All grandparents leave a legacy to their grandchildren, whether they intend to or not. It may be an inheritance, an heirloom or a box full of old letters and curling snapshots. It may be a legacy of presence or absence, predictably silly jokes or yearly fishing expeditions. Or it may be a legacy of being loved as babies and avoided as teenagers. Or vice versa.
My wife and I have chosen three things for our legacy to our grandchildren. Happily, none of them involve a trust fund.
Memories come from repetition, maintaining traditions as simple as stopping for pancakes partway through a morning bike ride; flying across the country together and changing planes at Newark Airport at 3:00 in the morning; having different colored linens for each visiting kid, or taking a grandchild, one at a time, to an elegant restaurant in a fancy hotel where they have to sit and converse with the grownups and order off a menu bigger than they are.
Confidence comes from trying new things on their own. Every year our grandchildren (age 6 or older) live with us for a piece of the summer, without their parents and away from their friends. We consciously expose them to experiences that build confidence in this new environment. Every evening we all sit around the table and each tells the group about the most interesting part of the day. Discussing their experiences, inferences and points of view helps them to learn how to tell a story well; waiting their turn teaches them patience; listening to the others clues them in to what other people think is noteworthy, funny, embarrassing, poignant, etc. Along the way the kids learn poise and graciousness that comes from being treated as, and expected to act as, an adult in social situations.
Ability comes from spending time with voracious learners, not just being entertained by doting elders. Whether it’s at home with us or at day camp, we pick active experiences that build skills or foster creativity: drawing, theatre and circus techniques and performance, scuba diving and marine biology. The girls can watch videos and stay glued to their smart phones at home. With us, they live their lives as unplugged and curious as possible.
So far we’ve had three grandchildren visit as a group. Next year we’ll have five. Eventually we want all seven. Regardless of the number of grandkids we host, I want all of them to look back at their time with us as an idyllic experience, worthy of reminiscence. I do know the oldest girls look forward to July, and beginning in August they start to plan what the next summer’s adventures will be.
Needless to say, I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from the whole thing. And what would please me most is if my sons carry on the tradition when my grandchildren become parents.