Saturday, February 7, 2015

"Joys," Ch. 17, BUT...AT WHAT COST

CHAPTER 17 Joys: Here Come the Grandkids

I don’t think I can add much perspective on this topic. With few exceptions, grandparents are the beneficiaries of having the best job on earth. We can love the kids, look after the kids, spoil the kids, and then hand them back. For the most part, we are not constrained by fear and/or guilt, and/or outsider judgments. The parents will be blamed for everything, no matter what.

As far as I know, this has always been true, and it changes one’s perspective… and perhaps one’s child-rearing choices. My kids and their spouses are terrific parents, but they’ve had to think about it a hell of a lot more than I ever did. Sure, I was judged as a parent, but there weren’t so many insane rules then. My kids’ generation has been nit-picked nearly to death by experts – so they tend to be much more nervous about their child-rearing duties than I ever had to be. As I said before, the kids are fine; it’s the moms who have suffered the most from the interference. Anyway, grandparents are relieved from all that pressure; we are free to enjoy!

Randy and Sue had Zach in ’92, Sam in ’94, and Molly in ’96. Beth and Andrew had Evan in ’96 and Trent in ‘01. As Sue’s doctor said to Randy in the delivery room after Zach was born, “You can bring in that grandmother floating around the waiting room, now.” Floating, indeed. I don’t know if there’s a happiness comparable to that happiness. The pure joy is exquisite, and was present for each addition to the family. God’s plan or Mother Nature’s plan (whichever one chooses to believe) is a darned good one. It’s no wonder the grandmothers of the world start nagging about having children as soon as they dare. It feels so good to have little ones around again.

The only minor run-in I had with the new rules was when I was babysitting for Zach. I dislocated his elbow when I was helping him get on my lap. I was horrified and called Sue at the hospital where she was working. By the time she got home, Zach was sleeping (somewhat uncomfortably, I presume), but his pediatrician said to wait until morning to bring him in. I stayed over-night so I could watch Sam while she took Zach to the doctor. Needless to say, I felt so bad, l couldn’t sleep.

I found out later that someone at work had asked if the kids were safe with me… if I might have hurt Zach on purpose. This was at the height of all the “abuse” scandals. Everyone was subject to scrutiny. Now, I’m all for children being protected from abuse, but in days gone by, that question NEVER would have been asked without cause. It seems everyone’s first impulse when a kid gets hurt these days is to blame somebody else – like the caretaker. I was to blame in this case, but in this new world culture that calls spanking “abuse”, I could have been arrested.

Later, Randy experienced much the same reaction from the professionals when he called an ambulance for Sam. Sam had hit his head on a bed frame while fighting or horsing around with his brother, and was bleeding profusely. Rand couldn’t stop the bleeding and Sam wasn’t answering his questions, so he called 911. By the time help arrived, they weren’t needed, but once the process is started, it must continue. Randy was interrogated like a criminal… or at least that’s how he felt for a while.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent people have been prosecuted and convicted of child abuse by the overzealous or the vengeful. Thousands, if not millions have been falsely accused. That’s how it is now.

As I said, children should be protected, but…at what cost to normal loving parents? It’s rather like trying to raise your kids with the sword of Damocles hanging over your head. I have nothing but sympathy for today’s parents. It’s a much more judgmental world in that area.

This grandma, however, had it great! I was lucky enough to be needed on occasion… and lucky enough to be left to my own devices and rules of discipline. I was free to be me.

I think this was good for the kids, too. One of the illusions created by the advice-givers is the belief that if kids are treated the same, the results will be the same. First, it would be awfully boring if everyone turned out the same, but second, it just won’t happen. They created a one-size-fits-all dynamic for raising children that everyone should follow… present a united front and all that. I don’t know that any expert actually said that, but the sum total of receiving all that advice made us (or many of us) infer that message… that there is one right way and a bunch of wrong ways of disciplining kids – all kids, regardless of their different temperaments, talents and tendencies. What nonsense!

I think having grandparents in kids’ lives serves a great purpose – one that parents alone can’t provide. With us they are exposed to different ideas, different expectations, different rules, and different personalities. Vive la difference! Is there a better way to learn about people and the personal AND generational differences between them? Exposures = learning.

I and all my old friends have noticed some pretty significant differences between the behaviors of our kids with us and the behaviors of our grandkids with their parents. Our kids never (okay, hardly ever) talked back to us or their teachers. Not so with the grandkids; they sometimes argue with their parents as if they were peers. For better or worse, those rules changed. A lot of the rules for acceptable behaviors changed when parents and teachers followed the advice of the self-esteem “experts.”

