I have specific memories of summertime afternoons, when I suddenly and randomly decided I wanted to go stay with my Grandma Mary. I would use the FM radio in our office, connected to our farm equipment and my grandparents’ house (so to save on long distance phone calls, such is the Wingfield Way) to ask Grandma if she had bridge club the next day and, if not, could I come stay the night? The response rate to which she said, “yes! come! We’ll go to the store and buy breakfast food!” was over 90%.
So I, and usually my sister (my folks WON), would climb in the the dark blue Oldsmobile with my grandpa Bill, arguing over who would “ride on the hump” and listen to The Oldsmobile Song and Time After Time on repeat, tape-deck style, all the way to the lake. Grandma would make Angie’s favorite dinner – mac ‘n cheese out of the box, but only the IGA brand, not Kraft – and we’d play a few rounds of Skip Bo or Hands & Feet before bed. She would tuck us in, telling us stories of her own childhood, treasures I’ve tucked into my heart.
After a day or so spent swimming, painting toenails, and creating plays with the dress up clothes she kept on hand, we would stuff our bags full of dirty clothes and ride back home with Grandpa when he put in another day at our home office.
Rinse and repeat, several times over the course of a summer.
All 4 of my grandparents were a consistent presence in my childhood. They picked me up from school when I was sick; they came to our softball games and rode along for back-to-school shopping and attended kindergarten “graduation.”
For a bulk of my own children’s time on earth – specifically the last 4 years – grandparenting looked different. Thanks to distance, grandparenting became much more of an event for our parents. We would schedule weekends. We would meet for dinner halfway, at a restaurant where children would climb all over our parents while we attempted conversation, and everyone leaving exhausted. Because their time together was limited, my children sought grandparental attention in the ways they knew most effective: annoyance and physical brutality. They were like addicts, not knowing when their next hit of grandparent spoiling would be available and let nothing – the least of these, listening to mom and dad – stand in the way.
Long-distance family-ing was tough for everyone in our situation. The small doses of time we craved help were not possible and nonsensical for our parents to pitch in. And the small doses of time they craved with their grandchildren for a project or a swim weren’t possible without grand overtures of car rides.
While we’ve only been in our new home for a few weeks (and one of those we weren’t even here), one of the biggest gifts has been the change of grandparenting we see in our own parents. No longer does it require maneuverability in order to get kid/grandparent time. Plans can change without ruining itineraries. Individual children have spent time at grandma and grandpa’s, each enjoying the coveted Center of Attention space for which they’ve yearned for years.
Much like the rest of life, these relationships thrive in small doses. Those last minute ride-alongs, the “I’m not cooking tonight, want to join?” evenings. I’ve mentioned our memories aren’t of grandiosity, but in the small details.
So, of course, JJ and I are thrilled with the extra hands around us now. Of course we appreciate dinners together. Of course I’ve already asked my MIL about 17 thousand times if she could keep the kids “just for an hour.” If you think I’m going to try to be a hero about this, you’re crazy. I’ve had 4 years of solos and duets – I’m ready for a choral performance.
But more than the ease of going to get my haircut, my joy comes in knowing my kids now get the kind of grandparenting I grew up loving. When Carol asks if Henry can stay the night, he jumps in his jammies, I say, “see you in the morning!” and my heart leaps. When Jim says, “I’ll just drop him off on my way to…” I take in a deep breath of gratitude.
Many of my people live the long-distance grandparenting experience, and it is what it is. They have found ways to do it well and with meaning. I’m not saying that our current method of grandparenting is the Ultimate in All Things. It’s not even a reason to move home. But it was the way in which I was raised, and I love being able to give that to my children as well. The fact that I’m sitting in that very lake house, writing and remembering the best place to Hide the Thimble makes my heart warm.
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