There I was in a long line with my grocery cart. The lady at the front – the OCD woman with 30 clipped magazine coupons to scan, each of which will save her 1.5 cents – was proudly waving her fanned collection at the checker as if she were about to be a big winner in Reno. This was going to take a while.
So, I did what I always do to distract myself. I looked for something to read. To my immediate left at eye level were THE TABLOIDS, the early, spawning originators of fake news and voyeur headlines.
How often has your first reaction to something been “I’m so glad my grandchildren aren’t here to see/experience this.”? It happens to me with surprising frequency. It isn’t that I want to insulate them from the world. I don’t have primary responsibility for them nor should I be setting priorities. They have parents for that. Still, these times always trigger in me concern about what I am doing on a regular basis to help my grandchildren.
Grandparents come in a dazzling variety of configurations. Some can’t wait to buy teddy bears and books to read together. Some don’t want much to do with them until they are old enough to get into the car on their own for a ride. Other grandparents delight in baby sitting or taking a teenager out for her first cup of coffee or helping them become diehard team fans or setting aside money for college or attending piano recitals and T-ball games.
My personal configuration is built around the intention that I can give each of them confidence and adaptability. Provided we have the foundation of high quality one on one time together, I can add experiences which will serve them well for the rest of their lives. For example, finding their way (safely) through a new experience in a place they don’t know well with other kids they don’t know at all – Circus or Marine Biology or Theater day camp, for instance. Or lunch with me at a white table cloth restaurant followed by a movie or a play. Or walking down Grant Avenue together hand in hand and going into a tea shop for a cup where the rest of the customers are all Chinese and over 70. Or going down ALL the waterslides together several times at a sunny resort.
How does what I want to give to them differ from what I owe them? THE TABLOIDS pushed me into exploring the difference.
I discovered I’m clear about what I want to give to them: any kind of new experience that will 1. allow them expanded forms of curiosity and knowledge they hadn’t thought of before, 2. provide them with enjoyable social and cultural surprises and insight, and 3. add to their confidence that they are smart, adaptable, and highly competent people.
As for what I owe to them, I have to remember that their lives won’t necessarily be an extension of mine. In fact, their lives may differ as significantly as the world they are inheriting differs from the one handed to me.
Here, after much reflection, is my list of what I owe to my grandchildren:
- My own authenticity (and non-pedantic exposure through me) to the norms of my generation
- Explanation more than total protection. I could blind them to THE TABLOIDS or I could have a serious conversation about the implications of rampant voyeurism and fake news.
- Trust and respect that in the long run they will make good decisions about their lives as they move into a future which I can only imagine.
- Unadulterated, non-demanding affection.
- Continual remembering – and the behaviors that go with it – that I am their grandfather and not their parent.
- Sincere interest in them and their interests.
- Enough high-quality availability without being like hot water, always available at the turn of the tap.
- Respect and support for their individuality. I remember, when I was 17, my own maternal grandmother gently taking my hands in hers and saying “Do what you want to do, dear. You will anyway.” I have never forgotten it.
In a nice way, I owe the OCD coupon-waving customer and THE TABLOIDS in the rack a moment of gratitude. Without them I wouldn’t have been pressed to distinguish between give and owe.
As for what my grandchildren want from me, I’m saving that for a future blog.
The new year is now upon us. What is it you want to give to your grandchildren in the coming year?
What is it you think you owe to your grandchildren in the coming year?
What is it you think your grandchildren want from you?
Let me know, please.