Thankfully, by the time Rand’s kids arrived, I had discounted their mandates and responded naturally to the kids. When I was angry, they knew it. They follow my rules when they are with me. They don’t talk-back to me (yet), and I’m darned sure they all know I love them more than life and that they can always depend on me.

Because Beth and Andrew live so far away, I’ve not had as many opportunities to show Evan and Trent how much I love them… or to have that love influence them the way I would have liked. Their absence leaves a big hole in my heart, and I think, a little hole in their development, too. They are great kids, though – with me or without me. Different circumstances demand different life choices, but fortunately there’s more than one good way to skin a cat – and raise kids.

As you might imagine, one of my favorite pastimes is learning about each kid as an individual. They are oh-so-different in personality tendencies, talents, and needs – in most things, really.

Zach, now 21, is a “big picture” person. He’s always been a critical thinker and a dot-connector, and quite temperamental and sensitive. He, more than the others so far, has sought my opinion and discussed “things that matter.” He’s a natural leader and a persuasive talker, and I absolutely adore having solo time with him. He always has been good at relating to adults… even when he was three and talking me into another cookie. I had him pegged to become a lawyer, but now, it seems he’s leaning toward being a golf course superintendent. His degree in sociology and his minor in criminal justice will be wasted, but his long-time summer job at a local golf course holds more appeal. He probably learned a lot more useful information there than in college. Anyway, that’s his take on it and I agree.

Sam (19) is a math whiz and a star athlete… and very patient. He has a heart condition which neither he nor his parents have allowed to define him. Though he’s supplied me many pride-filled moments on the soccer field, I think I am most proud of his “roll with the punches” attitude. If a door closes, Sam opens a new one. We mostly talk sports, but he allows me to ask about his extremely busy social life and girlfriend situations – fun, fun, fun. There was a time I thought Sam might be a Lothario by profession – very popular with the ladies – but he’s studying to be an actuary. Guess he can be both.

Molly (17) reminds me of me when I was seventeen. She does it all. She has jobs as a restaurant hostess and a soccer referee, volunteers, participates in every club she can, and still makes time to bake cookies and trim the Christmas tree with Grandma. There the resemblance ends. She was homecoming queen and is in Math Club and intends to be a dentist – much more ambitious, more popular and prettier than I ever was. What a delightful, hard working girl!

Evan (17) is my “viva la difference” kid. A visual learner and anxiety-ridden, Evan has had a heavy cross to bear, which makes me admire her more than any of the other kids. She’s also caused me more distress, but that comes with the territory. Evan is brilliant and a gifted artist, but nothing is easy for her – many “normal” acts require large amounts of courage for her to complete... and that contributes to making her perceptions a little quirky and her approach to life quite different from the average kid. Sometimes appreciating those differences is difficult, but man, if you can, she will broaden your horizons. She has flashes of insight that go far beyond what her years and general knowledge should allow. Her brain just connects dots and BAM – she “gets it.” Love that and love her! You will find the right niche for you, Evan!

Trent (12) is the musician of the crew. Others have dabbled, but I think (and hope) he is the one who will stick with it. From the time he was four or five and we were singing kiddie songs together, I marveled at his impeccable timing. After trying out violin and guitar, he seems to have settled on drums – good choice, I think. I’m hoping he will sing too, but who knows? Trent is Mr. Charming, a very socially adept guy, who talks to everybody including strangers on the street if they interest him. (Don’t worry, he won’t go anywhere with them.) So far, Trent is a jack-of-all- trades, master of none, so I don’t have a clue what he’ll end up doing. Too soon to tell – but he’ll be good at it, whatever it is.

Readers outside the family probably aren’t much interested in my grandkids, their accomplishments, or my take on them, but there is a larger message. As Judith Harris pointed out years ago in The Nurture Assumption (I’m paraphrasing, but she cited much research that proves): kids are born different, and while parents can make their kids’ lives happier or sadder, they will not influence their outcomes as much as genes and peers (culture) will. The differences in my own kids formed my thesis; my grandkids prove it.

I was lucky; I have five smart, hard-working, sensible, productive, and beautiful grandchildren. Their genes have dealt each a different winning hand that with the proper influences, serves each well. As a grandmother, I must accept that I won’t and shouldn’t matter very much in the long run. I’m just here to enjoy them, make them happy when I can… and, I hope, provide a little food for thought when I can, too.


We are serializing Judy Axtell's memoir here. I am proud to have been coach and editor for it.

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