In the “olden days,” as kids today still refer to years long past, grandmas were visited on holidays, their homes full of strange cooking odors, their ways formal and unfamiliar. My grandmother would greet me as “Debbie, dahling,” the accent leftover from her youth in Austria-Hungary, before she escaped the pogroms. Then she would offer me a cold bottle of Vernor’s Ginger Ale and, eager to see me entertained, encourage me to play with the little girl next door. I am confident she loved me, but the distance in our experiences was too vast to overcome.
Grandmas enjoy a more casual relationship with their grandkids now, one that I’ve been fortunate to develop myself. There are three tykes in our family, ages 3 to 6, whom we cherish. Still, having little ones underfoot can be a challenge. Here are some of the pros and cons I’ve observed.
Pro: You can gaze adoringly at their creaseless skin and clear eyes, relishing such familial traits as the tilt of a head or a golden corkscrew curl.
Con: The pantry must be cleared of grape juice, chocolate syrup, and strawberry jam. The reason is self-explanatory.
Pro: When they visit, you can break their parents’ rules, especially before they are old enough to tattle. My sister, a grandmother of 13, keeps brimming bowls of candy around her house; it’s like Halloween over there year-round. Her son’s children weren’t allowed the bad stuff at home. I once saw his oldest child sitting contentedly in a high chair, snacking on green beans. At my sister’s, though, they run like animals freed from the zoo, stuffing mini Milky Ways into their mouths and hoarding peanut M&Ms in their pockets for later.
Con: If a grandchild stays over, you cannot sleep. Having an infant means you must stand over the crib all night with your finger under the baby’s nose to make sure he/she is breathing. When they are older, you need to remain vigilant against the onset of a stomach virus, a rock-hard fall from the big-boy bed, or a hopeless bout of homesickness.
Pro: You can talk like an idiot, calling them “Bizzy Boo,” “Baby Bear,” or “Lovey Dovey,” and they do not mind.
Con: You must master the car seat, the single worst contraption known to my generation. A series of complicated straps secure the children so tightly, they could bungee jump off the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. Once, I stretched the car’s lap belt over our 6-year-old, who was seated in her toddler booster, and landed splayed across her midsection. This prompted her to ask, “What are you doing?” to which I simply responded, “Help.”
Pro: You no longer must monitor homework, potty-train, think up science-fair projects, or teach the kid to drive. The last reminds me of our older son, who as a teen once proclaimed four-way stops “optional.”
Con: Just when you’ve spent several hours admiring them, feeding them, bathing them, and playing endless rounds of Tumblin’ Monkeys, they go home.
Pro: See above.
Con: You are forced to embrace such newfangled concepts as infant “swaddling.” This requires you to encase the baby in a wrapper—like a burrito—and then place him on his back, where he spends 10 hours unable to move. “Research” has shown the baby likes this, although I suspect no one asked him. Because bumper pads are verboten, you also must witness the baby’s soft skull mashed up against the crib rail, as well as stand back silently while the dad straps the child onto his chest with something akin to a reverse backpack, the baby’s feet, no doubt asleep, dangling like a couple of fishing lures.
Pro: You can laugh at funny stuff they say without viewing the interludes as teaching moments. Our 6-year-old prodded my husband, a lawyer, into explaining his job. “I help my clients uphold … what?” he quizzed her, to which she responded, “the Ten Commandments?” If they insult their parents, it’s hilarious, such as the time our 3-year-old granddaughter admonished her mother, a model parent, to “stop talking to me, Mommy.” The mother, a stickler for proper behavior and good manners, responded, “That’s not nice. What does a big girl say?” to which the child replied, “PLEASE stop talking to me, Mommy.”
Pro: If you are fortunate enough to have a granddaughter, especially after parenting two sons, the time has come for pjs with pink bows, dresses that twirl, and fluffy tutus. You can purchase purple Ugg boots, shiny gold Mary Janes, and sneakers that light up without feeling guilty.
Con: Your best toy procurements fall short. With fond crafting memories dancing in my head, I presented a potholder loom to our 6-year-old, who promptly asked, “What’s a potholder?”
Pro: FaceTime. Thanks to smartphones, if they live in a distant locale, you can still see your precious ones, even when they insist upon giving you a stomach-turning tour of their four-level townhouse with the camera pointed toward the steps.
Pro: When they get to age 3, they can access iTunes. By age 4, they can hook up your wireless printer, and at age 5, they can program your GPS.
Con: When they are born, you can’t name them. You can, however, name yourself. If they are unable to say “Grammie,” you need not accept “Gammie.” Likewise, you can reject “Gaga,” “Bunny,” and “Hoohoo.”
Pro: You know who Doc McStuffins is, and see movies such as Frozen that you enjoy more than they do. Having kids in tow also excuses you to dine at Benihana, which everyone knows is delicious.
Con: In order to become a grandparent, you will most likely be old.
Pro: It’s worth it.
Illustration by Andrea Eberbach
This column appeared in the May 2014 issue.