A Doting NeeNaw's Dream for Her Grandson

Aaron Johnson says he missed his grandmother Laurie Williams while away at camp for a week.
Aaron Johnson says he missed his grandmother Laurie Williams while away at camp for a week. (By Keisha Clark)
By John Kelly
Thursday, July 12, 2007

Life is about new experiences, about breaking out of the routine and the day-to-day. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, has the story of a District grandmother eager to give her grandson a taste of something new.

When he hugs his grandmother, he presses his cheek up against hers -- a gesture of affection and a symbol of the closeness between the two.

He is Aaron Johnson, 8, and his grandmother Laurie Williams is affectionately known as NeeNaw. He was supposed to call her "Nanna," but it came out sounding like "NeeNaw," so the moniker stuck.

Anyway, NeeNaw adores her grandson, who is living with her this summer in her Northeast apartment while his mother takes care of his 6-month-old brother.

"It's hectic; it's stressful," Williams says of raising a young child again. "But it's a lot of fun. He's such a good, gentlemanly kid."

He's also -- and Williams says this acknowledging that she's partly to blame -- a little, well, pampered. Which, of course, is inevitable when a boy is the apple of his grandmother's eye. So Williams dotes on Aaron, taking him to Chuck E. Cheese's, the roller-skating rink and amusement parks.

But, she says, "I think it's kind of cruel to a child to have him spend the whole summer looking into your face." As such, she signed Aaron up for a week at Camp Moss Hollow, believing that it'd serve him well to spend time away -- it would be his first time staying the night with anyone other than relatives.

He went two weeks ago, over the Fourth of July, and he says he had a fine time, although it's clear that one week was quite enough, thank you. The bugs bothered him, and he was homesick for his grandmother, a revelation that prompts Williams to pat his head and ask, "Do you think it could be because you're used to so much attention from me?"

"Mmmm hmm," he murmurs.

This is part of Williams's reasoning in sending Aaron to camp: to get him acclimated to spending time with people who aren't quite as lavish with their attention as she. And, on a broader spectrum, she wants to expose him to new people, new places, new ideas.

"I want to give him options," she says. "I want to introduce him to theater and camping, all these various things, so he at least knows they're out there."

When Williams visited the camp to check it out before Aaron left for a week, she was impressed by the diversity of the staff and that many counselors are pursuing college and graduate degrees. That kind of exposure is encouraging for the children, she figures.

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