Grandparents usually adore grandchildren. The old idea—that grandchildren are wonderful because we enjoy them, spoil them, then send them home to their parents—is surely true, yet the appreciation of grandchildren goes beyond that.

Many retirees we know spend huge amounts of time caring for grandchildren. One friend works full-time caring for her daughter’s children, and her ex-husband cares for their son’s children after school. Another friend has cared for his grandchildren nearly full-time for ten or more years. He says, “This is the most important work I’ve ever done.” Among people we know, their experiences with grandchildren run from occasional visits through full-time, legal guardianship and parenting.

Two experiences

First, in 2010 my wife and I volunteered in Peru for a month, and I worked in a school with kindergarteners. My Spanish was primitive, and I was unable to take charge of a class, with one exception. The kids loved singing, and like all young kids, they didn’t tire of repetition. I remembered two songs, “Mr. Lee,” by the Bobbettes (one, two, three, look and Mr. Lee …) and “Old MacDonald,” both of which embody small English lessons. We sang them over and over. The children jumped, danced, waved their hands and feet, and sang with abandon. Soon they learned their numbers and all the major farm animals in English, and I learned them in Spanish.

I enjoyed the kids and cared for them greatly when I was with them. Then they went home.

Second, my wife and I spend nearly three months last winter in Vermont where we lived near our grandnieces (now almost four and nearly two years old) and grandnephew (less than a year old). Our grandnephew lived almost an hour away, so we saw less of him. But our grandnieces lived only a few minutes away, and we saw them often.

Each had her own personality. Olivia, the older, enjoyed cleaning her room and keeping things in place. She had ideas about everything, and she enjoyed explaining them in all their nuances. In the process, she tended to command the room and set the agenda. She yielded to adult intervention, but given a chance, she took charge.

O_and_V_13_028Victoria, less than two years old, talked less, but she loved life just as much. She displayed a hell-bent, almost reckless approach to life’s opportunities. I can imagine Victoria running full speed toward the top of a stairway and sailing off into the air with her legs still churning as the stairs fall away below. She has never done that, but if we heard she had, we wouldn’t be surprised.

In Comparison

We could see family traits—genetic and behavioral—in these children. And we looked out for them, even when their parents were near. We felt a distinct responsibility. In Peru, the responsibility was less tangible.

As a volunteer teacher, I truly lived the old idea: enjoy them then let them go home. But with our grandnieces and grandnephew, I glimpsed what grandparents experience everyday—a hint of immortality.


An Addendum on Driving with Buddha

Today, The Wall Street Journal published a summary of recent research showing that teens had fewer auto accidents when listening to background music (blend of soft rock, easy listening, and light jazz) than when listening to either music of their own choice or no music at all. In the last post, Buddha didn’t want me to turn on the radio: possibly he didn’t trust my taste in music, perhaps he was not yet informed of the latest research, or maybe he has little in common with teens. If he visits again, I’ll ask him about it.