What happened to those blessed days when grandparents were meant to bring up grandkids? Or at least, look after them every now and again?
Nowadays it’s harder to book your mother-in-law to baby-sit than to become a vegetarian.
About 20 years ago, there were these four cousins – best friends. They looked more like apothecary bottles in size – tallest, tall, not so tall and short. And so were their ages. In fact, these cousins had a famous photo of them, all plonked on a wall, frozen, smiling wittily, happy, childish, summer sunset reflecting in their innocent faces. Dressed up in simple, old – mostly home-made – clothes, starting with the tallest from the far left and ending with the youngest, the shortest, at the tail of the row. These cousins, two sets of brothers and sisters, grew together and learned together – from one another, from being together.
About 20 years ago they had one of the best luxury in the world – grandparents. Wait, AVAILABLE grandparents. I don’t know how it is in your side of the world, but where I come from, about 20 years ago, grandparents were the people who pretty much raised you. So, these four wild creatures tended to get sent very often to their grandparents’ houses. No booking was required, no special conditions put. Parents would just dump their kids and the grandparents would take from there. Just to put you in the picture with today – if I have to ask my mother-in-law for baby sitting, it’ll take an army and a war to prepare. Booking starts at least one week in advance. The children must be – I repeat, must be – healthy! The slightest sniff, booking canceled – baby-sitting out of the question. The day of the baby-sitting – the list of preparation is as follows:
– kids fed – check
– kids washed – check
– kids asleep – check
– BBC Prime channel on – check
– tea + cookies – check and check
Grandma can now baby-sit. Or rather, sit.
Back to those four cousins and their poor grandparents. It was a long weekend when the cousins were “deported” to their grandparents for a sleep over. During the day, things were pretty normal. But, when nights came, those four little creatures transformed into absolute Jekylls. One unlucky evening the four cousins decided to make a pool in grandpa’s and grandma’s only bathroom. And don’t imagine it was a Roman bath with corridors, alleys, and pools. We’re talking about a matchbox of 2 x 3 meters. Toilet, sink, shower – stretch a little and your head has replaced the shower handle. But there was a shower and water and that was enough. The four pixies walk into the bathroom quietly – kids are always awfully quiet when they’re doing something wrong – and start piling towels at the bottom of the door and the drainage. Water is running – from the sink and the shower. The game is on. All the shampoos, soaps, grandpa’s shaving foam and au de cologne, and any other liquid on site is being thrown onto the already flooding floor. Sponges, grandma’s shower cap – filled with water, plastic basins, cups, and other funny-looking utilities are engaged as weapons. The battle is on! Sound effects – check. The guys are shooting. The girls – screaming. The bathroom becomes so messy in bubbles, water, laughter and fog, that if it was a dress it would have burst in its seams.
Suddenly an angry bang on the bathroom door disturbs the fun.
“What’s going on in there?”, grandpa shouts.
The four kids freeze.
The girls – giggle. Of course, what else.
“What on earth…”, grandpa’s slippers apparently choked on the water that was for a while now leaking from the bathroom door, registered the situation and transferred the message to grandpa’s head in an instant.
The slippers tweeted grandpa (to say it in a modern way) about the situation. His response instantly resonated in a series of heavy banging on the poor, cheap chipboard bathroom door.
More banging and more giggle from the girls.
Grandpa finally enters along with the whole door in his mighty hands. But before grandpa can scream his lungs out by seeing the apocalypse in his bathroom, a drenched in soap sponge flies and hits him in the face. The eldest kid, of course, doesn’t miss to produce the appropriate sound “POOM”, as soon as the sponge lands successfully between grandpa’s eyes.
There are no records to what exactly happened after the sponge hit. But all those kids remember is that grandma made them a delicious toast and tea and calmed grandpa with a glass of something that truly calmed him, whatever it was. And the next weekend the four cousins were back on at their grandparents’ house. And during the summer months and during the winter holidays, and every chance they got.
Today’s grandmas are full of appointments, and parties, and workout classes, and shopping sprees, and girls’ nights out. Others are still working, studying or redefining their lives. I’m sure I won’t be as judgmental, once I realise just how much free time I’ll have for myself, once my kids are grown up. Boy, I’d start school again – I’d want to get a pilot’s license, for starters. Why on earth would I want to look after someone else’s kids – be those my own kids’ kids. But I wish my children could have known what it is to sleep over at their grandparents; to hear their stories about the war, about when they were kids, to listen to their singing, to their story-telling, to their own world-view, to their wisdom. To feel the fun of having your grandma cook for you in the middle of the night because you suddenly felt like having pancakes, to feel free as a wild bird because that’s how it is with grandparents. That’s how it was for me.
It’s a learning experience that I know my kids won’t have – because going to their grandparents for a couple of days out of a whole year isn’t “school”. It’s just a pull-over. It doesn’t give them anything, it just fills up a little spare time.
My point here is that grandparents are important educators in kids’ life. Because they are a connection to the past and a reference to knowledge and experience. Kids may defy advice but they soak up information like sponges. They remember. And that memory comes in like a hand of aces one day, at some surprising point.