Grandchildren Keep Us Young. If We Survive.

By Ernie Witham   |   August 20, 2020
Young Jack, contemplating why butterflies have thin wings

“Ernie?… Ernie?… Ernie?… Ernie?…”

“Sorry, can’t play right now, Jack.”


“Because I have some writing to do.”


“It’s for my column?”

“What’s a column?”

“About 700 words.” I laughed. Jack didn’t. “My column for the Montecito Journal is due. I have an allotted space to fill.”

“What’s a lotta space to fill?”

“About 700 words at the rate I’m going. Let’s see how quiet we can be right now. Like a game. The silent game. Okay?”

“Okay… Ernie?… Ernie?… Ernie?… Ernie?…”

Jack is four. His parents live in Los Angeles and are having a baby. So Jack is staying with us. He’s a fun, joyous, bright, inquisitive, inventive, loving child, and has an energy level that could power a small city. He likes to build stuff. So we have plastic building blocks, gears, wheels, tools and other creative toys all over the house. “Owowowowowowow!”

“Moma! Ernie stepped on my tetradactyl again. What does F$#@&frat&%*# mean?”

When he starts turning all his toys into weaponry and making explosion sounds, we head outside. He loves to ride his bicycle all around our condo complex and he likes it when I run after him. “Come on, Ernie. Faster!”

“I need (gasp) to rest (wheeze).”

“Moma ran faster this morning.”

 ‘Moma’ had gone to Trader Joe’s for a “few things” more than an hour ago. I’m betting she’s in their parking lot with the seat back, napping.

When “we” get all sweaty from exercise, Jack also likes the pool. He has water wings so he can float forever. “Come on, Ernie. Faster.”

“I need to stop before I sink” (blub blub blub).

Fortunately, there are still a few spots open in Santa Barbara to take kids for a change of pace, like Alice Keck Park. “Look at all the ducks and turtles!”

“But don’t touch the turtles okay Jack?” Moma said.


“Because they are snapping turtles and might bite you.”

“Oh… Ernie, put your finger in the turtle’s mouth. I want to see if he bites you.”

“Tempting, but maybe we should just move to a different spot. Over near the ducks.”

“Don’t get your feet wet,” Moma started to say.

“Why do I have to take my shoes off before I get back in the car?”

“Because the constant dripping sound makes it hard to concentrate on driving. And they smell a bit like duck poo.”

“Duck poo, duck poo, duck poo,” Jack said melodically. Another successful grandparenting lesson.

We also go to the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History a lot. He loves the “Butterflies Alive” exhibit. “Remember Jack. You can’t touch the butterflies,” Moma said.

“Why? Do they bite?”

“No. Because they are fragile. See how thin their wings are?”

 Why are their wings thin?”

“Because if they were too heavy they would just keep falling out of the sky like rocks and crush us all,” I said.

“Like meteors. Then we would have to get laser guns and shoot all the butterflies to save everyone,” Jack suggested. We both made some blasting sounds. Several pair of attendees’ eyes flashed our way. I smiled apologetically. Jack, meanwhile, got as close to the butterflies as he could without actually touching them. “They have weird eyes. Like zombies.”

“Never noticed that before. We should add that fact to Wikipedia.”

“What’s wickedpedia?”

“It’s where students find their term papers.”


We also have miles of beaches in Santa Barbara and Jack loves to go to the tide pools. “What’s this big thing?” Jack asked, holding up a large Sea Hare. I reached for it.

“Don’t squeeze it or it might ink you,” I said, just as it got purple ink on both of us.

“Does it make any other colors?” Jack asked.

We also usually find a few crabs. “Be careful. They pinch,” said Moma. She suggested I pick it up.

“Look Moma. The crab has Ernie’s finger.” Jack has a delightful, often loud, and lengthy laugh. Luckily, my pain threshold has increased in the last four years…

“Ernie? Are you done writing yet?”

I looked at the screen. Somehow I had squeaked out 700 words. “Yes! What should we do now?”

“Climb trees,” Jack said.

“Perfect!” I grabbed the first aid kit.


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