Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house. They lived near the airport, about 40 minutes from our south Kansas City home. My parents either drove us up there, or more often, my grandparents showed up at our house driving a brightly colored car – usually chosen by my Grandma because of its resemblance to an Easter Egg. (I’ll bet you’ve never thought of that criteria when car shopping!)
Grandma and Grandpa were one of those couples made up of two opposites. Grandpa was grounded and pragmatic. Grandma was quirky and colorful. Grandma loved to tell crazy stories she made up to see if we’d believe her or not. Grandpa loved to tell us crazy stories too, but his were true. Grandpa liked to walk or ride bikes with us on the curvy road around the residential lake where they lived. Grandma liked to zoom around the corners in her crazy-colored car, honking her horn and yelling, “Watch out birds, here comes Grandma!”
Their house was my favorite place to go. Nowhere was warmer, more comforting, more fun, or more accepting. When my brother and I were around, they hardly had anything else they “had” to do. Their attention was indulgent, although the things we did were pretty simple. We sat and did crafts or painted. Grandma tried to teach me how to crochet, and I chain stitched entire skeins of yarn. They drove us to wildlife enclosures to look at bison, and Grandpa took us to the airport to watch the planes.
Mornings were always the same. Grandma had a thing for organs and had both an old pump organ and a newer electric organ. She’d pick her instrument, turn the volume to high, and start playing a raucous old time song such as “Beer Barrel Polka” or “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue” and belt out the lyrics at the top of her lungs. This was our key to come out wailing, “Grandma, stop!” and make our way to the kitchen where Grandpa would have the stove top fired up with sizzling bacon, sausage and pancakes or waffles. We’d choose from an array of syrupy things – homemade maple syrup, honey or sorghum – to slather our breakfast. If we wanted, they’d fix us a cup of coffee that was mostly milk and sugar.
At first, I just assumed all grandparents were like mine. Then I started hearing about kids who (gasp) didn’t like their grandparents. Some said theirs were stuffy and distant. Many thought their grandparents were boring. A few even claimed their grandparents were actually mean. It finally sank in to me that we were extremely lucky.
My kids are triple lucky. They have two sets of loving, involved grandparents, as well as a set of spry, super-fun great grandparents. Each couple has their own style, and my kids love them all.
We took the kids to the park a while back with their great grandparents. At the time, my son Cooper was a maniacal runner – all laughs and screams and no “stop” button. My husband’s grandpa pulled me aside.
“Wow, that kid’s wild,” he said. I nodded, sheepish about my lack of control over my little nut case.
“You know what you need?” he asked. I waited, cringing, wondering what kind of parenting advice I was about to receive. “Ether,” he said, chuckling. “You need to just knock that one out. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to chase him!” he laughed, then called out to my son, “Run, Coop, run!!!”
Grandparents have a special job. They get to love their grandkids inside and out and lavish them with attention, but they don’t have to burden the kids with expectations. Nothing’s better than a loving grandparent, Easter egg-like car optional.
Freelance columnist Emily Parnell blogs at mom2momkc.com.