozens of "rescued" animals (including three blind horses) live in a loving, caring, hands-on environment. It's in Saugerties, about a two-hour drive from Midtown, and a bucolic world of difference.
The Sanctuary has an early 19th-century house with a few rooms -- recently renovated and air-conditioned. It's under $200 with a vegan breakfast. If you spend the night, you're an instant VIP, get yourself a badge to hang around your neck, and can walk just about wherever you please. You don't need the tour, which is available only on weekends for the same-day visitor.
Goats walked alongside us, and the pigs were friendly, even though they sniffled at us from behind a wooden gate. Roosters crowed constantly (I thought they did it only at daybreak), and the baby horse snuggled, although his momma sometimes gave us a sidelong glare. If you have the least little bit of feeling for animals -- farm animals, that is -- you had better come to Catskill Animal Sanctuary.
But don't stop there. We didn't. We visited nearby Woodstock (where Yasger's farm isn't), and plucked at the faux guitars that line the sidewalks and that channel Hendrix. Stopped off at Joshua's, for its zucchini fritters, and chuckled at the 60-year-old bearded hippies riding bikes. Greenwich Village Rural.
This was not my grandmother's Catskills -- she had a farm in Jeffersonville, with no plumbing or electricity and provided the greatest summers I ever had. Her place is not the place I remember. The great hotels aren't there any more. But in their place is a lively country-ish environment in which you can do just about anything, from riding to sitting on a porch swing, to having a goat cheese and beets salad to hiking.
Indeed, the Catskills of 2012 probably offer more to do than most other areas adjacent to big cities I have visited.
We spent only two days there, but it was one of those excursions where you feel as if you've been gone a week. You know what I mean?
And then, a few days later, we went with Jane to the Animal Medical Center on East 62d Street. A friend's cat had a problem. The Center is eight stories high, one of the largest veterinary centers in America. A vet there told us about some of her recent "patients" -- that's what they're called. Their human owners are "clients." We heard about the bird with a hernia, the dog with the heart problem. The Central Park swans with, well, swan problems. There are CAT-scans and X-ray machines and a caring professional staff that shows there's more to medicine than just being smart.
So now that summer's coming to a close, Jane will be going back to London. And we'll be thinking of what to do for her next experience. It reminds me of my old Brooklyn Dodgers' refrain: Wait Till Next Year!