Let the little children come to me and do not stop them;
for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.
(Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14, Luke 18:16)
Six months ago my son David asked if we would take care of their young daughters (4 and 2 1/2) while he and his lovely wife took a holiday to Ireland to attend a family wedding. Six months ago that seemed like a really good idea. Now that we’ve all survived these 18 days with our mutual family love intact, I breathe a huge sigh of relief and ponder “what it was all about.”
I don’t know where I picked up the dictum — in newspapers (most of which I don’t read), tv commercials (most of which I don’t see), coffee chats with friends (which tend to explore other issues), or just in the air I breathe. Cultural messages float around almost unnoticed while they lodge themselves onto our brains like lichens onto rocks.
That dictum goes something like this: you’re supposed to be all-consumingly crazy about grandchildren. After all, they are the concrete sign that your bloodline lives on after you’re six feet underground, and that in itself is supposed to trump everything else that’s important in your life. And you’re supposed to show this grand-kids’ crush by carrying pictures around that you show off at every opportunity, appropriate or not. Grandparents’ love shows by spoiling them rotten, by incurring their parents’ wrath because you let them do things they can’t do at home, and by wishing they would always be close to you.
If this dictum was truly true, I’d fail on all counts. I confess that being a doting grandma (Oma in my case) whose life revolves around the grandchildren does not come naturally to me. My professional life is full and rich, and requires a lot of organizational skills, prep work at home and self-discipline. And no, I don’t carry pictures around, not even on a cell phone ’cause I don’t own a cell phone. So when the grandkids come over for longer than a social visit, mixed in with drooling for joy I panic about all the work I won’t get done. And I confess feeling guilty about all this.
What I did learn in these 18 days was far more meaningful, however, than doting and spoiling, cooing and showing off. I can’t help it — my default always looks for the deeper things in life, and 18 days with my lovely granddaughters (3 of them for three days 🙂 ) provided lots of food for thought.
First, I discovered that being realistic in expectations both of myself and grandchildren is okay and even healthy. In our case three adults live here whose professional work is centered in the home. Throwing a four-year old and a two-and-a-half year old in the mix could spell daily disaster. How could we survive 18 days together in ways that are realistic, fun and loving for all parties involved?
The Holy Spirit put a crazy thought in my mind: arrange daily daycare outside the home. Now who’s heard of grandparents doing that?! Aren’t we supposed to want our grandchildren 24/7? Well, I hate to disappoint readers but my answer is no. When I nervously approached my son with the idea, I was relieved to hear: “That’s brilliant Mom! They’re used to daycare and they will have other kids to play with.” Whew, got that one in place. We found a home-based daycare a few blocks from our house. And yes, it was truly lovely to have undisturbed daytime hours to get work done.
Second, caring for little ones is definitely a group effort. The saying It takes a village to raise a child truly expresses perennial and universal wisdom. Heartfelt thanks to my own (adult) daughter who sacrificed many a night to attend to little whimpers and “accidents” in the bed. Thanks also to my other son and family who cared for the girls while I fulfilled some major teaching commitments 2 1/2 hours away from here. Thanks even to my dear husband, Grandpa Jim, who learnt to put the older one on the toilet in the middle of the night without waking her up. I have renewed compassion and respect for single parents, believe me!
The greatest joy lie in being directly involved in the girls’ day-to-day growing and learning. Concrete, living fully in the now (did they read Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now?) and unwavering in their trust, literally everything became a game as well as a learning opportunity. Every day was an adventure of the highest sort. What an exciting way to live! Besides, their affectionate manipulative powers were unrivaled. Just when I’d be ready to scold one, little arms would reach up, and endearing eyes would melt my heart: “Up, please, Oma…” and before I knew it a soft warm body would snuggle against mine. Speech development occurred almost as rapidly as the growing of an Amaryllis flower shoot. Imagination and laughter knew no bounds! Ah, to be a child again …
The girls displayed a disarming grasp and appreciation for ritual, both endearing and totally exacerbating at times. Our table grace became a game when the little one kept wanting to hold hands and say it about ten times during the meal. And when we forgot, they were quick to remind us. And helping, always helping … Let’s call that a … mixed blessing 🙂
The girls (photo above) were lovely and real, genuinely acting their age. What I discovered, however, was that I too acted my age … a most humbling reality check. There is good reason why we have young when we’re young. My athletic skills (not sure if have any) and energy level were stretched to the max, and I took to bed at nearly the same time as the girls did. Grandparenting is not for the faint-hearted!
When we prepared the girls for the arrival of their parents and told them that they would soon go home, Kiana burst out crying, saying, “But Oma, I want to stay at your house forever!” Ahhh, how sweet for me, and how sad for the parents. “That means you did an awesome job, Mom,” my son commented. When the van drove away with all four waving, I breathe a huge sigh of relief while my heart overflowed with love and gratitude. And I marveled at the wonder of life …
He called a child, whom he put among them, and said,
‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes like this child
is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
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