Growing up, I didn’t have grandparents. My mom’s dad died when she was four and my mom’s mom died when I was four. My dad’s dad lived to be ninety-six but, due to my dad’s escape from Bulgaria after WW2, my father was deemed an enemy of the state and feared returning to his homeland. Each of their grandparents died early on in my parents’ lives so they didn’t have grandparents either. We all grew up grandparent-less.
When we were kids, my dad and mom worked hard, both responsible for duties that were separate and no less equal. But, when my dad retired he could finally do the things he loved like garden, golf and build things. My mom could crochet to her heart’s content, see her girlfriends, and maybe not have to cook as much as she had all her life.
Then, lo and behold, my husband and I had kids. And those kids were lucky enough to have grandparents who had retired. No longer working, and happy as can be, my parents were free to spend time with their grandchildren. I recognized the impact two people could have on children who were “their own,” but once removed. I was a fly on a wall observing Mom’s patience for following around one of our kids with a spoonful of pasta to get him to eat, listening patiently as one child would try to form new words, teaching them all the names of her pet goats growing up in her village in Greece, singing old, Greek folk songs to lull her grandsons to sleep, and telling me, “Your kids teach you how to be a parent.”
My dad could spend endless hours pushing a colicky baby in a stroller around the family room, telling the kids stories about his childhood (the ones he could bear to reveal), play in the pool for endless hours, without complaint or boredom as he let the kids ride on his back, rock in a rocking chair with our son while holding an ice cream cone that would be dripping faster than he could fold another layer into his napkin, and wiping tears from his eyes at the blessings of the life he had come to have after an extremely painful childhood.
When our kids were in school, their grandparents attended every play, musical, presentation, graduation, and sporting event. They were always there. Always. My parents commitment to being a part of their grandchildren’s lives was such that they traveled to locations all over the world to be with them and us. My kids “nannies” were their grandparents. I know how rare that is, and how blessed we all have been to have had grandparents willing and able to do that. During those years, I observed how to be a confidante, not a rule maker or enforcer, and to have no judgment. Each child was accepted unconditionally and was loved equally. If our children felt pain, so did Mom and Dad. All achievements and milestones were celebrated with no agendas. They made each child feel special and unique. There was never any doubt that each was loved deeply. I watched, then, with my yet-to-be wrinkled eyes, and saw the love and patience in the eyes of my parents. No wrinkles will ever be more precious than those of a grandparent’s smile.
Now that I have two very young grandchildren, I am so thankful that I was blessed with two beautiful role models. A couple of weeks ago our three-year-old granddaughter sat on my lap as she got a “pedicure.” She knows when she comes over to Yiayia and Papou’s house, we are going to sing, dance, put on plays, swim, and she will get to drink her favorite soda made with Stevia. She will take “orders” as a waitress and throw poker chips around like it’s raining Vegas. She may not yet know that we will be at all her ballet recitals, graduations, taking way too many pictures and videos. But, one day she will. Her little sister will have the same fan club, and even though they may be too young to understand the value of grandparents right this instant, they know they are loved unconditionally.
Mom was right. My kids may have taught me how to be a parent, but my parents, through their love and patience, taught me how to be a grandparent.
Happy Grandparents Day to one, and all.