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I have just enjoyed the pleasure—and fatigue—of being “Nanny Granny” to a teenaged granddaughter, a 10 year-old grandson and their old English bulldog, Lily.
I hoped our time together would be a unique bonding experience since I am the “far away” grandmother who only gets glimpses of their lives. As it turned out, this was truly an immersion in the daily adventures and times of today’s youth, and I gained great knowledge and insights in the process.
I must admit I arrived on the scene with a bit of trepidation. Parenting is not an unknown skill for me, but this is a new age with different rules and expectations.
I convinced myself I was equal to the task—and my charges would get used to my slower pace and need for assistance. They might even be amused by it.
Unbeknownst to me, they had been warned by their mother, my daughter, that I’d not put up with any nonsense. On that score, she was completely accurate. In fact, I think she was eagerly awaiting the outcome of my success—or failure!
Tearfully, parents and children bid each other goodbye as mom and dad departed for their anniversary gift to each other: a trip to Hawaii. It is never easy to part from loved ones, but this was particularly painful since it was the first time the family had been separated.
Suddenly, the distance became crushingly real. Life lessons loomed large. Almost immediately, Lily was being questioned regarding her sense of loss. “Do you miss your dad, Lily? He’s really far away.”
The question and accompanying statement scarcely veiled my grandson’s piercing deprivation. I decided to respond by telling Lily it was sometimes a good idea to experience absence so presence would be more keenly appreciated.
This human-to-canine conversation was catalyst to my grandson’s sudden admission: “I really miss my parents.” Now, we could talk.
And we did. We had long conversations about distance and proximity, love and loss, being selfless in giving, even when it hurts. We talked about the ways in which we can offer others precious freedom. We mentioned it is sometimes good not to speak of our hurt so others can enjoy their fun.
In the meantime, his sister was demonstrating her ability to give her brother the comfort of knowing that all would proceed as normal. The only change would be that Mist, their and my term of endearment, would be the parent in charge for 10 days or so.
There would still be a daily paper route to maintain and school projects to complete. Dance classes would be continue as usual and homework would be completed. Mapquest was a handy tool to assure my faultless and timely pickup and delivery from school and library. They would be my Mapquest to church.
In short, all would be well.
But there was one huge hurdle to leap: the grandmother’s rules of order! No clothes are to be flung hither and yon, nor beds left unmade in the morning. Towels are to be hung properly, not dropped on the floor and left in a heap. Nanny Granny was not going to do maid service.
A gasp of surprise was quickly followed by the statement, “You are kidding, aren’t you?”
Just as swiftly, I responded, “No, I am not. This is how things are going to be and I am not going to nag. One request is enough.”
I think, for a moment, the distance to Hawaii lengthened considerably! Contrary to their expectations, this was not going to be a pushover grandma. She was, indeed, a substitute parent.
There was some agitation, but it soon disappeared in the face of reason and reality. They discovered I was also fair about it all.
When a book report was due and all the necessary information was misplaced, Nanny Granny came up with a rational solution and calmed an impending storm.
When a neighborhood skirmish threatened to bring calamity, quiet conversation brought understanding and discovery of a new way to deal with bullies. The need for forgiveness came to the fore—as well as the importance of being honest and giving sincere apology for one’s own part in the melee.
I also touched my own reality and learned new parenting skills, skills that were both sharpened and softened with the wisdom of age and a fatigue factor.
It took no time at all for me to recognize I was not the Energizer Bunny and couldn’t even pretend to be. We were all forced to find alternate ways to accomplish what needed to be done.
Forgiveness became our prime virtue. We each forgave ourselves and the others for our failings. We learned to accept ourselves and each other as we were, human beings who made mistakes but kept on trying.
“Oh no!” was replaced with “That’s OK.” Help was given where accusation might have reigned and all was eased with laughter. “Oh, Mist! You just came that way. Don’t you remember?” No, I didn’t remember, but they were quick to be my reminders.
We learned together, recalled together, enjoyed together, cried at sad movies together.
We hurried together, settled disputes together and relaxed together. We admitted how much we missed the absent parents, but we were happy they could enjoy a vacation without worry—and we could give them that gift.
I was able to enter the life of today’s teen, with all its angst and delight. I savored the fear and joy that accompanied preparations for an eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C.
I watched my granddaughter rise from a false start in her concert solo. I cried when I saw her cringe before the audience—and wept harder when she took a deep breath and began again. She rose to the challenge like a Phoenix from its ashes.
It was a memorable time, for me—and hopefully, for my grandchildren, too. Those 10 days will be recalled as a period of grace and growth, a time when absence made the heart grow fonder and presence made the time go quickly.
I will always feel the special bonding that comes with those shared experiences. Even now, my heart is filled with unique Nanny Granny pride and love—and I will never be the same.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], leadchaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.