The Grandfather Gene
One of the best surprises of aging has been how much I enjoy my grandchildren. I know, I know, sometimes it seems as if that’s all we gray-hairs (or no-hairs, in my case) talk about, but I thought I was immune. Friends would go on about little Sarah or Connor (there aren’t any Sues or Joes anymore) and my eyes would glaze over. I took to telling people that I didn’t have the Grandfather Gene because I didn’t really care one way or another whether I had grandchildren. When my daughter was pregnant, she asked me if I wanted to be called Grampa or Papa and I replied, “How about Bud?” Then I saw my first grandson a few days after his birth. I’m Papa and loving it. Another grandson and a grandaughter have further demonstrated that I not only have the Grandfather Gene but that it’s dominant.
You get to spoil them, then send them home. That’s the official Grandparents of America explanation as to why we enjoy the little buggers so much. And it’s certainly true, we do spoil them then send them home before we collapse from exhaustion. But as with most things, I see children, especially little ones, differently through my Older Eyes, differently from how their parents see them or even how I saw my own children. I think I know why.
If we’ve been paying attention, by sixty we’ve started to make some changes. After years of hard work, even workaholism, we’ve decided we need to play more but it doesn’t come naturally. You can only play so much golf. Accustomed to living for the big vacation or the big raise, we want to appreciate the little things in life. After years of worrying about the past and the future, we may have read about mindfulness or been told to take it One Day at a Time in a 12-step meeting. With our faces and body parts headed south for the winter, we want to finally believe that beauty is only skin deep. We want to be loved even though we’re balding and wrinkly and forgetful and groan when we stand up.
As I sit on the floor playing with my grandsons and three blocks become a train, I see the true nature of play. One of them tracks the Brownian motion of an ant across the patio and I get to witness total mindfulness. A single M&M left in the bag or a toy from a kid’s meal at the local fast food place brings delight. When I hold my grandaughter in my arms and she looks up at me with those big blue eyes, I know she loves me just as I am. There’s a certain wonderful circularity to the process: parents teach children to be grown-ups and grandchildren teach their grandparents to be child-like again. Of course, the lesson is there for parents as well but they’re usually too busy being adults to get it. I, on the other hand, intend to be an excellent student.