How fun do grandparents have to be?

Now that you are one, you may not like to think back on who was your favorite grandparent while you were growing up.

For me, it was my father’s father, my first love. As soon as I learned to write, my first love letters were for “Pancho,” our nickname for him. While sitting on his lap, he let me comb the little hair he had left on his head. He used to take us to the movies by bus on a Sunday afternoon. Pancho introduced us to the circus, back when it was under a real white tent and the elephants smelled. He spent time with us. When I needed glasses at age nine, I never wore them in his presence because he said they “took the shine out of my eyes.” A mixed message for sure, but back then I would have gone blind for his approval.

For my husband, his favorites were his paternal grandparents because even though he was sentenced to watch The Lawrence Welk Show with them on Saturday nights, they allowed him to drink Coke at their home. Was it the soft drink or the time spent?

My maternal grandmother had eleven children who produced fifty-three first cousins; I was number thirty-four in the queue for her attention. My memories are of a very strong woman, a personality to be admired and maybe even feared a little bit. She taught my older cousins table manners in a manner that would be frowned upon today. My cousins were strapped into their dining chairs to make sure they grew accustomed to sitting ramrod straight and did not splay their arms. What are you, an airplane ready for take-off? At her table you brought food to your mouth and not the other way around. From her life came dozens of “my mother always used to say…” encompassing childrearing lessons, marriage pointers, life training. My maternal grandmother lived her examples to her family, and we all remember. Still, I don’t believe she was anybody’s favorite. She just wasn’t fun.

If you are raising your grandchildren, there is a chance you may not make the favorite list. Then again, once your grandchildren are adults, they just might look back and think you were the most remarkable person who ever lived. But there are some unwritten rules that we are forced to follow as the child-rearing grandparent. One of those is that we must forfeit our ordained right to spoil.

So, you have to keep a stiff upper lip when, after an outing with the other grandparents, the grandchild comes back with stories of the fun they had, the bending of rules, the sweets free-for-alls, the late-night sleepovers. We need to remember when dealing with the other grandparents that they too are suffering through the disappointments of having raised a child who is not taking on the full responsibilities of parenthood.

It does not really matter if we chose or were chosen to help bring up our grandchildren. We accepted that role and now we have to do it—because in truth, what conditions can we realistically set, what rights (read: legal) do we really have?

Now as an adult, and as a grandmother, I like to look back on my two pairs of grandparents and re-remember the favorite things I loved about each one of them. Fun lasts for a time, and in sweet memories, they are precious to us. But there is so much more in life: upbringing, manners, morals, faith—those are the life lessons that still resonate with us, that mold us, that make us responsible, good people. These things last forever.

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