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The priviledge of grandparenting
Motherhood changed my whole existence; so did becoming a grandmother.
In the blink of an eye, my son was walking and talking and going off to school by himself. Over the next few years, he morphed into a teenager and physically and psychologically withdrew. I’d shifted from being the centre of his toddler universe to the owner of the car he sought to borrow. I took a deep breath, said a silent prayer, reminded myself of the competencies we’d instilled, and handed over the keys. Then — poof — he was living with his wife and the happy couple broke the news that they were pregnant. I squealed, hugged each of them tightly, and pictured the joy of holding their newborn.
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I decided the name I wanted my grandchild to call me. As Eleanor is my first name, I chose Ellie. Easy for little ones to pronounce and more youthful than Granny.
As the young family lived nearby, I became a hands-on grandmother. In the early months, when the parents were sleep-deprived, my free-of-charge babysitting services were valued. We were all grateful, and so a magical symbiosis developed.
Having not interacted with a tiny baby in many years, I did my best to appear calm and confident when carrying/changing/bathing the precious creature. Long-unused childcare skills came back to me.
It is a fact that every generation of parents think they know the best way to bring up their baby, assuming, “Grandma is clearly out-of-date.” Careful to learn new methods, I only used a playpen in dire situations. Keeping the baby safe while I prepared food overruled his parents’ negative bias against such old-fashioned equipment.
Holding my brand-new grandchild reminded me of cuddling my own babies, but this time I wasn’t physically exhausted or burdened with taking care of the munchkin 24/7. When handing the child back, I’d wave goodbye as they loaded paraphernalia into the car. The grandparent mantra, “Happy to have them arrive; happy to see them go,” is true.
Eventually, I was blessed with five natural grandchildren and one via remarriage so I have witnessed many rites of passage: sleeping through the night, walking without holding on, going without diapers, outgrowing the car seat — to name a few — happily reduced my caregiving workload. Lifting a toddler into a car seat takes strong back muscles.
I acted as a surrogate parent when appropriate, thought about them when writing my will, set up funds for their education, showered them with presents, and encouraged good manners, but was never in charge.
For those grandchildren living far away, our time together was limited to only a few weeks a year. As each visit began, I adjusted to the new person who hugged me hello. They were taller, and their appearance, mannerisms, and conversations had matured. The degree of change to which I had to adjust was directly proportionate to the time we’d been apart.
Their reaction to having me around varied widely. During one visit, they’d climb into my lap asking me to read them a story and cry when I left for the airport. Before long, they were preoccupied with friends, cellphones, a new romance, or getting their driver’s licenses. I didn’t take it personally.
Over time I have had many different kids to love. The thirteen-year-old resembled the three-year-old in name only. I wasn’t alarmed when my affection and feelings of intimacy ebbed and flowed. Aren’t all healthy people always growing — no matter their chronological age?
My whole grandparenting experience came to a glorious climax one summer day when we rented a lakeside cottage in Muskoka. Our blended family of fifteen is spread over three provinces, so our kids and grandkids arrived for visits at different times.
On the day I recount, my grandchildren, aged eight to fifteen, were with us, and their parents were absent for two days. I asked how to manage their screen time and was told to limit it to one hour before supper.
The five played together happily all day, so my husband and I left them alone — though I noticed there was much use of an iPad, coupled with shifting locales: lawn, dock, living room, sunroom. They all enjoyed each other’s company, and plenty of giggles were heard.
On the second evening, we were summoned to the living room to watch the iMovie they had made on my iPad. Titled “Harry Potter: Wizard Swears,” all five acted in the story, taking turns as cinematographers. They’d found the dialogue filled with curse words somewhere, and it was hilarious. They had borrowed my old glasses for nine-year-old Harry Potter and used makeup and towels to fashion costumes. All five names appear in the credits.
This five-minute film captures their creativity, sense of humour, and affection for each other. The weather, their appearances and voices, and the cottage itself are recorded for posterity. I love the scene when the eldest, covered with a towel to play Neville, one of Harry’s pals at Hogworths, states, "My grandmother doesn’t allow us to swear!” They do pay attention.
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