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Making Memories

A special trip brings three generations closer together

My mother and my older daughter, Jessica, share a few traits: They are both blond, petite, and headstrong. They are also separated in age, energy, and interests by eight decades, which makes spending time with the two of them, simultaneously, a challenge. (One example: Jessica's chaotic cooking experiments — such as creating edible "play dough" — fight with Mom's growing need for calm and consistency.)

See also: The garden of life.

Jessica and Mom found common ground appreciating the flowers at Rockefeller Center

Jessica and Nana found common ground in New York City. — Courtesy Nancy Perry Graham

It's a challenge I tackle each summer, when "Nana" joins our large and noisy household for several months to escape the Florida heat. For the most part I do it happily, knowing now is the time to make memories that will last forever.

In September Jessica turned 13. To celebrate, I'd promised her a trip to New York City, just the two of us, for a long weekend. We both agreed it would be fun to bring Nana along. Nana wasn't so sure. Though she's in great shape for her age, the idea of traipsing among the mobs of Manhattan made her anxious. I give her credit for saying yes. The word yes provides entree to unexpected adventures.

Here's how we made it work: For each activity Jessica enjoyed — the LEGO store displays, the American Girl shop, the Jekyll and Hyde haunted restaurant — we chose a corresponding activity for Nana: coffee at Rockefeller Center, strolling through the Plaza Hotel, dinner at a sidewalk cafe. And Cirque du Soleil for all of us. The best part for me, though, was watching Jessica and my mother bond, as Jessie took Mom's arm and protectively guided her along the treacherous (in Mom's eyes) Big Apple sidewalks.

Sure, we had our meltdowns. Cursing the crowds and kamikaze cabs, Mom noted the obvious — "I could never live in this city!" — once per hour for the full three days. Jessica pouted when I said no to a 20-minute hansom-carriage ride costing $50. Frustrated, I left them both sitting glumly on a bench and took a walk along Central Park South by myself.

But those weren't the moments that stuck with Jessica. Just last week she asked, "Is Nana going back to Florida soon?"

"Yes," I replied. "Why?"

"I'm sad," said Jessica. "Nana's fun."

The anxious and angry moments are fleeting; the mess from the play dough can be swept away. But the memories of good times together stay with us for a lifetime.

Nancy Perry Graham is the Editor of AARP The Magazine.

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