03/06/2012 03:22 pm ET Updated May 16, 2012

Long Distance Grandparents And The Sacrifices Made For Grandchildren

I am not prone to nightmares, but on those sporadic occasions when abject fear wakes me from my slumber, my vivid dreams are invariably composed of one or more of the following very terrible and terrifying scenarios:

1. I am forced to drive at night on a highway in a congested and unfamiliar city.
2. I find creepy-crawly creatures in my bathroom sink or shower.
3. It is very cold outside, and I have neither central heat nor any other means of warming my chilled bones.
4. It is very humid outside, and no man-made contraption has yet been invented that can contain the sprawl of auburn frizz on my head.

As nightmares go, my month-long stay in Los Angeles from which I have recently returned, qualifies as a quadruple whammy. For one thing, I was required to drive. A lot. Sometimes at night. If you wish to go anywhere in LA that is more than four blocks from your domicile, driving becomes a necessity. How can anyone plan a day in LALA Land? The same drive that took 15 minutes on Tuesday could take four-and-a-half hours on Friday. And drivers are very aggressive there. It is not unusual for timid drivers like me to wind up three or four exits past the desired exit ramp due to a fear of switching lanes.

In my former life, I would have chosen to stay home every night, but on those dark February nights in LA, I was living my new life as a grandmother, driving to babysit for my favorite little girl. So with knuckles as white as perfect Mikimoto pearls, I drove.

Would I have done so for the children I actually birthed? Not on your life.

The apartment my husband and I rented accommodated our budget, but not our needs. Nights in Southern California can be chilly, particularly in February. Unbeknownst to us when we wrote the rent check in advance of our arrival, our building had no central heat. Who thinks to ask if an apartment has heat? I'll freely admit I live in a blessed world, and in that blessed world heat is taken for granted. As is running water, which we had little of. I will never take either for granted again.

Ours was not a humane mission to a storm-ravaged or underprivileged community where one's expectations would be minimal. We were in Santa Monica, California, United States of America, sleeping in our overcoats and running to the gym at the hotel next door to shower every day.

Our place smelled bad. The refrigerator was tiny, and it took four days for the water in the ice cube trays to freeze, which was ironic because the blood in my veins froze in half that time. The vacuum deposited lint on everything we owned. Yet we stayed. For four weeks we resided on the same coast in the same city as our granddaughter, and our love for her trumped our own comfort.

Oh, yes. We had bugs, but I am still too creeped out to mention the little moths in the toilet or the giant one whom I think ate a hole in the only swimsuit that ever looked good on me.

As for nightmare No. 4: my hair. To quote Eva Gabor, "Neeeewwww Yawk is where I'd rahtha stay." New York loves my hair. LA, not so much. Douglas, the stylist at the hotel next door, did his damnedest to tame my mane from the effects of the damp beach breezes. He went right from me to a scotch straight up.

But my hair didn't matter to Kyla, the love of my life. Too young to realize I looked like Bozo, she greeted me daily with a smile that said, "I love you Grammy, just the way you are." Receiving those smiles was like winning the lottery.

I learned much from my sabbatical on the opposite coast. I learned how much I can live without, how much of what I have is nice, but superfluous. I renewed my compassion for those who live with less. I learned that with the right motivation I am able to face my fears. I can drive in the dark on highways in strange cities. I can clean bugs out of a toilet and sleep in a coat. Yes, I can. There is no one stronger than a long-distance grandmother.

Before I receive comments from phobic people nationwide, I realize I don't suffer from the debilitating clinical phobias that can be true impediments to living full lives. I am grateful for that and am not making light of the severity of those afflicted with overwhelming fear. I am thankful to be just an ordinary neurotic with a granddaughter who can work miracles.