Grandparent’s Corner: One on One

Things have change a lot since I was a young mother, and I’ve only begun to appreciate how much they’ve changed since becoming a grandmother. My friends and I look at our grown up children who are embarking on parenthood and marvel at how much they’re juggling, multitasking, and checking things off their to-do lists. Coordinating things like childcare, carpool, and playdates requires color-coded spreadsheets, to say nothing of the expectation that dinner gets on the table, homework gets done, and, most significantly, that the tears and the smiles get the loving attention they need. Frankly, it’s enough to leave my head spinning.

I am semi-retired which does leave me with more time, but the key is that my head-space is a lot less crowded than my daughter and son-in-law’s. When I’m with my grandchildren, I’m able to block out the world and give them my full attention and intention. The plumbing emergency can wait another day (ok that actually can’t) and the world won’t come tumbling down if I take an extra day to respond to an email (especially because everyone assumes that I don’t really know how to use it). It’s harder for my kids to do that since they’re also scrambling to meet work deadlines, consumed with their two other kids, and trying to buy a house. I can’t take my grandchildren on exotic vacations and I’m not great at amusement parks. But what I can do – and what makes my daughter, their mom, most happy – is to sit with my grandchildren for uninterrupted stretches of time. In a world where we are constantly on our phones and jumping from one thing to the next, giving my grandchildren moments where I am fully (or, mostly!) engaged is a unique gift.

I try to do things with my grandchildren that are hard for their parents to take on. Things that are fun, simple, and might take some extra time and focus. When I’m with my grandchildren, the name of the game is to take it slow (both for their sake and mine) and to stay in the present moment as much as possible. This means that I’m not texting while reading to them or even taking pictures (especially since my photo stream is running into five digits). We’re just being and connecting. Here are some of my favorite ways to spend time with them.

My son-in-law used to make homemade mint lemonade for my daughter when she was pregnant and since then, it’s had a special place in my heart. In my house, this usually happens on Sunday mornings when my grandchildren are up with the birds, and we let their parents sleep in. I buy 20 or so lemons, give each one of the kids a manual juicer and they spend what feels like hours squeezing those lemons to their little hearts’ content. We then begin the process of pouring water, shredding mint leaves, adding sugar (pro tip: present not to notice the surreptitious licks), and adjusting for taste. When their parents stumble bleary-eyed downstairs, the kids clamor to give them a cup of their refreshing, delicious, homemade lemonade! It’s even better than coffee.

My daughter likes the idea of taking one of her kids aside and reading with them or to them without interruptions. I once saw her try to do that and she hadn’t gotten through one paragraph before the baby decided it would be fun to jam his fork into the outlet (that’s something else I do; buy outlet covers and go around their house putting them in). Enter grandma. I take one of the kids, we go into another room, they pick out a book, and we read for as little or as long as they want. I’ve gotten the chance to introduce them to some oldies but goldies such as Do Not Open by Brinton Turkle and Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola. And they’ve introduced me to their favorites including The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty.

I suppose it’s a function of living in a digital age, but my grandchildren rarely see actual, hard pictures living in albums! When they are at my house, we spend hours on the couch looking at family pictures (including some black and white ones from my childhood). Inevitable, they ask questions about the people in the pictures, where they were and what they we4re doing. This jobs my memory and I tell them stories about their parents, aunts and uncles and even about their grandparents and great-grandparents. Right now, their favorite picture and story involves the time that their mom fell into the pond while we were out feeding the ducks.

This is tricky since I’m not particularly crafty or creative. I have friends who teach their grandchildren how to knit and green-thumb pals who plant giant sunflowers with the little ones and then roast the seeds! Wonderful, but not for me. What I did instead was facilitate swimming lessons. While my grandchildren have a swimming pool literally down the block, my daughter and son-in-law were simply too overwhelmed with work and their newborn baby to make swimming happen, let alone the lessons. I took over. I did a bit of research, made a schedule with the instructor, and brought (read: bribed) the kids out of the house and to the pool. A month later, my six-year-old grandson was swimming and a month after that, his three-year-old sister was as well. When I thanked the instructor, he said “It was all you!” I’ll take it.

My final suggestion seems like the simplest one, but in some ways is actually the hardest. It takes deep patience and you have to be prepared for some rambling conversations and jokes without punchlines. The other day, my grandson spent half an hour on the phone describing a new toy he wanted for his birthday and another half hour analyzing (down to the cent!) how much each member of the family would have to contribute in order to buy it. Last week, I put my granddaughter to bed and she sang Every. Single. Song. from her nursery school repertoire. But it’s worth it. The most amazing gems come out of this time, including deep philosophical reflections, imaginary friends, far-out questions, and expressions of love.