I go “on safari” with my nine-year-old granddaughter in the forest that borders her suburban New York home. We step gingerly over branches of fallen trees, our feet crunching leaves on the ground. We are alone, and sit for a while on a rock and talk. She tells me about her world and I listen, acutely, knowing this is a golden moment. one of the reasons we moved from our home of forty years in order to live closer to our granddaughters.
The decision to move from Long Island, an hour and a half away, was made easily. Our friends were making similar moves, and my husband and I resented the frequent drive we made to see my daughter and her family. It was time to change.
We dismantled our home, rendering it anonymous as photos left the walls, paintings and mirrors departed, overhead lighting fixtures came down, and furnishings removed. Guest towels came off the bathroom towel rack, tools came off the pegboard in the laundry room, barbecue and outdoor furniture left the deck. Our home became a barren, hollow house; it lost its image, our personality.
It has taken me over two years to conclude that our decision was the right one. When we moved to our new condo, I felt uncomfortable, as if I didn’t belong, as if I were living in another woman’s house. I had moved away from my comfort range; e roads, stores, and people were unfamiliar. I felt invisible.
The promises of old friends — to visit me regularly — have been unfulfilled. We talk on the phone; I am reluctant to end the conversations with women with whom I have a long history. (I have met some nice women here, however, and we are slowly building our own history.)
Although our daughter and her family were enthusiastic about our move, my daughter has a busy life. My expectations — about frequent shopping trips together and luncheons — needed to be adjusted. Now, I am grateful for any time my daughter and I have together, but it was not what I had anticipated. Furthermore, as much as we love our grandchildren, they could not become our entire world. We needed to create a new life in our new home; eventually, we have.
When needed, we meet the school bus or watch the girls after school. We look forward to night-time baby-sitting when we often push back bedtimes, rub little backs that are having trouble unwinding from their busy days, and give milk and cookies after tooth brushing, in cases of extreme hunger. We do not call this spoiling, just bending the rules a bit.
Living near our grandchildren is a chance to re-do the parenting years, in a kinder, wiser way. Now we know what pictures to take, what presents to buy, what is necessary and what is unnecessary, what is important, and what lasts. My husband and I love the easy fit when the children come to our condo; we love that they can count on us to be back-up for their parents: to cheer for them at their soccer games; to clap at their theatre performances, school plays, and dance recitals, and to buy the requisite presentational flower arrangements. We’re there to watch them march in the Memorial Day parade, to sew their badges on their Brownie vests, to help clean up after birthday parties, and to make a big fuss over homemade presents they give us.
Nothing is perfect, life is a compromise.
We give and we get. In relocating to be near our grandchildren, we have gotten far more than we have given up.