A few days ago, Tyke and the missus were strolling outside a mall when they passed a woman possibly in her late-forties who’d taken the effort to dress younger and not project her true age. The subterfuge didn’t seem to work because Tyke suddenly let go of missus’ hand, grandly stood in the middle of the sidewalk and yelled “Look mama, a gramma!” with both arms pointing to the woman reminiscent of a “TA-DA!” The missus was extremely embarrassed so she muttered apologetically and quickly walked off with Tyke as the shellshocked woman looked on.
It’s not his fault. He doesn’t know “grandma” isn’t necessarily a physical manifestation but a mental state of being. It’s a problem exacerbated by our decision to move away from home. To be fair, that decision is driven by lifestage. As young employed adults beginning to settle into a combination of professional and family life, it is quite reasonable to be aspirational and pursue commensurate opportunities as they become available. A dichotomy I’ve felt is the need to stand out as an individual distinct from my parents, and yet carry with me a grounding in the values they imparted; the essence of my family. I think the need for individualism gradually abates with age when we seek a stronger connect to those core values. In a way I’m just paraphrasing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but purely in the context of family.
But let’s get back to that mental state of being. What does it mean to be a grandparent? It’s nostalgia of a special kind, that of reliving their own children. It must be a wonderful feeling! I’ve written on a couple of occasions of the disconnect between Tyke’s pictures as a baby and who he is now. Imagine the opportunity to travel back in time to a different but equally vibrant shade of happiness.
It embodies a fierce protectiveness. One that now includes defense of your child from yourself. Try admonishing your kid in front of the grandparents. There are two ways it will end, a full-tilt retort from gramps or a quiet, menacing word in private warning against the occurence of such stentorian behavior. It’s acceptable hypocrisy. The same individuals would think nothing of harsh discipline and “what do you mean you still don’t know the Table of 15?!!” a mere two decades ago.
It’s about saving, cherishing and carefully rationing delight. Long periods of separation from the grandkids carry with them a wistfulness communicated through expressions of such utter happiness on Skype, it makes me feel really guilty about my career choices. I’m not trying to out-guilt them, hell no. All I’m saying is that one inevitably comes back to the question of balancing family with aspiration. I remind myself of the lifestage hypothesis and I find it easier to continue the conversation.
It’s about resilience. Grandparents are mentally tough. They have to be if they are to tolerate those periods of separation I spoke of before. Parents are equipped with a powerful radar and a quick-response alarm when their children are out of sight. Grandparents must possess the instincts and willpower of Navy SEALS because their children and *their* children are out of sight. And I’m not talking “just popping down to the grocery store” out of sight. I’m talking of “save up for a year because the airfare is really fucking expensive” out of sight.
And it’s in these descriptions that I feel I characterize superhumans, although they may claim it to be not so. I understand the contradiction they live with – of wanting their children home but wanting them to do well. Very rarely do both go hand in hand, not in today’s world of astonishingly fluid, global and interconnected businesses.
But they, as I, know we’ll be home. When the pursuit of titles, money and adulation eventually wrings us of our strength and enthusiasm. When we deem those pursuits to have fulfilled us as much as they could. Then we’ll return to the comfort of our parents, prepare ourselves to do what they did and await the day our children come back to us.