It's been quite a month, filled with forever memories. Funny, isn't it, how we can pack so much life into so little time?
Four weeks ago, I left home in Carmel Valley, waved goodbye to my husband and boarded a train to go nearly 400 miles to be with my son and his wife for the birth of their second child.
In the past, when I visited, they treated me like a queen, forbidding me to lift a hand except to use a fork or raise a glass or hold a toddler.
This time, I was no queen. I was Nana on a Mission. I came to help, and most of all, to hang out with 2-year-old Jonah.
How hard could it be? I'm no rookie with 2-year-olds. I raised (and survived) three of my own. My husband and I share eight grandchildren. The oldest is 10. Six of them were once 2-year-olds. Two still are.
Jonah is the youngest of the litter. Or he was until recently, when his baby sister entered the world, bringing our grandbaby total to nine, or as my husband likes to say, a baseball team.
Her name is Leilani, and she is every bit as lovely as her name.
Her mother gave birth to her at home, attended by a midwife, after putting Jonah to bed in the guest room upstairs with me. He slept peacefully through the labor, but woke minutes after the birth, as if somehow he knew his world had changed.
His dad sent a text to tell me, "She's here and she's beautiful!"
I spent a moment giving thanks for that tiny, perfect gift of life. Then I looked up and saw Jonah watching me.
"Oh, hello, Nana," he said, in a delightful British accent that he learned from his British mother, "I go see mama now?"
And so it began. Life changed for Jonah and his mama and his daddy, as it always does when another child joins a family.
Leilani sleeps, yes, like a baby. Her mama nurses. Her daddy cooks. And her nana tries hard to keep her big brother happy.
If a 2-year-old is not happy — say, because you won't, for some reason, let him juggle knives — he will make it crystal clear to you and all your neighbors by shrieking slightly louder than a car alarm.
But when he's happy? He will light you up like Christmas with a smile that outshines the sun. He will fall down laughing at silly things you say and make you think you're the funniest nana ever. He will cup your face in his blueberry stained fists, look deep into your eyes and whisper, "Oh, hello, Nana."
And no matter how exhausted you may be, or how much you want to kick off your nana shoes and crawl into bed fully dressed — that 2-year-old will make you reach in your heart and find the strength to fire a cannonball off the pirate ship one more time.
Jonah has two pirate ships. One of them is anchored by my bed. We've shot its cannonball (and chased after it under the bed) several thousand times.
On the table, beside my laptop computer, is Jonah's favorite puzzle: Stacks of wooden shapes that he can put together faster than I can say, "Whoa, where does that piece go?"
On the floor are a few of the books we've memorized: "Goodnight Moon," "Owl Babies" and "What's Up, Tiger?"
And over in the corner sits my suitcase, packed and ready to go. I'll head home tomorrow on the train that brought me here.
I've been teaching Jonah the answers to two questions that I also taught his cousins and hope to teach his sister. First, I ask, "How much do I love you?"
"All!" he shouts, arms raised.
Then I ask, "And where is your nana when you can't see her?"
Placing his hand on his chest as if pledging allegiance, he says with a big grin, "In my heart!"
I wish you could hear him.
We all have children who need our love, whether they sleep in our arms or on our streets.
Being a nana isn't easy for a woman who's old enough to have grandchildren. But it's one of life's sweetest gifts. The hardest part is saying goodbye.
Sharon Randall is the author or "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924, or www.sharonrandall.com