The joys (and guilt) of grandparenting
I should tear my hair and beat my breast! I felt so guilty. My eyes were brimming with tears.
We had just left our eldest daughter, Susan, in Melbourne and cuddled our grandchildren – Anne, 8, Jessica, 4, and seven- month old Nicholas.
Susan and I had burst into tears at the door, holding each other tightly when it was time to leave.
So how could I be sitting in our car barely an hour later, feeling relieved and happy? I should be crushed, should be missing the children already. What sort of a worthless grandmother was I?
My husband Ben took one hand off the steering wheel, scratched his head and said ‘Thank God, peace!’.
I took a peek at him and saw a relaxed man, happy with himself and glad to be on the road again. What sort of a terrible grandfather was he?
It was rather fun in the beginning to run around in sloppy clothes. After four days of it, I felt like a complete frump. Balancing a seven-month old baby on one hip is also deadly for the back.
I learned new skills. I became one-handed. Baby on one arm, I learned how to sort dirty clothes with the other, put them into the washing machine, take them out, put them into the dryer etc.
The staying power of those machines. They worked all day long – and so did I.
Susan was always busy – driving the children to kindy and school and the dentist and - breast feeding. Oh, blessed generation where breast feeding is “in”; where the breast is always available for nourishment and comfort; where the mother gazes lovingly at her baby sucking away while the house falls around her in chaos.
The worst part was the noise.
Nature is very kind to us elderly people. She lets us see less as we get older so our wrinkles are in a kinder, dimmer light and she takes some of our hearing capacity away as well. Not enough.
Two television sets were usually going at the same time, one with Humphrey B.Bear, the other showing a video. A radio played in the kitchen, Nicholas the baby screamed and Jessica had a fight with her sister. Then the phone rang and the dog started to bark at the door.
Susan, mother, ruler of the house and 30 years old, laughs and sails through the days on full steam, undeterred by the added need to supervise the workmen building an extension on to her house.
As soon as we arrived home I rang my friend Annette. She has five grandchildren. A friend like Annette is a must for every woman.
She picks me up when I am down; she pulls me into line when I have the miseries. She too had spent some of the festive season with her grandchildren. I knew she would not have been glad to leave them. I could just see her surrounded by her large family, laughing, having a wonderful time.
“Is that you my friend?” Annette sounded agitated. “Before you say anything, let me tell you, I am never going to have another holiday like the last. I am too old for it. I do not like being spewed on by babies and dirty nappies – well … no, no, no!”
I grew five centimetres. I was not alone. Being made a grandmother did not automatically mean one had to like it or had to be good at it. Later, I cautiously asked a few acquaintances how they felt about their adorable grandchildren and this opened a Pandora’s Box.
They all had long stories of noisy, undisciplined, sleep-disturbing children.
It was generally understood that this generation of grandchildren was not at all like we had been. We were obedient. We ate what was on our plate. We certainly did not wail, “it’s Thursday, on Thursdays we always have McDonalds”.
We washed our hands, we never answered back. Of course, I vividly remember the way my grandfather shook his head in horror the first time he saw me in a two-piece bathing suit. I received a long lecture on the immorality of modern youth. Now, somehow, my guilt feelings have flown out of the window. I have come to understand that I am not a terrible grandmother. My feelings are NORMAL. I have the right to live in a house where order reigns supreme, where I am in charge of the noise. I have earned the right to have peace. I am entitled to afternoon naps and watching the news without interruption.
I did my duties long ago, when a messy, noisy house was the order of the day and I was young. When children and their needs took up all my time, when I had the strength to cope with long days and often sleepless nights.
Just so there is no misunderstanding, I like being a grandmother. I think that nobody’s grandchildren are as good-looking, clever, charming or talented as mine and I love them with all my heart. But please God, don’t let them all come and visit during their next holidays.