Our oldest grandson headed off to university this past weekend. It’s hard to believe that it has been 18 years since he was born. I was present for his birth, so Max and I have known each other since the minute he was born, and I have had the privilege of being part of his life ever since.
Unlike some of my friends with adult children, I was not waiting to become a grandmother. However, I took to it like a fish to water and realized quickly that all those corny sayings about being a grandparent really are true: it is so much easier and more fun than being a parent.
Or it can be. I have friends whose relationships with their grandchildren are challenged by complexities in their relationships with their own children; others who struggle to have meaningful connections with grandchildren who live thousands of kilometres away, across international borders; others whose adult children feel the need to tell their parents what kind of grandparents they expect them to be.
We have been incredibly fortunate on all these fronts. I have lived close to my two oldest grandsons for their entire lives to date. More importantly, their parents – my daughter and their father – have welcomed us into their lives with open arms. Somehow, they have managed to create a perfect balance in which we have never felt taken for granted as potential babysitters/chauffeurs/helpers but have always felt valued in whatever role we can play. As my daughter’s texts to me often began when the boys were younger:
“It’s completely fine if you say no, but I want to ask you first: can you take/pick up the boys . . . ?”
I had to say no, often, but she continued to ask, and I said yes when I could.
As a result, we have had a largely seamless relationship with these two close-at-hand grandsons, dropping in and out of their daily lives as it suited everyone. We have been present for marker events like school concerts and graduations, but the times I cherish are not those so much as the ongoing informal connections and activities.
We have had the amazing opportunity to take each of them on a major trip when they were 12 –Max to Morocco and Leo to Costa Rica – where we got to know one another in ways we never would have otherwise. Our conversations are still peppered with stories from those trips.
We have been with them and their parents as they grew from colicky babies into the interesting and very different people they have become so far in their lives. There have been tears shed and the occasional sleepless night when we worried about one crisis or another in each of their lives. Even then, we also knew that we did not play the leading role in sorting out these crises. And, there have been tears shed when they have each achieved something that we knew had been a struggle for them.
As the boys have gotten older, of course, they have been less interested in spending time with us, but because we are all in the same city, we can plan a family dinner at the last minute or just drop by their house when I know they are around. I bump into them unexpectedly in the outside world; Max, when he is at work at the bookstore or movie theatre, Leo when he is out and about with his friends. They are always apparently happy to see me, taking the time to say hello and chat for a minute.
All grown up
My daughter’s sons are well past the stage of our two youngest grandsons, who are still very much little kids and happy to climb into our laps or snuggle up for a story.
Max and Leo are both taller than I am and have deep, grown-up voices. There is no more snuggling or reading of bedtime stories to these guys. Leo wants to talk about food and cooking and why he has to go to school. Max, who’s going into film studies at Ryerson, wants to talk about film and music. Happily for us, they are both politically engaged, so we spend many a dinner or car ride talking about the state of the world, and we sometimes show up at the same demonstrations.
I know that they are really just beginning to figure out what kinds of adults they will become, but they are already older and wiser than I could have imagined when I first saw each of them in the first seconds of their lives.
Thanks to his parents, Max is heading off into the big, bad world with many of the basic life skills he is going to need. Unlike the son of a friend of mine, I don’t think he will be calling home at midnight to ask for instructions about how to wash his clothes, although no doubt he will soon realize that he does not know as much as he thinks he does.
I know the next few years will be an amazing adventure for him, but there is a part of me that wishes he was still three-year-old Max, who loved to slather the patchouli oil I kept beside the bed over his body, wrap himself in feather boas and climb into my lap for a story.