Monday, November 17, 2008

Late Blooming Parents Mean Late Blooming Grandparents

You don't plan to be a Late Blooming Mom or Dad, it just happens.

Soon after, you come to realize that, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell's BOTH SIDES NOW, something's lost, but something's gained.

Sure, you're getting to parent after establishing yourself in a profession, gaining some financial stability, and having attained the wisdom and maturity that come with being around 35-plus (or in my case, 40-plus) years.

But when it comes to grandparents, your kids may get short shrift. My kids got only one set of living grandparents. They're lucky that Grandma and Grandpa are way into them, and still healthy enough to enjoy them. But Grandma and Grandpa are also older than a lot of their peers' grandparents, and not quite as fit and nimble and game for babysitting as others. It's not their fault they can't bend and lift thirty-plus pound preschoolers, nor chase after them if they run into trouble. They can't wrestle a recalcitrant grandkid into a car seat, and they don't have the stamina to handle two of them alone for any length of time.

The other Grandparent problem that can come with being a Late Blooming Parent -- or any parent of this generation, I suppose -- is that many parents don't live in the same city or state as their elderly parents. This necessitates a lot of travel on somebody's, or even everybody's, part once the grandkids show up. Late Blooming Mom and Dad spend a big chunk of what little vacation time they have traveling east to make sure Thing 1 and Thing 2 get quality Grandparent time. Grandma and Grandpa make the trek west even more often, reciprocating more thanks to the freedom of being retired.

But the distance thing can be hard on everyone. This morning, Thing 1 and Thing 2 could not bring themselves to say goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa, who were scheduled to leave for the airport. Saying goodbye meant acknowledging that it'll be a while before they see the grandparents again, and when you're not quite four years old, your sense of time isn't exactly well-defined. They don't understand the difference between Monday and Tuesday, this week or next, let alone waiting months into next year before they get to see Grandma and Grandpa again.

Late Blooming Mom and Dad sometimes think about how nice it would be to live in the same state or city as the grandparents. But then we realize a host of reasons why we can't relocate -- jobs and the home we're paying off (who wants to sell in this market?) and the lives we've built here. We do the best we can, pooling the frequent flier miles and carting Thing 1 and Thing 2 across country when we can, hosting the grandparents here when they can come. It's never enough.

Still, there's something sweet about seeing the kids starting to remember their last trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house, anticipating the next one ... and speculating about the next time the folks will come visit us.

When I grew up, my living grandparents were a borough away -- Brooklyn -- and we went back and forth nearly every weekend. One grandma even slept over in my room on occasion, and babysat when she could. Going to visit grandparents was full of rituals. There were things I could play with that were found only at the grandparents' apartments. There was a recliner chair at Grandma Esther's, and she always gave me money to go across to the candy store and buy penny candy that they didn't seem to sell in Manhattan anymore. At Grandpa Bill and Grandma Ceil's, there was a high-rise view from which, if you craned your neck, you could sorta see Manhattan ... and there were dinners at Garguilio's, the kind of red sauce Italian place where every waiter looked and sounded like Billy Joel. When the grandparents came to Manhattan, there were crullers and chocolate blackout cake from Ebbinger's Bakery, and toasted, buttered raisin bread. Grandpa Bill used to swing me with both arms, in what he called "the grandpa swing." Grandma Ceil always tried to feed me, and had more cans of condensed milk and rolls of toilet paper in her house than she could ever need. She'd brush my hair one hundred strokes, and she was the only person who called Grandpa Bill "William."

I wonder what vivid memories of Grandma and Grandpa my kids are now acquiring on these visits. I know it's different when you don't see each other routinely, the way I did my grandparents. I just hope we're making the best of the situation, and for all the disadvantages of having Late Blooming Grandparents, the kids are getting what they should: hugs, kisses, and a sense of who they came from, at least from Dad's side of the family.

It's not ideal. But it's what we got.

No comments: