Keeping Up / Keeping In Shape

Being an active grandparent is not for the faint (literally) of heart! I chase. I climb and am climbed upon. I stretch. I carry progressively wiggly bundles of joy. So, at the beginning of a new year, it seems appropriate to be making the following resolution – I will stay in shape so I can be the most hands-on grandmother possible.

I do yoga…and Pilates…and work with a weight trainer. My grandmother never did these things. She just cooked and sewed (both badly, I might add). My mother in her busy life deliberately eschewed any activity that might make her sweaty, that would’ve ruined her hair and make-up. Me? I’m a quivering lump of exhaustion by 8 p.m. five days a week.

My weight trainer actually keeps tabs on my granddaughter’s growth so he can match my lifting in the gym to my lifting as a babysitter. Brilliant! My husband (also a yoga and cardio devotee) and I have managed to cram ourselves into playground equipment so no hidey-hole is left unexplored. We are very participatory. It takes work, sweat and lots of groaning to keep ourselves in proper grandparent shape. Is it worth it?

You bet! The kids have more fun when we can really play with them. And, let’s face it. We have more fun, too. That’s kind of the point of this resolution. I resolve to be the most playful grandmother I can be. Happy 2018 and good luck with your resolutions.

Holiday Chaos

My home never ever looks like a Martha Stewart ad or a Norman Rockwell painting during the busy, fall, holiday season. It bears closer resemblance to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – dirty dishes and snacks everywhere, people popping in and out unannounced, and toys, toys, toys. Yes, our big family celebrations are boisterous and cluttered – as they should be.

I used to count every block, every magnetic letter each night while stacking the kids’ toys in neat piles. Then…I became a grandmother! Suddenly time used imposing organization was much better spent on the floor, surrounded by dolls and trains. Wrapping paper and ribbons that once needed to be cleaned up immediately made great disguises. Meal times were, well, any time, all the time.

Kitchen utensils became permanent drum sticks and paint brushes. Tiny shoes and socks made trails throughout the house. Chalk and bubbles? Let’s just say I’m learning to embrace the mess of family events.

Absolutely nothing makes me happier than having all our kids and all our grandchildren in our home. When they’re visiting, I try to spend my time playing and laughing and telling stories. There will be plenty of time to savor restoring order once it’s just us two grandparents at home again.

Grandparents Need Not Be Objective

I am not a kid person. I never babysat. My younger sister tells some absurd story about being
tied to the back door railing so she couldn’t follow me down the street. What an imagination!
(You decide if I’m referring to the alleged tie-er or tie-ee.) I refuse to have a baby-talk
conversation with any other human being, regardless of age. But, in the matter of my own
children and their children…

They are the most brilliant, most charming, most handsome. You get the drift. I know quite well
that they’re not perfect. But, they’re perfectly my kids. No boy ever read earlier or was a more
complete Little League catcher, though he seems to have been born without a competitive
streak. No little girl ever found her passion or developed a distinct (if occasionally questionable)
fashion sense at such a young age.

Every spring, the recitals, school productions and championships rolled around. We went to
every one. We volunteered. We brought flowers and cameras. I told our kids how fabulously
they sang/danced/returned volley/vaulted. They always remarked, “You’re only saying that
because you’re our mother.” I can’t wait to make the same pronouncements for our singing,
dancing, bat swinging grandchildren.

Every grandparent should see her own grandkids as I see mine. I want every grandmother to
think her boy is the most gifted and attentive grandson ever. I want every father to be enthralled
by his little granddaughter. I want every child to know that she can count on being loved
unconditionally. The world is full of bullies and villains, neighborhood and global. I want kids to
have safe haven in the arms of someone who is always, always, always on their side.

When kids do wrong (and we all did), parents and grandparents can still be supportive. When
we dole out meaningful, measured, discipline, we still love our kids fully. A child without a loving
advocate is at a great loss in our society. Every new parent should realize that her child will be
the cutest and sweetest smelling baby ever. It is the job of the grandparents to have taught their
own children this lesson. I am the most non-objective grandmother in the world. That’s as it
should be.

Naps

When my mother came to visit, she’d sit down on our family room couch and promptly fall asleep. The noise and activity levels didn’t matter. That couch was soporific. She’d wake up an hour later ready to be a full-time grandmother. But, first the nap. Actually, daily the nap.

We always found those naps comical. Now that I’m the grandmother, I find I them absolutely necessary. Grandchildren are exhausting. I marvel that I was once a housewife, student, marketer and mother all at the same time. I get tired just thinking about it. 

When our daughter first brought her baby home, I reminded her that she should sleep when the baby slept. That’s easier said than done when you’re a young, working mother. But, as a grandmother, I’ve learned to take my own advice. When the kids sleep, I blissfully drift off. My kids’ couches are infinitely more comfortable than the ones in my own home. How can that be? Maybe because I can hear that soft breathing coming through the nursery monitor while I close my eyes.

Naps, really good naps – another perk of grandmotherhood.

Baby Food

When our son was born, I was determined to be what was then called an earth mother. I nursed him. I purchased only organic soaps and lotions. I had my husband plant rhubarb and vegetables behind the garage and then coaxed (coerced, guilted – same thing) him into tending the garden. Our yard came with mature apple and pear trees and a grape arbor. I learned to preserve fruit. I asked the county to stop spraying for mosquitoes at our house. I made baby food from our suburban half-acre. I harvested. I steamed. I mashed. Then we went east to visit my parents.

I couldn’t take all the food, the diapers, the clothes, the car seat, the carriage and, of course, the baby, on the plane with me. My parents went to the grocery store and bought baby food in those familiar, squat glass jars. I was sure my discerning son would know the difference. He didn’t.

He ate whatever my mother put in front of him. He didn’t care that it came from an industrial kitchen. He was a delightful companion at every meal, even though all I did was spoon up his food. Lesson learned. It was late autumn when we returned home and I resolved not to do any winter farming. My earth mothering was done.

Today, our kids employ all kinds of gadgets to make home cooking for their infants and toddlers easier. And, yet, they still offer their kids French fries and pizza crusts. Good for them. All kinds of food is delicious as long as it’s given with love.

How Many Pictures Is Enough?

Every few months, I get a message from Apple on my iPhone telling me that my storage is almost full. I have dutifully turned off apps that I don’t need to keep running continually. I have moved most of the grandchildren videos to my home computer. But, somehow I keep getting these alarms. 

Apple will of course sell me more storage space. Then I could keep hundreds of grandchildren photos in my pocket at all times. Do I look at them that often? You bet I do. I never ever tire of the first pictures snapped at birth or the ones from last night’s bath. I could save these on my desk top and still get the same pleasure from them. But, then how will I share them with the random neighbors I encounter in the cereal aisle or the distant relatives who get seated next to me at weddings?

My solution is to set quotas. In my phone I keep two albums per grandchild. One is labeled To Share and has only 12 pictures in it. If anyone asks (or if I know they’re dying to ask), I call up these dozen photos and no more. The other album has just that grandchild’s name with 50 different shots. If I get a new, unbelievably adorable photo (aren’t they all?), I have to decide whether or not it warrants space in my phone or just on my desktop.

Choosing just the right mix of photos (at every age, serious, laughing, holiday clothes) is very tough. Being a grandmother is full of hard decisions. Or…I could just cough up the $2.99 a month for more storage.

Red Solo Cups

When Robert Leo Hulseman, the inventor of the red Solo cup, passed away in late 2016, it was big news in Illinois newspapers, where his company is based. His memorials were full of comments on partying and country music lyrics. But, not one of them mentioned the red Solo cup as a child’s toy. As my husband can tell you, red Solo cups provide endless hours of pleasure for him and our grandkids.

Red Solo cups can be stacked in towers. They are sturdy enough not just for cold, frothy beer but to build the foundation for elaborate castles. They’re wide enough to make silly, impromptu hats. And, red Solo cups are infinitely attractive to toddlers.

None of our grandchildren can resist knocking down a cup tower. Even if they’ve built that tower themselves, with one swat, down it comes. Babies, so easily distracted, will glimpse a tower from across the room and make a beeline to gleefully and purposefully destroy it.

Someone told me it’s the randomness of the toppled cups that kids like. Maybe. I think it’s the color and the noise. Our kids come home when we’ve been babysitting and they find their floor looking like a wild kegger has taken place. Red Solo cups are scattered everywhere. I bet Mr. Hulseman, who had over two dozen grandchildren of his own, knew what great toys his cups make.