One of the things that surprised me the most about parenthood was how much closer it brought me to my mom, dad and stepmom. One reason is being able to relate to them on a different level (now I know what they had to deal with when I was a kid) but the biggest reason is that watching my parents love my kids has opened my heart to trust and reconciliation.
It takes a lot of trust to leave your kids with your parents. When my dad was left alone with my niece for the first time, she pooped and he handled it like a man. He took off her diaper and hosed her off in the shower. If there had been a legitimate reason to use duct tape or superglue, I’m sure he would have. But that’s not the kind of trust I’m talking about. When we hand our kids over to our parents, we’re saying, “I trust you with the things that are most precious to me: my kid and my heart.” We trust them with a part of us that we don’t completely understand yet. This part of us is raw and vulnerable and we’re hoping with all our soul that our parents will love our children in a way that they weren’t able to love us: freely and without judgments or reservations. That’s why grandparents are special. Without the responsibility of having to make the big decisions and having to be the bad guy, a grandparent’s love is pure.
My Mammo and Granddad died many years ago and I know my kids would’ve loved them. My Mammo was the gentlest woman I’ve ever known. She let me eat peppermint candy as I flipped through her old photo albums, enthralled by pictures of family members going back generations. My Granddad was a hoot. He drove us around in his old Chevy, us kids slipping and sliding around on the backseat, holding on for dear life. It amazed me that he could drive with glasses that were crusted over with some mysterious substance on one lens and the other inexplicably covered in duct tape.
My Grandma and Grandpa are 89 years old and definitely slowing down. Grandma is getting shorter by the minute and most of Grandpa’s bristle is gone. I’ll never forget touring the Smithsonian with my Grandpa and the way Grandma comforted me after all my toes were bitten by crabs on the sea shore. They bought me my most favorite doll in the world, a black Baby Alive. She was the only one left in the store and I embarrassed them by telling the Hispanic cashier, “I’ll just pretend she’s Mexican.”
Grandparents will spoil our kids. They’ll hand them back to us sticky, sweaty and covered in dirt with nothing in their bellies but cotton candy and undiluted juice. For the next few days we’ll endure endless arguments of “Grandma let me do it” while we’ll reply with the phrase familiar from our own childhood, “You’re not at Grandma’s house anymore.” Our parents will tell our kids stories about us that we may not want them to know and they’ll give them their first experience of living history. Someday, your daughter will ask Grandpa if he loves her or the dog more and Grandpa will respond, “Well, I’ve known the dog longer…” It’ll become a joke that you tell over and over. One day, she may forgo all the fluffy princess wedding dresses in the store to wear her Grandma’s wedding dress instead, hand sewn by her Great-Grandmother. She may develop a love of old Chevys, photo albums and AM radio because of the memories they bring back. Your daughter may grow up one day to have kids of her own. The most frightening moment of her life might come when her father is diagnosed with cancer right before her first child is born and she has to face the thought that her kids may not be able to form the cherished memories that she did with her grandparents. Fortunately, she’ll be wrong and her children will have 6 grandparents (the only good thing to come from divorce) to dote on them.
Someday, you’ll worry about how to explain that Pop Pop isn’t married to YaYa anymore and Grandpa isn’t married to Grandma Sheryl but they won’t care one bit. All they know is that Grandma Sheryl always picks the best presents and Grandpa promises that he’ll buy his grandson a chainsaw someday. Your daughter won’t think twice when people say she looks just like Grandma even though they don’t share an ounce of blood. Kids only know how their grandparents make them feel. We are blessed to have that experience.