Tuesday, November 27, 2007


My sons were shooting skeets (clay pigeons), and the grandkids were watching them. My daughter-in-law and I were cleaning up the kitchen when she mentioned that she wanted to see the new Wal-mart in town. Now, I don’t like this behemoth of a store, but shopping in a small town is limited, and where she lived had even less choices. I’d bought some Christmas lights that I didn’t like and wanted to return, so I said, “Hey, let’s go. You can shop and I can return these lights.”

We got in the car and started up the driveway. As we passed the skeet shooters we stopped to tell them where we were going. “Wal-Mart,” I said.

I was not prepared for the stampede that followed. “I want to go!” Ten grandchildren raced down the hill toward the car, waving their arms and shouting.

What did I do? I floored it! Gravel spit from the tires as we made our escape. Ten kids in Wal-Mart? Would you have tried that adventure? Maybe I’d have had an even better story to tell, but then again, I doubt I would have survived the trip. I’m pretty sure a few grandchildren would not have made it either.

Today I thought about grandparenting. I’m learning as I go. My husband is a wonderful grandfather, and I wondered where he learned this skill. I realized that our backgrounds provided different training for our present roles.

Poppa Larry and the grandkids return from a ride in the tractor wagon. if you think that left tire is totally flat, you'd be right! But the kids wanted to ride anyway. It was a rough trip, to judge by the squalling and laughter I heard.

My husband was raised in the coal camps of southern West Virginia. His grandparents, or at least those who were still living, were close by and he spent a lot of time with them. There were many other elders in the community—the old men who gathered around the stove at the company store to whittle and swap stories, the grannies who made sure the children went to church, aunts and uncles.

I was raised in a small town in northern Virginia. My mother’s mother lived in England and visited only rarely, although while she was with us she was an excellent role model for what a granny should be. My father’s mother was a stern German woman who visited occasionally and expected us to behave. I loved and feared her.

But my mother was the quintessential granny. She loved babies and grandchildren. She made tea and provided cookies. She listened, hugged, kissed, laughed, and was proud of every one of her 36 grandchildren. It was from her I learned my granny-ing skills.

Being a grandparent isn’t as easy as it sounds. Your home is invaded from time to time by hungry hordes that devour every easily edible thing in sight. Beds overtake each room—sleeping bags, air mattresses, hide-a-beds. Odd clothing and shampoos are left behind and no one ever claims them. The dogs assume that they can come on the porch, even though they have never been allowed to do that. You will cook mounds of food that disappear in minutes, and find odd websites left on your computer. Your jewelry, puppets, clothing and books will reappear in strange locations. The storytelling closet will be raided for puppets and gas masks.

Clayton tries to inhale pizza through his mask, with help from friends.

The hot water heater will work overtime, and there will be mounds of bedding to wash when the house is suddenly, sadly quiet once again. Your dogs will mourn for days when everyone leaves.

It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it. I’m glad I got elected for the position.

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