Monday, July 20, 2009

On Being a Grandmother

I make no bones about not being the type of grandmother who wears “I love my grandkids” sweatshirts. I do not dote on my grandkids, carry a brag book nor make myself a slave to them. Rather, I like to think, I have an enlightened approach to grand parenting that has allowed me to develop a relationship with each one as an individual and one where I have definitely retained my identity as a distinct and separate adult in their life.

I have little tolerance for the excesses thrown at kids today and for the dependency that many kids have on being entertained. My daughter and her husband run a tight ship with the kids who are, in general, polite, well behaved, avid readers and, well - boys!

Oh dear, here I go – when I was a child I spent a lot of summers with my grandparents in Ireland. I was allowed to go barefoot, venture far a field, forage for mushrooms and strawberries and light a small fire over which to roast the mushrooms. Often times my grandma would pack a lunch, usually a bacon sandwich, and I’d be gone for the day. Along with my brother I explored the stream where the otters played, built forts from hay bales, climbed trees, scrumped apples. I learned that pigs in apple orchards are mean; that geese are so strong that one whack from a wing can break an arm; that you can catch trout in the river shallows by tickling them; that stubborn as a mule really does apply to both mules and donkeys and that riding a pony bareback and without a halter can have painful consequences. The adults in my life then did not have time to play with me – their lives were constrained by daily routines necessary for keeping their small farm running.

All this brings me to today and the cabin. My grandsons. 12 and 8 are with me for two weeks. Day one brought choruses of, “we’re bored, there’s nothing to do here”. Horrors, no TV, no Game Boy (although I still don’t think I know what that is). Just acres of wonderful alpine meadow land, trees, and an eight-acre pond with three islands dotted in it. Oh, let’s see what else – dirt bikes, a canoe, a raft on the pond, assorted toys and a massive chest full of board games plus more than enough room to swing a dozen cats inside. G’Ma is mean too. There are rules about making beds, picking up clothes, returning dishes to the kitchen. What a bummer!

Day two: in the absence of electronic entertainment they helped me make bread (pronounced delicious and can we do it again); played several games of Scrabble (boy, am I rusty) donned life vests and swam to the island; hauled out the metal fire pit, lit the fire and roasted toasted s’mores, learned how to adjust and use binoculars; kept track of birds for me. Bed by eight, exhausted…all of us!

Day Three: I suggested they walk around the pond and introduce themselves to people across who I know have grandkids staying. I watched the slow tortuous walk, lots of hesitating and the older boy pushing his brother in front. Noted the loss of courage and the beginnings of a retreat. I called the Crowe’s – “hey, don’t you have grandsons with you”. Affirmative and they came out to meet my two. Delighted to note the eight year old proffer his hand to Dr, Crowe by way of introduction. This time I watched through the field glasses as they headed off to a tree house and later ‘sailed’ cross the pond in a 12ft. skiff with an electric motor, stopping to land on the islands and in general do what kids should do - mess about with boats. And yes, after the first excursion strict protocol has been established about wearing life-jackets.

I took my two out to lunch; they informed me that they had been invited to play again in the afternoon. A massive storm came in that made crossing either water or land a hazard. “Why don’t you drive us over” they demanded. My suggestion was, I think, more diplomatic. “Why don’t you call and suggest the boys come over here for poker and brownies.” It had already been established that all four were poker players – blows my mind. Call was made and the response “we’ll come when the rain slows down”. My eight year old established himself at the window, scanning their house through binoculars for signs of life. “They’re coming”. And two figures emerged under umbrellas heading our way. My two grabbed the one umbrella we have and raced to meet them. The image was wonderful. Two groups of two, under umbrellas, converging at a meeting spot. Reminded me of the Cold War era and meetings along lines of demarcation.

Today: hand signals and yahoos across the pond by 8:30 a.m. Boys are playing and having fun! I’ve already been informed that there are plans for a cookout at the fire pit tonight and that, “G’Ma, it’s really cool here, how long can we stay”. I assume the other grandparents involved are equally delighted.

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