BY WILLIAM LEVINE
One of my least favorite bumper stickers is ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDKIDS for a couple of reasons: First, it is a presumptuous request. OK, I suppose if the driver’s grandchildren graduated Harvard at 12 or 14 years of age or better yet, have appeared on Master Chef-Junior, the sticker is appropriate. Otherwise, I’d rather see ASK ME ABOUT SELLING STOCKS SHORT. Reason number two is that if I had the chutzpah to slap on the ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDCHILDREN bumper sticker, my awkward answer would be when someone asked, “Yeah I know that I look old enough to have grandchildren. I have thinning hair, a well-hidden but significant hearing-aide and wrinkles that scream out ‘collecting social security.’ I am 66, but in fact, I do not yet have grandchildren so stop asking me!”
“I miss the existential calm of knowing I will have a lengthening family tree branch.”
I was an old dad, being 40 and 43 when my boys Craig and Matt were born. My classmates who are grandad’s have kids 8 to 12 years older than mine, thus my non-granddad status. I don’t think that as a non-granddad that I am missing a life affirmation as I did when my wife and I were childless. But right now we can only spoil our dog, Cookie. It would be nice to have that three generational presence in my life so our gifts wouldn’t be chewed up. I miss the existential calm of knowing I will have a lengthening family tree branch.
I tend to lessen my grandparenting envy by imagining the pitfalls of grandparenthood. Take babysitting for instance. Grandparent babysitting is great for retirees who have from 10 to “ enough already” free hours weekly. Sure, babysitting assures that your grandchildren will address you as “gramps”, “papa” or “grandpa” instead of “who are you?” But this practice could take away time otherwise devoted to building bird houses or collecting both Bigfoot and carbon footprints. Grandparents can satisfy their wanderlust by just taking the grandkids along on cruises. A couple of Disney Cruise heads up though: Don’t book character tables for all breakfasts as Goofy will eventually be unnerving and don’t buy your grandkids the “all the soda you can drink“ package.
I‘ll deal with these pitfalls, real or imagined and hopefully, be a meaningful granddad, not just a patriarch on the family tree top, Right now conventional wisdom, at least on TV, is that meaningful active touch football playing, grandfathering. I am impressed by my friends who are engaged in frolicking grandparenting, like in the Celebrex ads. One friend mentioned that he went trick-or-treating with his grandchildren in full costume. Other friends treat their kids and grandkids to a weekend at an indoor all-inclusive water park resort in mid-winter. As a sucker for indoor pools and fake Hawaiian décor, this three-generational splash-in is appealing rather than claustrophobic.
“Yet I understand that hands on grandparenting is not the only scheme in the grandparent playbook.”
I fear though I will be too old to do hands on active three generational events with my grandchildren. I can envision that my go-to inter-generational activity will be hosting family sit-down dinners in my senior living dining room. Hopefully my grandkids will enjoy salt-free foods. This was my dad’s standard grandparenting event once he moved into Hebrew Senior Life when my kids were 12 and nine.
I do hope though that I can be a better granddad and have the wherewithal to orchestrate active family events. I would like to babysit my potential grandchildren, provided I don’t need my own sitter. Yet I understand that hands-on grandparenting is not the only scheme in the grandparenting playbook. My dad showed me this.
Though my dad did not because of his age, engage in immersive hands on grandparenting, he demonstrated that you are never to late to do meaningful grandparenting. My nephew mentioned to his grandfather (my dad), that at age 20, he wanted a bar mitzvah. My dad at age 94, took this request and ran with it. Several months later in the function room of dad’s Hebrew SeniorLife complex, my nephew was called to a portable Torah in front of 80 or so guests. Due to his age, dad delegated many of the tasks, but he footed the bill and was the impetus for this event. He sat in his wheel chair and took in a perfect grandfatherly moment. He died about 6 months later, leaving a wonderful grandfatherly legacy. I know all four of his grandchildren were touched by this unique event.
I hope I can if lucky enough to achieve grandfatherhood, proudly affix this bumper sticker: ASK ME ABOUT OLDER GRANDPARENTING, to either my car or my walker.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bill Levine is a retired IT professional, active free lance writer and potential grandparent. Bill resides in Belmont. MA.