I grew up with 2 sets of grandparents (Papa & Bubby and Ma & Pa) that I adored.
I will never forget playing cards at the kitchen table with Bubby while Oprah spoke quietly on the TV in the background. I can still picture Papa sitting in his recliner watching the Cubs, never a fare weather fan. I remember how they would bicker, but somehow managed to make up just in time for the corned beef sandwich to be set on the table.
I loved visiting their high rise condo just outside of Chicago. We’d drive in from Champaign with NPR on the radio and a cooler in the back seat, always hitting rush hour traffic on the Dan Ryan. My brother and me arguing in the back seat about how close the cooler was to our own leg.
We would pull into their parking lot and I would look up to see Bubby waving from a balcony near the top floor. I would stay with Papa and Bubby by myself sometimes. Bubby would make my bed on the couch, the same sheets every time, and serve my morning orange juice in the orange-shaped plastic mug that seemed WAY cooler than it probably was.
It wasn’t much, but I didn’t know that. All I knew is that Bubby greeted me off the elevator with the biggest kiss imaginable, always getting lipstick on my face. I knew that Papa was quiet until I asked him about sports, the liquor store he owned, Judaism, or something else that he cared about – then he had stories.
I always felt that Papa and Bubby loved having me around. I felt loved whether I was sitting in the kitchen watching Bubby cook or sitting quietly in the study while Papa watched whatever game happened to be on.
When I moved to Chicago and Papa and Bubby started to show their age, I would make every effort to visit them weekly. I would bring friends who liked to eat because there was always too much food for 3 people. Bubby sent me home with whatever random things she had found on sale that week – hangers, cantaloupe… it didn’t matter.
I’ll never forget Ma’s always perfect white hair with tight curls and loads of hairspray, her bright red lipstick, her “pocketbook”, and powdery smell. I can see Pa sitting in the recliner in their family room, working on a crossroad puzzle with the TV on too loudly in the background.
I am frequently reminded of the distinct mothball smell that entered my nose before we even stepped inside their home. The mustard yellow, unfortunate green and brown that adorned so many homes in those days was the color palette of choice. There was plastic covering their nice couch in the living room and a bumpy white bedspread on the double bed in the guest bedroom.
Ma used to let me play in the soapy sink water for hours and then would “pay” me for doing the dishes. I sorted tupperware like a champ and she would always act as if my washing and drying were the best she’d seen. She would let me pick out my ice cream treat from the deep freeze after dinner and always had Icebox cookies on hand.
Pa loved Cocoa Krispies and Count Chocula in the mornings – it was funny to see an old man love sweets so much. Misty (the poodle) would lounge on Pa’s lap until I took her outside to prance in the fenced-in backyard.
Ma and Pa came to visit us in Champaign a lot, an easy drive from Springfield. I have memories of them at our house and me at theirs, I think we were there a lot.
Ma used to take me shopping and buy me whatever I thought that I needed in the moment, even when my own mom protested. I always knew that they were part of the reason that I was able to go to summer camp, and then Australia and Israel when I was in high school.
When Ma got older she moved with me and my mom to Texas. I used to spend the night at her condo sometimes. We would sit together on her couch and she would hold my hand, asking me to share my stories; always my confidant and biggest supporter. It wasn’t until I was old enough to visit on my own that I realized how quick witted she was.
These are the stories of my grandparents. The people that I loved unconditionally and who loved me right back. The people who I only knew through rose colored glasses until I was old enough to realize that the world isn’t always rose colored.
Simon is lucky to have grandparents of his own and I want him to feel about them the way that I felt about mine.
When I was young I never knew if my mom or dad were or weren’t getting along with my grandparents. I was shielded from family dynamics that come up in a divorce. I was just a kid who was loved by her grandparents – in whatever way that they knew how to show love.
I enjoyed spending time with my grandparents, it always felt like a special treat. We had a bond that was different than my other relationships. I remember them being mostly gentle, but firm when they needed to be. I’m positive that I got away with much more in their presence than I ever would have gotten away with at home.
Sometimes J or I disagree with the way that our parents interact with Simon – mainly what they do or don’t do, or how closely they follow our rules, and whether they push back on our instructions for caring for our son. Simon doesn’t need to know any of that.
Simon has grandparents who would do anything to be around him, even if anything means not following our schedule or our rules, and grandparents who prefer Simon when he’s sweet and cuddly instead of cranky.
J and I find ourselves needing to take a deep breath sometimes, remembering that it’s more important that Simon feel cared for than he know about our own grudges with our parents or in-laws.
It’s important that I remember that Simon will never be cared for exactly how I care for him, but that when left in the company of grandparents, he is being cared for in the most loving way that they know how to care for a grandchild. Just because we might do it differently doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.
I often wonder what my parents thought when they left me and my brother for the weekend. Did they worry? Were they annoyed with decisions that their own parents were making about our care?
We’re preparing for the holidays around here and luckily that means lots of grandparent time for Simon. I love that they come here and want to be around him, even if things aren’t always perfect.
I hope that Simon never knows the difference. That he always only knows love. I know that is up to me and J and that somehow we need to find a way to be accepting of our own parents and the way that they choose to be grandparents. Even on the days when it isn’t easy or we aren’t seeing eye to eye.
Simon having grandparents is WAY more important to me than figuring out how his grandparents can fit into our mold of how grandparents “should” be. I don’t even know the definition of “should”, I just know it starts with love and that’s an even harder definition to write.
While we prepare for the holidays and the onslaught of guests, I am feeling thankful that these are things that we get to worry about.
Simon doesn’t know the difference in grandparents just like I didn’t. What Simon will grow up knowing is that he gets slobbery kisses and lots of cuddles. I’m sure that he’ll learn quickly that he can get away with a lot of things when his grandparents are around and that they’re all extremely generous. What Simon will grow up knowing is that he is loved. That is what I am most thankful for.
He’ll probably also grow up knowing about tradition and culture, cooking big meals for the family, life when mommy and daddy were his age, and kindness to others. That’s pretty awesome too.
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