I remember enough pieces of my childhood to appreciate, in hindsight, that I must have been an incredible pain in the ass. There were times that I was a whiny little bitch, there were times when I was cute and cuddly and lovable and affectionate, and there were even times when the people around me were actually proud of something I had said or done. In other words, I was basically a normal child with all the issues all children have trying to survive long enough for the potential of their developing bodies to catch up with the almost limitless capacity of their hormone-addled brains.
Long before the last of my children had joined the human race, I had already apologized countless times to my mother for all the shit I surely put that poor woman through growing up. Without a nanosecond of hesitation, each and every time, she smiled a smile only a parent of a grown child can muster and said, “I don’t remember you being a bit of trouble at all.” Thinking back on that now, I’m reminded that one of the fundamental universal laws of parenting, throughout all of the generations that have come and gone and have yet to come, is that selective lying to your children, believably and with a smile on your face, is mandatory for the sake of their own survival and your ongoing inner peace.
For all the good and bad I surely did as a parent myself, I am as proud as I can be that all of my children grew up to become productive and contributing members of society. Between them, and by the grace of God, I have been gifted an abundance of grandchildren along the way, and, in today’s modern family, I’ve been around long enough to proudly count my number of ‘Grands’ in double digits.
When the first Grand touched down in the universe, the conversation began about what she would call me (you know what I mean…Pappy, Grampy, PawPaw, and so forth), I asked my second wife (half Polish) what Grandpa was in that language. I nuanced the spelling a little bit, but for almost 24 years now, all of my grandchildren have called me “Djiadji” (sounds like jah jee) and, just like that, my life was once more forever changed.
I’ve written many times that I believe everything happens for a reason. I respect that not everyone shares this belief, but in the case of my graduation from Father to Grandfather, the circumstances surrounding that stretch of my life brought with it something that few grandparents in this day and age get the privilege and honor of being able to enjoy; 6 weeks after this precious little child was born, a new job relocated her and I and the rest of the family 2,000 miles away where we would live together, or within a mile or two of each other, for the first 11 years of her life.
As the years went by and the Grands kept coming, I came to understand the clear distinction between watching, from a distance, as your Grands grow and develop and being an active, hands-on participant in that process of growth and development. With the modern world being the way it is now, and Families frequently living at Great distances from each other, it is increasingly rare for Grants to spend much more than holidays and special occasions with the older Generations and, I’m quite sure, the richness of those relationships is dramatically increased for both the young and the old alike wherever and whenever they can be together on a daily or near-daily basis.
It would be a divorce between her Grandparents and the call to care for my mother in her final years that would separate us by those same 2,000 miles that we had once traveled together. In that bright light of that “everything happens for a reason” notion, however, I returned to my second grandchild and his newborn sister.
I spent every day with them during the week, traveling back and forth to pick them up from school or daycare while their parents worked, and brought them back to spend precious time with their great-grandmother far more than most Grands ever get to do on such a regular basis, and it is all but impossible to figure out who benefited more. I even lived with them for over a year and a half after my mother passed and during the early days of my own health crisis. All grown up and moved out now, my first grandson lives a couple of miles away, and I continue, 14 years and running, to enjoy a near-daily ongoing connection with my granddaughter, which necessarily includes haggling over the right answers for her homework assignments… Among the many things, grants haggle over with their grandparents.
My mother, brother and I moved in with my grandmother when I was five. Once she retired, and while my mother was at work, it was my grandmother that I spent the bulk of my time with and, quite honestly, where I got all of my education on the matters, meaning, and values in life. For all that I was once sure I knew better than her, I would learn with the arrival of my first child that I had no clue what the hell I was talking about when I tried to assert my own superior wisdom as she sat quietly and listened with that parental smile on her face.
It is bittersweet, though, to look into the eyes of your grown Grands and know, as my grandmother once did when she looked into my eyes, that you have planted all the right seeds in the hearts and minds of your Grands but can only hope (because you’ll likely not see with your own eyes) that they do likewise with their own Grands. All the same, there is no small comfort in knowing that even though it takes becoming a parent to understand what you put your own parents through, they eventually grow to appreciate just how much blissful joy your children might, someday, through their own children, bring back to you anew.