Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Praise of Grandpas -- Mine and My Better Half

When it comes to grandparents, it seems it's often grandma that gets to wear the halo. The big G. It's grandma's house, grandma's cooking, grandma's prayers, grandma's love.

We often undervalue the role of grandpa in this whole wonderful equation. He gets a back seat, whether he deserves it or not.

And I'll admit at my house, Papi does have the easy role. I think when he's dealing with three little people, the word "no" drops from his vocabulary. They have him so wrapped around their little fingers that I swear he should be able to tie himself in a knot. The only time he ever scolds one is if they are mean to one of the others. His presence around the house ratchets up the level of excitement a couple of degrees and makes a day hard to manage. He also tends to flee when meltdowns get too severe.

But I honestly cannot blame him. He didn't have the trial by fire that I've already survived. After making it to nearly 40 without getting married, he took on me and two nearly grown teenagers and never tried to step into shoes he was unprepared to fill. Until E1 rolled onto the scene four years ago, he'd never had to spend any time in a caretaker role of a small child. It was a tough adjustment and there are still times when he has to flee to his building for a breather.

At the same time, two little girls (baby hasn't managed to be a big part of the equation yet) have unveiled a streak of patience in him that I think would be hard to match. And in return, they adore him.

Looking at some photos I snapped yesterday while he was working on my new fence threw that into highlight for me.

The girls were delighted with his use of an auger to dig fence post holes, but when he started putting up posts, it went to a new level. Instead of sending them away, he let them "help."

They watched in amazement as he mixed and poured concrete (he is known for overkill, but these were corner posts). Then they helped scraped the last of the mix into the holes and tamp down the concrete around the posts. Always guided by his hands and never a raised voice.

Although I never worked alongside either of my grandpa's, I realize they must have had the same capacity and, in a different society a few decades back, played a key role in shaping the lives of my brother and first cousin. My brother adored my Pa Beamer and once he was old enough spent much of his summers at my paternal grandparents' home, helping with cattle and riding horses. Although I enjoyed some of the horseback trips, I was never quite included in the magic between them. My brother now lives on Pa's farm, working the cattle and the land and supporting his farming with a "real" job just as my grandpa did. My Pa Booker played the same role in my cousin's life and, like my brother, he now farms the land he worked with Pa.

And while I didn't work with Pa Booker, he set another example for me. Once I was grown, he was always the one who showed up to do things that needed doing. Whether it was me alone with two kids, or me with a husband who wasn't stepping up to do what he should be doing. I know he did the same with my cousins. There was wood carried in, ice scraped from windshields, yards mowed (that was his favorite) and host of other things that got done because of Pa.

My translation on this is that grandparents, freed from the 24-hour pressure of raising and meeting the needs of a child, have an all-important role. They are the ears that listen, the hands that help out, the patience children need when parents are tired, working, or just don't have enough hours in the day. They are a source of unconditional love and always open arms. They are an alternative adult that exposes children to different activities and interests that may influence the course of the child's life in a lot of ways.

When children don't have that (and in today's society it is hard to deliver when miles and divorces spread families thin), I think they simply have a harder time finding themselves and becoming all they should be. Some still manage, but we can look around and see that many struggle.

People once told me that as a grandparent I would love more than I did as a parent, but I also know that isn't true. It's simply that maturity and mortality make me appreciate more, and children need that. I know I did. And I'm glad the girls in my life are getting a good dose of it as well.

So when you're praising grandma's cookies, keep in mind grandpa's laugh, because both can be equally important in making sure a child gets all the love and attention he or she needs. And it's sometimes grandpa's laugh that gives grandma the patience to get the cookies baked.

And when fence building comes to a halt because E1 has spotted a granddaddy longlegs, "And they're the neatest spiders ever," well, you know that patience is there by the barrel full.

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