“I’m taking to the bed,” I whisper over the phone to my mother, after spending two weeks with the most adorable grandsons a girl could ever hope for. After she hears the brief description of all we did, my dear mother is vicariously worn out. She says that she’s taking to her bed in solidarity with me.

Thank goodness taking to one’s bed is an acceptable Southern tradition that’s not complicated by feelings of guilt or worries about weakness of the spirit.

But before I darken the shades and turn on the fan, I spend hours cleaning up sticky stuff that I can’t identify, including but not limited to crushed cheerios, random raisins, and bits of bananas. I clear bins full of toys, balls, puzzles and books, then change the sheets, dry the towels, collapse the port-a-crib and unassemble a plastic sink playset with real running water. I remove the couch cover from our blazing white (what was I thinking?!) couch, Windex hand and nose prints from windows and return the fragile glass octopus to its shelf.

The porch is swept and hosed down, no longer crammed with strollers, bikes, golf clubs, water guns and tiny sneakers and sandy socks scattered about.

 The house is clean and quiet, but entirely too empty. I long for one more sticky kiss; I yearn to answer one more incessant question and tell one more crazy bedtime story that includes sharks, wolves and lately, beautiful mermaids.

I take great joy in watching my daughter mother her boys. She doesn’t do it the way I did it, but in many ways, she does it so much better.

Take mornings. The 5-year-old is not allowed to come out of his bedroom until 7 am. My daughter sets up the clock next to his bed, giving my husband and me blessedly free time to make coffee, catch up on the news and mentally prepare for the onslaught. At 7:01 am, our grandson busts out of his room, fully charged.

“I’m UP!” he informs us before requesting pancakes and bacon and a full accounting of what’s planned for every minute of the day.

One morning, I got up early and saw the light under his door. It was a full hour before he could come out. Later, I asked, “Do you just watch the clock?”

“Oh, yes!” he said, his bright blue eyes sparkling with pride and anticipation.

That is another great joy: To not be responsible for teaching things like delaying gratification, following rules, learning manners, limiting sugar and screen time, sharing toys and pronouncing words correctly. I am not in charge of explaining the subtleties of indoor versus outdoor voices. My joy is knowing he’s getting all that at home and I can be the fun one I always yearned to be.

I accept (and actually luxuriate in) that my husband Jeff, known as Pop, holds the top spot in our grandsons’ hearts. Jeff was also the favorite one when our girls were young and usually mad at me for all manner of things, both in and out of my control. Jeff’s usually got a baby on his shoulders and a boy riding a bike in front. If we’re in the pool, he’s throwing them in the air, and, if we’re on the beach, he’s digging holes in the sand and teaching body surfing. I love seeing my husband with our grandkids and, even though I’m definitely second fiddle, it’s thrilling to see him so adored.

But, he’s as tired as I am when they are gone and just as bereft. We are not as young as we used to be. That’s something that’s hard to admit but even harder to ignore.

Now, as I toss the crib sheet with the little blue rocket ships in the laundry, I take a minute to sniff the baby smell. The baby will be in the big-boy bed by their next visit, and I miss him and his big brother already. And it’s not just their absence that’s bittersweet. It’s the reminder of my daughters’ childhood years where many-a wise woman told me to enjoy every minute. I am sure I tried, but I know I was too rushed, worried, and distracted to take their advice.

Also, during those whirlwind years, taking to one’s bed was not an option.