I'm Not the Nutrition Grandmother

Marcia McGreevy Lewis

© Copyright 2021 by Marcia McGreevy Lewis

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

I always knew my grandmother loved me,” says my friend in the midst of her analysis of her neglectful parenting. “She saved me, gave me any confidence I have today, and her chocolate chip cookies were the best.”
Though we seldom hear from this underrepresented segment of the population, grandparents are an essential ingredient in society today. Their impact is powerful. They share family history and teach our children values. Their need to find a voice is imperative.

Often both parents are working, and mom is over-stressed. Any number of changes in family life, such as divorce, single parenthood, changing job locations, military deployment or joblessness can lead to engaging the grandparents’ help. We’ve always appreciated our grandparents, but we haven’t relied on them like we do now. Grandparents are driving students to classes and practices, mending ripped clothing and going to the games.

recent study estimated that one in 10 children in America is being raised by his grandparents. The children include such noteworthy contributors to our culture as Maya Angelou, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Grandparents dedicating their time to the generation-once-removed is their gift. Let’s be crystal clear. We need them.

The joys in grandparenting, besides the closeness the grandparents develop with their charges, are feeling younger, keeping current and gaining a renewed sense of purpose. Though I don’t have grandchildren full-time, I am among those who are joyful about the privilege of interacting with amazing little people in my life.
I wasn’t one of those moms pining away for grandchildren. I loved the freedom of retirement, fulfilling volunteer work and traveling the world. When my daughter announced that she was expecting, I paused. I’m sure I disappointed her when I took that long pause to reflect how I might get my wings clipped. I did recover in time to congratulate her and then to congratulate myself for not exposing what a selfish person I am.
A wise move by my daughter and son-in-law was to invite me into the birthing room. I became a reformed woman when I held my new grandson. When they had their second son, I paused again because I was in love with the first one. Cuteness won. Soon other grandchildren were born, and I determined that I was going to be a rock, my grandchildren’s solid grounding. I wanted to help them feel their extended family’s embrace and ensure that they used correct grammar.   Before I knew it, my grandchildren were racing down the hallway of my condominium to hug me when they arrived. That same hallway gets transformed into a runway for jets, a race course for matchbox cars and a batting cage. The boys are hardly delicate in their use of my space.

Inside the condo, my female grandchildren place baby dolls to sleep in closets or on my computer desk chair where I accidently sit. Under the dining room table is where we set up a grocery store and have snacks. The dolls are our faithful companions for tea parties, and I am thrilled to hear words straight from my granddaughter’s mouth to her doll, “Remember to say, ‘May I please’?”
My grandchildren and I plant vegetable gardens, laugh at Snail delivering very slow mail to Frog at the Children’s Theater and rally for the Pirates of the Caribbean at the many movies we see. Soon they will want to see movies with an actual plot. I will probably have to beg them then to go with me.

The game they most often choose to play is hide-and-seek. I hide with them and discover hidden burrows -- under sheets in the linen closet, behind clothes in the closet and under couch cushions. The game I enjoy is gin rummy. I teach them to play, and now that’s our game.
We walk to the bakery and bike to the park. I have five different-sized car seats, so we are ready for any-sized bottom as I drive them to endless practices, play dates and lessons.
We kids, young and old, invent rituals. Cracking nuts with the nutcracker and serving those nuts to our holiday guests has become traditional. When my grandchildren stay overnight, we have their favorite foods—spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, cinnamon rolls when they wake up and pancakes for breakfast. 

We often have cooking sessions. Following recipes reinforces reading, so I am the sous chef. We make iced-and-sprinkled cakes, ornate gingerbread men and blackberry cobblers. They enjoy picking the blackberries with me first. What makes them swell with pride is bringing their creations home to their mothers -- who work equally hard to reinforce nutrition. Oh well! I’m the reading grandmother, not the nutrition grandmother.
My grandchildren enjoy hearing stories of their parents as children, so I heap on the stories. We “pass the story” where one of us starts a story and the other picks it up. While I work hard to insert values in my stories, my grandchildren relentlessly undermine my efforts by killing off the heroes.

They sometimes write their stories—often with their illustrations--in a “book.” If a grandchild is small, he or she dictates the story, and I print the words. Either way, I take a picture of the author, paste it on the last page and feature the child on the author page. The author comes up with his or her own profile which can be as short as “I like dogs” or long enough to include a preference for mint ice cream.
From the time they were very young, I have taken the grandchildren on Summer Snoop excursions. The boys crave riding things—the city bus, monorail, light rail, double decker bus, the Space Needle elevator and horseback riding. The favorite for all the grandchildren is fishing, so each summer finds us at a fish farm where the fish almost jump on their hooks. As they get older, we go to car museums, the science center, art museums and on overnight outings.
One of our best excursions was a hike on Mt. Rainier and staying at a train caboose motel at the base of the mountain. Our family lives in Scottsdale and Santa Barbara besides Seattle, so we visit cousins. My grandchildren love family reunions, their contribution to the reunions is always Jello because we read together in a book that Jello is what people bring to reunions. Everybody humors us.
I often fly to visit my distant grandchildren. I get to the Christmas programs where they are lambs or shepherds, to the concerts where they attempt to play instruments like trombones and saxophones and to musicals where they actually sing quite well. There are endless grandparent days, swim meets, ballet recitals and games of tennis, basketball, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, etc., etc. Meeting them on the playing fields is one of the best ways to gain access to their time as they grow older.
My grandchildren need to express their opinions, and my job is to listen. I’m still learning. My biggest challenge is to keep opinions to myself. My children are doing incredible jobs as parents, and I need to remember that as I think I have something important to say.
The influence you exert [on your children] is through your own life and what you’ve become yourself,” says Eleanor Roosevelt. So I try, perhaps unrealistically, to be the person I would like them to emulate. They have picked up my travel fixation, so there is definite progress. 

When my grandchildren turn 13, I take them on a trip. My oldest chose the Galapagos, and my second oldest chose Costa Rica. Besides snorkeling with sea turtles, we learned about respect for the environment. These were the perfect setting in which to bond even more deeply.   Accepting grandchildren unconditionally is the gift a grandparent can give. Their parents get to work out the kinks. Another gift is keeping baby books and grandchildren’s histories for the parents who are often too busy for this task. Two of my grandchildren recently received their overstuffed baby books, and they relish them.  
My grandparenting job isn’t complete. What I’ve learned is how significant grandparents are to their offspring once-removed. My not-clipped wings have strengthened as they accommodate the sparks of life my grandchildren give me. I am an integral part of their ultimate departure on their own wings. 

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