Coming of Age: The Intermittent Grandparent

Illustration of grandparents traveling with grandchild



My grandson is coming of age. He’s a 12-year-old on the cusp of turning 13, lives in West Virginia where my wife and I currently reside. My granddaughter, who is nearing 3 years old, lives in Montana, where we spend much of our summers.

When I first retired, I was asked to come to West Virginia from my former home in the Cincinnati area to nanny my grandson for a month. I readily agreed, since he was the 3-year-old apple of my eye.

During our time together, my grandson and I bonded. We spent each entire day together. I, in effect, home pre-schooled him.

One of the proudest moments of my life occurred a year or so later. A friend of my daughter-in-law asked my grandson how he had already learned to multiply. He responded, “My grandpa taught me.”

When he turned 7, my wife and I and took him to Disney World; age 8, a bus tour of the canyons of the west; age 9, California gold mining, redwoods, Yosemite, and San Francisco; age 10, a Road Scholar intergenerational week in Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown; age 11, Montana to visit his new cousin and Yellowstone; age 12, another visit to his cousin and Glacier.

A few years before our granddaughter was born, my wife and I spent some time in Yellowstone during a Montana visit. While waiting in a crowd to see Old Faithful’s hydraulic display, I overheard two couples discussing one couples’ gypsy life in an RV with no permanent address. The woman of the other couple responded that she had always wanted to do that, but she so enjoyed her two grandchildren that she could not see herself being separated from them for such long periods of time.

The first woman asked how old they were. One was 12 and the other a year younger. The first woman said, “Oh well, trust me, after age 12 they will cease to care if you’re around or not.”

I believe that our grandson has not rejected us and is truly disappointed if we miss one of his track meets, cross country meets, or academic quiz bowls. He still prods me to attend a regular board-game gathering he goes to with his father (if for no other reason than his usually besting me).

He appears to continue to enjoy working after-school crossword puzzles with my wife and their joint venture into the French language. However, I recently asked him if he would like to spend a weekend in New York with us. He, to my surprise, declined.

Later I asked if he would like to accompany us to Montana again this summer—laying out a journey that would include the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, and Devil’s Tower. I was met with disinterest.

I should have known it was coming. What teenager, even just-turned teenager, is comfortable spending sleeping hours in close proximity to his grandparents, suffering separation from his peer group, witnessing our public displays of cluelessness with respect to much of the world in which he dwells?

I get it. I understand.

I have no doubt that he will want to continue his after-school stops at our home, will be gratified that we cheer him on in his competitions, attend his graduations, his wedding—the markers of his life journey—while we are able to do so. So, it is truly okay.

But I am very grateful that there is this little girl waiting in the wings. WE will go to Disneyland. WE will go on train and bus trips. WE will go to the beach, and to large cities, and to visit her cousin, and to see historical points of interest, and to national parks and, and, and—and then she, too, will turn 12 or 13 or maybe, with luck, 14.

If I am still in possession of my mental faculties, I will understand. And I will cherish the times we had, as I cherish the times her cousin and I had. Hopefully, times that will endure in their memories long after I am gone. MSN

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