Striving for the A in Grandparenting
So much has been written about motherhood and child care, especially about what new mothers can expect at various stages of child development as well as to how to handle hurdles that a parent might face, but little has been offered to a new grandparent. Those of us who continue to see our children as children find ourselves thrust into a new role without experiencing a nine-month gestation period that enables us to collect our thoughts and prepare us for a change in our former life. When and how did our little bundle of joy become capable of producing her own little bundle of joy, we asked ourselves. It almost seemed surrealistic when our child told us that she was about to make us grandparents. We joyously greeted the news, but at the same time recalled the day when we gave birth to the giver of the joyous news. Where did those years go? Suddenly it hit us; we had become our parents.
Four years ago, my daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I was finally a grandma. I would be the best grandmother ever. How difficult could it be? I had raised two of my own children and had taught for more than thirty years. My children had grandparents. I had seen many grandparents interact with their offsprings’ offspring. I knew what worked and what didn’t. Being a grandparent was sure to be a breeze. It certainly had to be a lot easier than being a parent.
In college, prerequisite courses are offered as a stepping-stone to taking on more in-depth study. That was college. Unfortunately, there is no prerequisite course for being a grandparent. I was about to find out that my new role was a lot more involved than I had envisioned. During the course of the more than four years as May’s grandmother, I learned my lessons the hard way, by trial and error. My daughter’s silent treatment towards me taught me that I made an error in judgment and had exceeded my boundaries as a grandmother. Her warm smile and good natured banter conveyed that I was within the acceptable range.
As a first-time grandparent I would often confuse my role with that of being a parent. When holding my granddaughter, I would have a momentary lapse of reality and my thoughts would take me back to the days when I held her mother and felt her sweet baby breath against my cheek as she nuzzled on my shoulder. This new little bundle in my arms gave me a brief respite from my growing awareness of my aging body. I developed renewed energy, mastering flights of steps with ease as I cradled my granddaughter in my arms. I required less sleep in anticipation of her awakening and took her on long walks while she napped in her carriage. The mere thought of sharing time with her quickened my pulse and brought smiles to my face.
As May grew, so did my involvement in her little life. With no malice intended, I began to verbalize concerns about my daughter’s decisions regarding May’s care. Oh, I tried to be subtle, like my in-laws before me, never making direct accusations, but rather asking those borderline intrusive questions like, “Do you think May’s dressed warmly enough? Don’t you think that she’s dressed too warmly? Should she be doing that? Is she taking vitamins?” My daughter’s silent treatment began to take voice and I eventually came to realize that I was undermining her ability as a new parent; in much the same way I had felt that my mother-in-law had unintentionally undermined mine.
After making a few, if not several mistakes in judgment, I began to see my role more clearly. My time had passed and it was now my daughter’s turn to experience the joys as well as the hardships of parenting. I had witnessed her growth from a totally dependent infant to a wonderfully competent and caring young woman. If she did things differently from me, so be it. It was time for me to let go and relax into this next phase of my life. I was the grandmother. I could put all the hard ‘stuff’ aside and be the good guy. I was the person to cook with, play games with, share laughter with, and all the other fun-filled activities that occupy a child’s world. I was a friendly Brobdingnagian in May’s jungle gym land of Lilliputians, climbing rope ladders, swinging from parallel bars and sliding down slides as she giggles over her ‘silly grammy.’ And at the end of the day, when my energy was totally spent, I could enjoy uninterrupted slumber.
May and her mother continue to teach me about being a grandparent. I have learned about ‘time-outs,’ and singing along to May’s favorite songs while driving in the car, and taking along a myriad of activities when eating in a restaurant. I have learned to take the time to watch May as she stays mesmerized by a butterfly as it moves from leaf to leaf, or sees beauty in that special pebble she has carefully chosen from the thousands of lookalikes in my driveway, or stays glued to a window as she watches a squirrel do acrobatics in its attempts to get food from the bird feeder, or walk hand-in-hand along the beach looking for sea glass, or patiently sitting by her side as she eats her ‘scabetty’ one noodle at a time. The world is an exciting place when seen through the innocent eyes of a child. How fortunate we as grandparents are to be let into that world
Nine months ago, May’s sister Eloise was born and today, when I see my lovely daughter tend to her two lovely daughters, I am filled with pride. Proud that she is so capable of raising her children with little to no direction from me and that she commends me for being the grandmother she always dreamed her children would have.
I have come to realize that my more than thirty years of teaching young children offers my daughter and granddaughter some new insights into making learning fun. Many of the activities I developed for classroom use can be easily adapted to bring fun-filled learning experiences to my grandchildren. Now that I have chosen to move from classroom to playroom, the juices of creativity flow as I develop memory builders for my grandchildren.