Obituaries in rural areas, especially those of old men, mention how the deceased loved spending time with his grandchildren more than anything. Is this just a pious eulogy point or did grandpa really love nothing better than dandling little Jackie and Clarissa on his knee for hours on end. There's a type of play among young children called parallel play and I think this may be what's going on with grandpa. The old codger sits on the porch watching the kids weed the garden. They get a sip of his beer for every row of beans weeded.
I'm a bit cynical after spending, Teresa and I, 13 days with two of our grandchildren. For nine of those days we were on our own. Our son Joe and his wife Ashley needed child care for perfectly good reasons which I won't go into here. Two days after arriving in Marshfield, Ashley needed a ride to Logan at 3:00 a.m. As we loaded her car, the screen door locked behind us. Son of a biscuit! Luckily we were able to get Teresa to wake up and let us back in. This little mishap was symbolic of the coming week: a series of near disasters that in retrospect are morbidly funny.
There's lots of clichés among grandparents: "I love them, but I'm glad I can give them back to their parents," or "It's a good thing we had our kids when we were young." But I know people who are raising their grandkids full time. The only way to make it work is to develop a rigid routine. It took us a few days to figure out a schedule that would work for our two charges. Isla is three and a half. She's beautiful, imaginative, and strong-willed. I tend to let this strong will exhaust itself. Teresa is more like, "We need to get out of the path of the semi that's bearing down on us RIGHT NOW! Both methods are appropriate in their place. Little Nash, 11 months, is an affable, smiley chap. He'll play nicely by himself for five minutes, then he wants to be held for five minutes. Up down up down, interspersed with periods of Isla sitting on him.
It's always interesting trying to live in someone else's house, especially when they're not around. Ashley is a good cook. She likes natural and organic foods. Her pantry is full of exotic spices and flavorings. I'm a simple lug. Just give me my salt, pepper and maybe some oregano. On Day One I found one of those little picnic salt shakers, but it was almost empty. High up in the pantry was a jar of Himalayan salt chunks, good for your wildlife salt lick. Lower down I found French sea salt in the form of small pebbles. I could pulverize these with a hammer but it was messy and Nash needed to be picked up. On Day Five, while rooting around in the back of the pantry I discovered a one pound container of good old Diamond salt. I felt like a Roman legionnaire on payday.
Understanding the sleep patterns of the kids was vital to our survival. If you kept Isla up late she would sleep till nine the next morning. Nash was trickier. He required a delicate balance between bottle and pacifier to get him to doze in his crib. We discovered that a sticky mix of rice and yogurt in the evening acted as a soporific. Teresa, bless her soul, volunteered to sleep in Ashley's bed adjacent to the crib. Two to three times during the night Nash awoke and Teresa would warm up one of the little bags of breast milk Ashley had left in the freezer. At some point Isla would crawl into bed with Teresa. At dawn Teresa found she could extend Nash's sleep by taking him into bed too.
I rewarded Teresa's benevolence by coming up with fun outings every afternoon. On a couple of days we walked to the beach a mile away pushing Nash in his stroller and pulling Isla in her wagon. We had to climb an immense hill which left us shot for the time on the beach. Kids love beaches. I find them overly sunny and sandy. My brother and his wife, a saintly couple, watch their three year old granddaughter three days a week. We visited them several times. This is where I saw parallel play in action. Teresa's birthday occurred during our visit. We all went out to McDonald's to celebrate. It seemed most natural to eat in the car.
I haven't mentioned the dogs: Raven and Aurora. Both are large animals, Raven black and loud, Aurora white and silent. Dogs make fine companions but are superfluous when you already have two little kids to care for and salt containers to ferret out. The dogs could be fed only when Nash was not crawling around. They needed to be let out to relieve themselves. Raven stuck close to home but Aurora likes to roam so she had to be tied. Raven barked at every passing squirrel so he had to be exiled to his basement dungeon. In an ideal world we'd take the dogs for long walks on the beach. They'd chase the balls we bounced on the hard sand and would refresh themselves in the waves. Spoiler alert: this did not occur.
On our last full day of babysitting, My sister-in-law came over and watched the kids so we could go out for breakfast and visit Teresa's favorite thrift store. Very early the next morning Ashley arrived home. I didn't hear her come in, but my soul flooded with relief when I saw her shoes by the door in the morning. Not because we were no longer responsible for the kids but because we had kept them safe. No falling out of windows, no choking on wine corks, I don't even like to think of the possibilities. People ask if we'd like to have the kids over for an extended visit. Of course! The corn needs weeding, but don't put that in my obituary.