We don’t really do the whole grandparent thing in our family. It is probably one of the leading causes of our family dysfunctionality, not having grandparents to tell our children how to behave, to advise us on where we’re going wrong, to show us how the whole ‘parenting’ lark should be done.
The family hasn’t truly born witness to the full circle of life.
It’s a little problematic organising Sunday tea with grandparents when you live on the other side of the world from them, and as much as Skype has helped with communication, it doesn’t quite cut it in the same way.
Sad for our children really, because the old man’s mother personifies the perfect grandmother, rather like my own grandmothers did, with her innocent offerings of E-laden lollies and litres of Coke and all the things that send the ADHDer climbing her walls; treats that as the boring responsible parent I have banished from home.
‘He’s very talkative,’ she will comment, like she hasn’t absorbed a word I’ve said about his ADHD. And it should be that way.
That’s the most important part of the grandparent role; to spoil the grandkids.
I was lucky. I had two great grandmothers who have had a permanent impact on my life, albeit that they were taken away from me prematurely.
I spent many of my formative years in the company of my maternal grandmother, foisted on her while my mother worked. I remember those times as halcyon periods of scrabble-playing, walking the dog, sobbing at The Waltons, devouring ‘flying saucers’, and creating lashings of macaroni cheese together – my all-time favourite meal until I discovered alcohol in my late teens, sudden weight gain, and decided foolishly for a while that carbs and dairy simply had to go.
My paternal grandmother was more of a forceful, busy-bee type of grandmother; being one of twelve, she’d had to fight to earn her place. I remember her as someone who appeared to have walked straight out of an Ealing comedy. She was tiny and stocky and sported a different colour hair rinse every time I saw her. And she was ‘busy’ all the time and when her hands shook and my father ridiculed her about it, (shaking her cup of tea as he passed it to her), she would feign upset and admonish him although everyone knew her boy could do no wrong.
I still visualize her gossiping to neighbours over the fence, arms folded on her ample bosom, and constantly berating my father for not having ‘a proper job’ even though he was entrepreneurial and successful in his own right. But behind her hard exterior, she too had a softness, that heart of gold that seems to evolve through motherhood and she was always expressed a fervent interest in what I was doing, listened to me and spent time with me when she could.
Working parents often don’t have the time to ‘listen’ to their offspring as much as they or their offspring would like them to.
We spent Christmas with my father this year, who at only twenty years older than me, has seemed eternally youthful all my life. This time he seemed to have finally come to terms with his age, who he is and having grandchildren. It touched me that in spite of not really understanding the ADHDer, his needs and his difference, he took time to talk to him, to involve him, to really try to get to know him during the Christmas preparations. I remember with fondness the sight of the two of them schucking oysters in the garden (yes, Dad, it is called ‘schucking’) and the sight (and anxiety) I felt as I watched them screech away on Dad’s motorbike. That ten-minute ride fulfilled a dream for my boy.
I was witnessing the circle of life.
And it didn’t seem that long ago that Dad and I were winding our way around Spain on the back of his motorbike, me an impressionable teen and he, a single man in his early thirties.
I still haven’t discovered the meaning of life, but the facial lines and new-found wisdom have made me understand and be finally accepting of the circle of life.
On the plane back to Australia I overheard a girl on her phone saying, ‘I’m 27, but I feel the same as I did when I was 20.’ Most of us can identify with that feeling but you only understand the true significance when you reach middle age. I’m nearly 50 and I feel mentally the same way as I did when I was 20.
My dad has chased his youth through his life, lived life to the full, taken risks, had successes and failures but he finally looks comfortable in his skin now.
And I wouldn’t really want to be 20 again. Because the excitement of youth comes with uncertainty. I already recognize the right and wrong paths I took for what they are; a learning process that is all part of growing up.
The acquired wisdom is that I know what to be grateful for now, even if sometimes I forget how lucky I am.
I watch my children, their cousins and friends, the thirty-somethings we shared time with on holiday, and witnessing their approach to ‘living’ reminds me of where I’ve been and enforces a clearer understanding of who I am. I have done all the things they are doing.
The thought of turning forty used to fill me with abject horror. I mean ‘forty’ was old no matter if you successfully managed to look at it in rose-tinted glasses as the new 30!
Sometimes I envy the antics of my eighteen year old, more often I’m glad it’s her and not me.
But just as my own dad has still not hung up his bike helmet, I understand that life is for living, that we are responsible for creating our own happiness, in whatever way turns us on.
That our responsibility is to ‘live’ through the circle of life.