It seems like every time I hear someone talking about their grandchild, it sounds so blissful, so pleasant. Those I know who are lucky enough to spend lots of time with their grandchildren always say that it’s totally different from raising their own children. There is a lot more fun and a lot less stress. When my own grandchild was two months old, I visited him in Germany and could report that indeed, it was so nice to be around this wonderful baby, yet have none of the responsibility. Fast forward 14 months and Jacqin is now 16 months and he and his parents came from Germany to visit us. Mind you that my husband and I are used to an orderly house and a pretty structured life.
First of all, they arrived four days early, while we were still out sailing around Penobscot Bay. So we had to change our plans and get home. Second, when we got home, they had baby-proofed our house. This meant we couldn’t find anything. And lastly, the baby didn’t like us or want anything to do with anyone but his parents. So whenever I tried to pick up this roly-poly adorable little child, he would turn into a ballistic missile ready to project himself directly into his mother’s arms.
I can handle rejection. But when I volunteered to babysit him while his parents went sailing on our boat one day, his mother, my daughter, told me that she really couldn’t trust me with him because she hadn’t noticed me doing anything at all for him since they had arrived. The German relatives apparently take over and she just sits around and eats bonbons or something. That was pretty irritating to say the least. Where was this blissful grandmother syndrome that I was missing?
I did babysit him, although there was a lengthy cry when the parents left. At some point during his tirade, I started vacuuming, recalling that this once appeased my children. Amazingly, vacuuming became the thing we bonded over. It was not quite as good as if it had been a tractor or a dog, but he seemed to calm down the minute I mentioned or brought over the vacuum. And then there was nap time, thank goodness. I babysat twice for full days during their stay and each night I collapsed in exhaustion. How did I ever manage three children?
Of course, I could see all the things my daughter and her husband were doing wrong as parents, since I raised three kids and am in the golden genius years. You’ll be happy to know that I kept my mouth shut. Well, maybe I mentioned that they would probably have a hard time with potty training if they continued to insist on giving the kid a bottle to calm him down when he goes to bed for the night. Other than that, I was pretty hands off.
We are alone again and almost immediately missed our daughter and her family. But our childproofed house is ours again and I have no illusions about taking care of my grandchild.
Noelle Merrill is executive director of the Eastern Area Agency on Aging in Bangor.