Waiting for Papa Yaya

It’s January 852nd, 2018. There’s a blizzard warning. Snow is flying sideways when my tulips should be coming up — Facebook Memories cruelly rubs it in when I check to see who else is whining about the weather.

All the couch cushions are tossed haphazardly on the floor in a makeshift fort, toys flung hither and yon. Netflix has already asked, in its judgmental way, if we were STILL watching Spirit.

Sorta, I thought, as I punched the “Yes, I’m giving in,” button amidst a fresh wave of whining.

We maybe reached the end of Netflix this winter, between all the illnesses — and I mean all, it was a record-breaking year — and the cold.

Remy is at the front window, watching snow drift into deep piles where our gardens should be. His green eyes are sad.

“Papa. Yaya. Noooo,” he trails off, and turns back to his fort, which he’s now imagining is a boat at Papa Yaya: Papa=Grandpa, Yaya=Water, or Lake.

He’s waiting for the snow to melt, so we can go to my parents’ cabin up north. He asks every day. Since he has no regard for a calendar, I told him we could go to Papa Yaya when all the snow is gone.

Every day he checked, and every day he was slapped with cold reality.

It’s amazing to me that he, at the age of 3, even remembers last summer. But there’s no doubt he recalls driving the boat from Papa’s lap, riding around on the four-wheeler, digging in the sand.

I was 4 — basically the median age of my kids now — when my parents bought the land where their green-roofed log cabin now sits.

I can recall my first trip there, loading up my dad’s truck in morning half-light and being allowed to drink chocolate Quik on the way.

There was something deliciously rebellious about what we were doing; I could feel that already. I have never been what you would call outdoorsy. I don’t like to work too hard, and I’m not really into bugs. In short, I’m kind of a weenie, so my mom was pretty smart to set the scene like that.

My parents scrimped and saved and patiently built upon their lake home year after year. One thing they made sure of was that the door was always open. They shared it with their children, and now their children’s children.

Now I’ve spent more than 30 summers on the shores of Deer Lake, and it is as much my home as the city. The piney tingle in the air. The eagle in her aerie. Walleye dinners with dress code: swimsuit. Staying up past bedtime, roasting marshmallows, falling asleep on the soft flannel mallard-print sheets to a chorus of frogs, crickets and loons.

Now I get to show my kids that wild, rebellious summer, too: More treats. More sand. Looser bedtimes. Blue lips from chilly lake dips, wind in our hair as my dad motors us around the bay. Unlimited rides on the four-wheeler, games of Old Maid, nothing to do or check on — there’s no wi-fi or cell service, barely any TV — but wringing every last second out of summer.

As I write this, the tulips are coming up in my front yard, and my mom reports the ice is almost gone from the lake.

I bought some sandals for the kids yesterday — ones that can go in mud puddles and stomp in the shallows and get rinsed off for drying on the deck overnight.

Ruby leaves her suitcase partially packed in her closet, ready at a moment’s notice. Eero is already bringing me his shoes and pointing to the door to play outside.

I might have to film the moment Remy looks out the window and asks, “Papa Yaya?” and I say, “Get in the car, buddy!”

Something tells me I’ll have to ask him only once to put on his shoes — if he even hears me as he runs out the front door.


Katie Dohman lives in West St. Paul with her three kids, two dogs and one husband. She loves them a lot, which is good, because she can’t remember the last time she slept a whole night through.