Nothing better brings an understanding of one’s humanity and its imperfections than the necessity to look after one’s grandkids.
Usually it starts with a rather obsequious, solicitous and pointedly respectful phone call from our married daughter, who claims to be very concerned about the well being of her well-lived in but generally robust parents. Knowing what will follow, I usually make it easier and, reducing the tiring and unnecessary ritual to a minimum, tell her to just name the date. Relieved, our darling tells us what is needed and when she needs our presence to do it. Our son in law makes certain that he is not a part of this exquisite procedure. Generally, we are made to understand that our babysitting is a reward for a good (overall, could be improved) behaviour. Naturally, we are suitably grateful.
When we arrive, it normally takes somewhere between half an hour to an hour for parents to get out of the house. There may be several reasons for it: make up is not perfect, shoes’ colour is not in sync with the purse or shoe laces are not ironed satisfactorily. The main reason for a delay, however, is diplomacy. Our children, being contemporary parents, feel obliged to explain to the 2 year old and the 3.5 year old the necessity to dump both of them on baba’s (nana) and deda’s (grandpa) laps and get away from them, darlings, for some time. To have a rest. To recover. To re-energise.
I suspect that this concept sounds rather suspicious to kids – what, my parents, my lovely parents are tired of me, an exceptionally well behaved and cute kid? Don’t they love me anymore? As soon as this preposterous but threatening idea takes hold, the tears swell, the sobs are born deep inside and the prospect of some ancient and insignificant person taking charge seems to be so outlandish, awful and disrespectful. That angry cry is the only logical response available at the time. Besides, the situation seems to be tailor made for a bit of a guilt manipulation. It helps to make the crying louder, the tears bigger and the parental guilt even deeper.
The whole enterprise is under the threat of disintegration. Parental resolve is faltering – should we stay, rather than leaving our children behind? The time for an early intervention has arrived. I interpose myself between the kiddies and the guilty parents while my beloved swiftly kicks them out of the house. Releived, the guilty ones are running away, we hear receding steps and muffled voices: Thanks Mum, thanks Dad!
For a moment the earth stands still. Children look rather contemplative – did our parents really go? The reality reassessment process is in full swing. The realignment of the hierarchy of relationships is in process. Who is now the main source of help with clothes, fun and games? Who is now the most likely source of safety, food, hugs and treats? How far could the boundaries be manipulated or, to put it bluntly, how far can the envelope be pushed? All these unknowns need to be considered and resolved. On the right outcome of these decisions the child’s happiness, the comfort and peace of mind, the mind free from the ever present anxiety, depends.
We have been there before and know what will be happening. There will be repeated attempts to push the boundaries, established by parents. There would be some manipulation of grandparents by guilt – sobbing, crying or angry refusal of this and that. There will be running around the dinner table and horsy play, food, smeared upon the smiling faces and thrown on the floor, wet nappies and smelly bottoms, big sloppy kisses and hugs – which bring a lump to one’s throat, endless mess and a quiet reading of silly and not so silly books, splashing in the bath tub and refusing to go to bed – all of it will be there. All of it will be tiring and, sometimes, exhausting. For babysitters that is. Kiddies, on the other hand, seem to have an inbuilt engine somewhere near their rear ends. These engines throb, vibrate and move with unbelievable vitality, energy and seeming lack of tiredness. They also seem to have no need for recharging, tuning or repair. They just work. And work. And work. Until the time, when the rear end engines suddenly stop working and the little angels fall asleep – wherever they were and whatever they were doing.
After tucking them in the time for quiet mess fixing and a cuppa arrives. Ahhh! What bliss! It is usually at this point the parents arrive, happily tired and ready for bed themselves.
How were the kids? They want to know.
Kids? They were just fine. What else could they be? They are our grandchildren.