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Grandma Power

Simon with EvieGrandparents are like fairy dust sprinkled in a child’s life. Well, the good ones are I should say. I grew up close to all my grandparents, but especially so with my maternal ones, Pearl and Lester Wolfson. They were like second parents to my brothers and me, giving us all two more people to worry about disappointing in our youth and providing an added measure of security when times were rocky at home.

I’ve spent the last two years marveling at the grandparent-grandchild relationship viewed from the middle. Simon adores his grandparents and has a unique relationship with each of them that brings out slightly different sides of his character.

My mom and Evie, the mother figures involved, are both different people than I am, and both of them have more experience with kids than I do.  So they bring to Simon not only a different personality and way of interacting with him, but also decades of experience playing with their own kids, their other grandchildren (for my Mom), and/or their kindergarten and elementary school-aged students (for Evie).

As a result, Simon played ring-around-the-rosie games, began to count, heard little Yiddish songs, and heard songs about color long before I learned them or he heard them at school. He ate pastries and developed an interest in coffee while going to cafes with my mother, he explored indoor climbing gyms (but only when the places were mostly empty) with Evie, and he enjoyed watching televised sports from the vantage point of Jim’s lap.

Simon with RitaI’ve seen Simon’s grandparents be able to do things to him (like wash his face) that I cannot without upsetting him, and I’ve seen their mere presence rouse him from a bad mood. I’ve watched in wonder as he literally dances in place and squeals with excitement when they arrive at our door, and I was amazed to note earlier this summer that he recognized their neighborhoods and would call out “Bubbie” or “Papaw” (he only learned to say “Grandma” on Christmas Eve) once we turned into their subdivisions.

In short, I’ve seen grandparent magic from the front row, and I have more esteem for it than ever. I also count myself singularly fortunate to have all these magical people within a few minute’s drive (or few minute’s walk in my Dad’s case) from my house. That is not the story for most Americans today, and I think it’s a loss for everyone involved. A necessary and unavoidable one for many, to be sure, but a loss all the same.

What brings all this to mind right now are two bits of news:

I greeted this first bit of news with much more passion that I should given that it concerns a family I have never met. I was relieved and delighted; relieved that the girls would have some measure of constancy and normalcy in their lives as they move into a decidedly unreal setting, and delighted the country is witnessing this display of family closeness and solidarity.

By all accounts, Marian Robinson is a private person who values her space and independence. She’s lived in the same little brick bungalow for decades, and she only retired from her job within the past year or so. I’m guessing that she’d rather drink battery acid that live in the super-secure, fishbowl of the White House, and that her move is a huge personal sacrifice motivated by maternal and grandmotherly love.

Good on her. And to all those comedians and would-be comedians who think they have discovered a comedy gold-mine in the mother-in-law moves in angle, if this is all you’ve got, you may want to hang up the act. Mother-in-law jokes have been old and stale for ages now (were they ever anything but?), but one look at the picture of Barack Obama and Marian Robinson holding hands as they watched election returns on November 4 should shut them down completely in this instance.

The second point surprised me. While more grandparents than ever live away from their grandchildren, there is also a growing number taking care of their grandchildren. Fueled by parental and societal concerns that grandparents are unfamiliar with many of today’s safety measures-after all, these are the people who, in many cases, smoked in front of kids, let kids ride in cars without seat belts, and put babies to sleep on their stomachs—researchers at Johns Hopkins University undertook a study of the relative safety of children in parental care, organized daycare, and grandparent care.

The results? Children are safest in the care of grandparents. Twice as safe, according to this study. Safer than in the care of their own parents, safer than in the care of day-care centers, and safer than in the care of third-party sitters. Whether because of fear, memories, or advanced age-related cautiousness no one knows, but the data are in and it is pretty clear that grandparents rule.

A point with which Simon and I heartily concur.

One Response to “Grandma Power”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    Amen! I too have the great fortune of having both sets of grandparents within a short drive and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is! Grandma and Oma are the loves of my boys lives and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was what I never had growing up all over the world and I have a little sense of envy for the experience my boys are having.

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