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Challenge: Finding Your Village

Grandparents' Help

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"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." I've been waxing poetic around the house lately. The object of my affection-- our two-year-old granddaughter Maci! There is something that positively tingles a man's soul when a two-year-old squeals when you come in the door. She follows it with a heartfelt "Gampaaaaaaa!!" No wonder I'm smitten.

Maci and her Mom are spending six months with us while our son is deployed overseas. I suggested the arrangement as a way to have them save money and to provide some ready child care to help our daughter-in-law during her first experience of deployment as a Marine wife. They fell for it hook, line and sinker as my ulterior motive was to spend more time with that little rascal.

Grandkids are God's big make up tests. Nature's mulligans. A do over. A second chance to reflect on the mistakes you made earlier raising your kids and try again. I'm not that hard on myself for my early parenting missteps. As prepared as I thought I was parenthood is a daunting exercise. It's exhausting and mind numbingly repetitive and those dang kids won't go to sleep! You have the fears of every parent bouncing around in your frazzled, sleep deprived noggin all the time. Are we spending enough time with our kids? When will they figure out potty training? Are they ready for kindergarten? Are they healthy? How are they going to turn out? Are they going to be living with us until they're 40? Mistakes are bound to happen with these thoughts and unknowns fraying the tapestry of the life you are weaving.

By the time you become a grandparent those questions are mostly resolved. Hopefully the kids are on their way to self-sufficiency and they don’t speak about you too much in therapy sessions. Bottom line- you are a more relaxed, much more fun kind of care provider.

I'm rediscovering all the toddler things to do around town that have laid fallow for two decades. The tot park has since undergone a renovation and still provides an easy hour of play and distraction. Metal monkey bars and steel slides have been replaced with safety-first kind of sanitized play structures with molded plastic and curvy corners. The dirt is now covered with a rubberized composite that can make you feel like you're stepping on Flubber. I half expect Maci to bounce into the air like the astronauts on the International Space Station. Hardly the chance to scrape a knee or knock a head. Not as many boo boo ow-ies to kiss. When was the last time I said “boo boo ow-ie?” The grumpy old man in me wants to exhort the parents to put down their smart phones and pay attention to their kids. Every moment you look at your screen you are telling them something else is more important than they are. Nothing else is.

An expedition to the beach takes up a full morning with the simplicity of chasing tiny waves lapping the shore and digging for burrowing sand crabs which tickle her hand. There is that squeal of delight again! All the fresh air and sun (after applying baby safe, 1000 SPF, four water-resistant, PABA-free and non-comedogenic forms, organic sunscreen- huh?) leaves the toddler ready for her nap. She starts nodding off in the car on the way home and I find myself chiding, "Wake up, wake up!!" I want her to sleep longer after I get her home so I can have more time for my nap. I’m rewarded with a sleepy grin from ear-to-ear.

Our nighttime ritual has the familiar bath time which has since been replaced by the shriek inducing thrill of the recently discovered shower! The glass shower door now becoming the budding artist's canvas using the finger paint soap squeezed from a tube. Story books are selected as Maci climbs on to laps scheming to stretch awake time by several minutes. Monkeys jumping on the bed. Caterpillars eating apples. An old woman whispering hush. Familiar sentences are shaken loose from my dusty cranial synapses.

It's then time for my favorite time of the day as I carry her to bed. She hugs and kisses Grandma and gives me a final "big, big" hug and kiss adding a pat on my back with her tiny hands. I hand her to her mother. They look at my son's photo on the wall. Maci says, "Wuv you Daddy," and then blows the sweetest of all kisses carried on the wings of a Guardian Angel half way around the world to the boy I held in my arms in that same room twenty-four years ago.

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