“Do you want to see a picture of my grandpup?” my friend Gina asked when we ran into each other a few weeks back.
Immediately I felt a surge of relief. Here was someone else so eager to be a grandmother that her son’s dog had assumed the status of a grandchild.
You see, I have a grandpuppy also (a beagle-whippet mutt they found on Craigslist). And for several years I had grand-ferrets. They were old in ferret years and recently died — but beat that for surrogate grandchildren, oh ye who long for the pitter-patter of little (human) feet!
A Few Paragraphs in Which We Sigh
This Sunday, September 9th, is Grandparents Day (a national holiday, declared by Jimmy Carter in 1978), and it got me thinking about grandbabies. It’s not that I’m actually ready for my young adult kids to have any. By my standards (very urban northeastern U.S.), they’re both still too young, and I want them and their significant others to be more settled in their careers and to have made a larger dent in their law school loan repayments before they start making babies. Also, it might be nice if the wedding came before the pregnancies.
I’m not old-fashioned. But I am big on metrics. Statistically, a couple is more likely to have a lasting marriage if they say “I do” before they purchase a diaper pail.
Nevertheless, babies. I love them. I love the way they can be cuddled, the gurgley noises they make when they’re content, the way they stare at you with big saucer eyes, and especially the way they stop crying when you pick them up and someone nearby says, “Oh, she’s a baby whisperer.”
I love little kids, too. I like talking to them. They’re funny. I like playing games with them, doing art projects and reading to them before they go to bed. (Full disclosure: I hate playing Candy Land, though. I will do almost anything to avoid sitting down to a game of pure chance in which I can never make it through the Chocolate River, or whatever, without being sent back three spaces.)
Not that I don’t get to do these things. I have a bunch of grandnieces and grandnephews whom I adore. In fact, their pictures are splashed all over my social media pages and website.
But as much as I love those kids, they’re someone else’s grandchildren, not mine. They love me, but not in the same way they love their grandmas and grandpas — because when they do it right, grandparents have a unique bond, a special place in a child’s heart. Who has not heard a grade-schooler whoop it up on the playground because grandma and grandpa are coming for a weekend? What that means for the child is staying up past bedtime, extra sweets (which the kid thinks he has cadged but a parent has tacitly okayed beforehand), lots of lap sitting, getting to watch his or her TV shows, not Mom’s or Dad’s. The list stretches on.
A grandparent can be indulgent in ways others cannot. I mean, I spoil my grandniece and grandnephew crew pretty bad, but I know in my heart, they like their grandparents’ brand of overindulgence better.
(MORE: Grandparents' Gifts That Keep On Giving)
What to Do When You’re Not Expecting
At some point, my “grandma fever” got to the point that I actually checked out grandparents.com, thinking I might find some good advice for the over-50 woman (or man) who wasn’t going to become a grandparent any time in the near future or, as some of my friends fear, ever at all.
A few of the articles on the site looked interesting. One promised to address whether baby boomers make better grandparents. (Better than what?) Another gave suggestions for what to do if your kids give their baby a weird name. (Yeah, a grandchild named Katniss would be a little odd.) And covering what must be a major issue, several articles delved into what grandparents want to call themselves: Grandma vs. Grannie vs. Mamma Linda, etc. (For those wary of a moniker that might make them sound old, well, just use another language. Nana and Bubbie seem to work pretty well.)
But the only articles that had anything to do with the not-yet-grandparent focused on ways to help the pregnant daughter or daughter-in-law (spring for a pedicure! or check whether your used crib meets current safety standards. Hint: They were changed recently, so it doesn’t).
I searched the Internet a bit more and found a compelling story on Wisewomenunite.com. Heddybell wants so badly to be a grandmother that she asked the community to give her advice for coping. A few hundred comments later, she had received a ton of emotional support as well as notes from multiple young women replying, “I’d love to have surrogate grandparents for my kid.”
So there we are again: surrogate grandchildren. The other day, a friend let me hold her new grandson for a long, long time, until the infant was fussing to be nursed and reclaimed by his wonderfully generous mama. How I enjoyed that! And another friend has asked if I can watch her young boys in the park on a day when they don’t have school but she has a meeting nearby. Of course, I told her. Just as long as I don't have to play Candy Land.
(MORE: Avoid the Grandparent Trap)
How to Manage Your "Grandchild Fever"
Drawing on my firsthand experience — plus my Internet scouring — I’ve come up with two suggestions for what we grandparent-wannabes can do while we knit booties and plan trips to Disneyworld:
- Visit your friends when they’re caring for their grandchildren. I would recommend you don’t do this without an invite and that you don’t do it too often. But friends who are grandparents are often so bursting with joy and pride that they’re happy to offer viewing hours.
- Volunteer to babysit. Most of us know young adults with kids. They’re our neighbors, our co-workers. Let them know that you’re available in an emergency. Or a non-emergency. Just say, “Would you like to go out to dinner this week? I’d be happy to stay with your kids for a bit.” Granted, other people's children aren't the same as actual grandchildren, just as grandnieces and grandnephews aren't quite the same. But they're a pretty decent substitute — kind of like settling for TCBY when you really want Ben & Jerry's.
I’m not the kind of person who ogles or reaches out to touch every baby I pass by. I remember how creepy that behavior seemed to me when I was a young mother, and the last thing I want to be is a creepy-lady-on-the-street. But I’ve grown more sympathetic to grandparent-age folk who chuck infant cuties under the chin.
In the meantime, I do have my own grandpup, and when he comes to visit, I always have plenty of fresh carrot treats on hand.
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