As we welcome in the New Year, there is much to celebrate. To many, including me, our national politics seems chaotic. Thankfully, there are the smiles and laughter of little children that remind us that life is full of joy and that people of goodwill still abound. Those little ones keep us anchored; their simple gestures bring light to the world and hope for the future.
The old adage that it is more fun to be a grandparent than a parent rings true on so many levels. First, we don’t have the primary responsibility of rearing and educating our precious little darlings. Second, when they are upset or moody, we are more than happy to hand them over to their parents. Having raised children of our own, we are wise in the ways of childrearing, at least we deceive ourselves in thinking so. As we observe our progeny in parenting their own, the temptation to offer advice lingers on the tip of our tongues, but we wisely refrain. However, if asked, we’ll gladly oblige.
Our wisdom, such as it is, is the product of raising four children, two each from separate marriages. All of our children are doing well in their chosen careers living in exciting places, Boston, Washington, DC, Portland, OR and Las Vegas. We love them dearly. But our heartstrings are pulled by four beautiful grandkids, Eliot a month shy of 5, Michelle 3, Theron and Juliette both 1. Unluckily, vast distances separate us as they live on both coasts. Two grandsons are in Portland, and two granddaughters in Washington, DC. Happily, FaceTime, Skype and Google Chat keep us connected. During the autumn and winter months, we had the happy occasion to see them in the flesh, a car trip to D.C. and a lovely train ride to Portland. Whenever we visit, we marvel at the parenting skills of our sons and daugthers-in-law. As parents, they are sensitive, caring, thoughtful, seemingly perfectly in tune with their children. They listen attentively, comfort them calmly in their distress, and assure them of their love. Melanie and I are amazed at their calm demeanor, even when everything appears in turmoil. As a young parent, I can recall my frustrations when little tempers flared or stubbornness surfaced. Sometimes we think our own children are handling parenthood more skillfully than we did. Or are they? Reflecting on our time as parents, we readily admit the mistakes we made. We shudder thinking back on some of them. In spite of our parenting errors, our kids have grown up to be responsible adults, pursuing interesting careers. We’d like to believe that they acquired the art of parenting totally from us. But obviously, that is not the case. We’re certain that as they reflect on their own upbringing they do not want to emulate all of our parenting techniques.
I remember as a new dad that I wanted to parent differently from my parents. I know now that my obstinacy blinded me from learning helpful parenting tips. In parenting, my dad was what you might call “old school.” He believed firmly that sparing the rod, spoiled the child and that there was a proper time when children should be heard. Once when I refused to spank my firstborn toddler, he and I became embroiled in a heated argument about the “proper” way to raise a child. I felt that his arcane ways were no longer relevant. Truthfully, I could have been a more receptive listener. At times when I tried to discipline, I overly compensated between being too harsh and too lenient resulting in total ineffectiveness. When I did not achieve the behaviors I expected of my children, frustration and anger gnawed within for not being the controlled disciplinarian my father was. Overall, I muddled through and like to think that my sons have forgiven my parenting shortcomings. And even as I have grown older, and wiser, I appreciate my dad’s disciplined parenting, understanding now his earnestness in protecting my siblings and me from lurking dangers in New Orleans’ segregated society. A misstep could be consequential. As “Negroes,” he did not want us to be labeled in stereotypical images falsely held by the majority.
Melanie and I reached adulthood in the sixties, she in the Northeast and I in the deep South. Those were turbulent and troubling times–the fight for Civil Rights, the war on poverty, the Women’s Movement, protests against the Vietnam War. Our grandkids live in a different world, full of opportunities, but the incidents of the last year from the Charlottesville protests to the #MeToo Movement teach us that the challenges of equality, fairness, and justice remain in their future. Because of the way our grandchildren are being raised, we, as grandparents are optimistic that they will prevail in overcoming these obstacles and be part of the solution for a more equitable and just society. Our children are already moving in that direction, and our grandchildren will build on that progress.
For the moment, we pause in the present and bathe in the happiness these four little ones give us. Their smiles and laughter and their cheerful playfulness in fanciful imaginings lighten our hearts. The beauty of grand-parenting is the thrill of rolling on the floor with them, running around the room as they chase us, or we them, in gleeful mirth, taking walks with them to the park or around the neighborhood. On the swings or slides their energy seems limitless. When they shout “Push me higher Papi” or “Read to me Mamie,” we gladly respond to these angelic voices. Grand-parenting gives new meaning to our lives, a supreme joy we treasure deep within our souls. We enjoy too watching our own children interact with theirs. They embrace their children with love and tenderness. It’s moving to see a little one give a spontaneous big hug to his/her mom or dad, to listen to the cooing sound of a baby nursing, to appreciate the calm voice of a parent comforting a child in distress. And there is unparalleled joy in watching comedy unfold as a little one struggles to put on his/her sock, or one of their younger siblings eating messily. And yes, there is the inevitable drama when a hungry one distressfully cries to be fed, or a scraped knee demands immediate attention, or pouting and shrill voices require a disciplined response. At such times, grand-parenting skills yield to the parent’s deft and appropriate handling. In grand-parenting lore, it’s called “time for the parent” to takeover.”
When we are home, our conversation often drifts toward the memory of those special moments of a sweet phrase uttered, a happy song cheerfully sung in play, a meaningless, but somehow magical, babble of repetitive sounds. Some of our favorites are: Eliot’s response as a two year old watching a train go by, “Train, heart boom-boom,” or when he placed a toy football on my legs in shorts, “Ball brown, Papi brown, what color is me?” And one of our gems is his response to Melanie calling him her sweetie pie, “I’m not your sweetie pie.” Then there is Michelle who used to attend a Spanish language daycare and now attends a bi-lingual pre-school, seeking help shouts out to Melanie, “Ayudame (Help me) Mamie. And Theron’s and Juliette’s singsong babbling are delightful treats, Theron’s chanting of ba-ba-ba-ba and Juliette’s dit-dit-dit-dit.
At the birth of our firstborns we imagined no greater happiness, that is until the birth of our second-borns. That immense joy and excitement has been repeated fourfold in the births of our four grandchildren. We are proud and grateful grandparents. A collage of photos follows.