Kickass Grandparenting: Winding Down

March 27, 2021

For the past seven months—to the day as I write this—I have spent four days of nearly every week with my younger grandsons. (Visit here for post #1.) Now school buildings are about to open and one mom and one kid will be back in the classroom instead of teaching and learning from my home. The other grandparents are flying out to visit for half of May and will do pretend stories with the other kid with stuffies and dinosaurs and paperclips, and make it possible for the other mom to work. Maybe with two of them and just one child to look after, she can actually go to her office for the first time in over a year. I won’t sugarcoat it, one of me looking after two children has not been a bed of roses. Or maybe it has been: beauty and thorns.

I felt a lot of feels when they drove out of the driveway this week for the last time in this phase. Grief and relief. Emma and the boys will be back next week, but without Wynne. After that, we’ll see. There will still be weeks of togetherness either at my house or theirs, but it will look different.

While other bloggers and friends on Facebook have mused on how they have spent the past year in isolation, I’m wondering if I still know how to live alone, to be quiet, to observe my surroundings. And prepare my own dinner seven days a week. Truth be told, I’m a little anxious.

I’m gobbling up blog posts like Katrina Kennison‘s to help figure out what I want my life to look like next, how to be intentional and not just fall back into what was.

Now, I have nothing but time, and for months this is how I’ve spent it – observing and wondering at and falling even more deeply in love with a place. After years of practicing yoga, counting my breaths, sitting in meditation, I’ve finally begun to understand what it really means to be fully present, noticing everything.

Katrina Kennison

Katrina goes on to say: “And, too, I look back at this long string of unscheduled days and ask myself what, exactly, I’ve accomplished here. The first answer, which came immediately to mind, was a big fat ‘Zero.’ While friends have written books, created beautiful artworks, taught classes over Zoom, and worked from home while presiding over their kids’ online schoolwork, I was standing under a tree.”

I am wondering what I might have accomplished had this been an ordinary year. It’s so easy to tell ourselves we have accomplished nothing when it all is so “same ol’ same ol’.” And what might have been different in this extraordinary pandemic year had I not been kickass grandparenting? Would I have treated it differently because the outside world was different, even though my quiet life might not have been? Would I have stood under a tree?

These loud and wild seven months since Three of Earth School opened have been a gift in many ways; but one gift—still to be unwrapped—is an opportunity to reset normal. Not return to the normal it was, but find a better normal.

Katrina doesn’t feel bad about herself for long. She writes of an article she read in the New York Times in which seventy-five artists were asked seven questions: including: “What is one thing you have made this past year?” (You can read it here, if you don’t have a paywall.) The true question in the story, when I read it, was “Did you make anything that mattered?” But I like Katrina’s take on it better—just “what did you make?”—and I like her blog post more than the story too. Define “mattered.” What does it matter if it mattered? Mattered to whom? Anyway, here is my list.

In the Year of Corona, I have made:

A new home for this cat.

These home improvements.

These masks.

This garden produce.

These muffins, before I closed Three of Earth Farm Airbnb and opened Three of Earth School.

This space for family.

Virtual kindergarten classroom-to-be, cleaned out.
Virtual first grade and preschool classroom.

This fire (the power was out).

These family adventure times.

This list.

Also this list.

And this one (after life at Three of Earth School got real).

This book.

Seventeen hikes plus nearly daily walks in my backyard woods, alone or accompanied.

This fort.

This pie with this guy, beginning with picking the apples.

This campsite.

This gecko creature power suit with a sticky tongue.

This jackfruit sandwich and this one-thousand piece puzzle.

These collaborative paintings.

This birthday cake.

Eleventy-hundred pretend stories with this kid, including this mandala one.

136 blog posts since my first 2020 adventure log on February 19, just before we knew what we know now. The shrimp and grits at the Tokeland Hotel was also my last meal in a restaurant. I am eager to go back, but the hotel and restaurant, which closed down shortly after I was there, are still closed.

This soup and many other kinds for the family on Soup Sunday.

This laser beam trap.

This drawing.

And this memoir, to be published by She Writes Press in Autumn 2022.

After several professional edits and target audience readings, the manuscript is about to head to the publisher for the final proofread, then it will be out of my hands. It is fitting that the story, and the book, began the year I turned sixty, was completed in the midst of another time of caregiving, and will be published the year I turn seventy. It has been an interesting decade of closing out midlife and entering elderhood (by my own definition).

“May you live in interesting times.” It might be a Chinese curse, but it’s not all a bad thing. As a friend wrote me of an upcoming cross-country move: “The difference between ordeal and adventure is attitude.”

I am experiencing the end of this adventure together the way I have big endings in the past. I had the same mix of grief and relief when my mother died, when I left my home in Raleigh, when my children left the nest, when my marriage ended. Maybe everything that’s really important—everything we invest our whole selves in—is like that.

As I look at this list, I think I can say: I made things that mattered to Emma, Wynne, Elliot, and Adrian. It is more than enough.

What did you make this past year? Share one thing in the comments section on this post by May 1, 2021 and be entered into a drawing for a copy of my memoir. Be sure to include your name. (Yes, you will have to wait a while.)

18 thoughts on “Kickass Grandparenting: Winding Down

  1. Gretchen,

    This is stunningly beautiful and thought-provoking in a wonderful way. Thanks for sharing your year. I honestly can say I feel like I’ve accomplished being much more at peace with myself, who I am, my worlds, and the choices I’ve made over the years. I am truly grateful for all I have. My writing has taken off again–and I’m over the moon about that! I also feel less fear, ironically. And, now that I’m “half-vaccinated,” I’m starting to plan for a visit to Three of Earth Farm for a writing retreat…and a delicious dinner with wine/beer with YOU!! It will be wonderful to see you! Much love, pamela

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That was so fun to read Gretchen!
    My Covid year meant that instead of 16 people going out 16 different directions every day, 16 people varying in ages from 1 to 64, stayed in one big ol house every day… husband was the only one who still had a job and left every weekday morning.
    We made messes
    We jigsawpuzzled
    We made a fence
    We made rules to stay sane
    We played games
    We made a garden
    We made SO many pies
    We made greeting cards
    We made holes in our walking shoes
    We made a pool in the back of the old truck
    We made new friends on Zoom
    We made babies….not me but my daughter & daughter in law….. coming soon!
    We made friends with the mailman with all of our online orders…..
    And now, slowly, routines that take us outwardly are developing and Camp Waia’u is less a camp and more of a hub.
    Aloha from Maui!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Because of you, my caregiving time with my husband, Richard, has been easier. I have made a better time for him in his final year(s) (he will be 88 on June 30th). I must admit anticipation of his passing but fear of the great loneliness afterwards. The ups and downs are heartbreaking. Sometimes like getting the air knocked out of you. So, yes, let’s move onward and upward. Love, my dear friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Jo, I’m not sure I deserve that credit, but if it’s even a little bit true, I am glad for it. I understand the knowing that the end will be a mixture of feelings. And getting to the end challenges your very being. Knowing you will have all the feelings, and letting that be okay for as long as it needs to be, will help. Love to you too. I hope you are able to come to the reunion. The accommodations offer of last summer stands.


  4. Hi Gretchen,
    I don’t have anything to add to the perceptive and eloquent comments already written, but I will just say that I think caring for your mom in many ways prepared you for the grandparenting journey that you have (not, and never will) complete. We owe our moms so much; they never stopped teaching us, even when the lesson was almost unbearable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Karen. And look at you, adding to the conversation. Our moms are still teaching us, I think. And caring for did help prepare me, if only in that the challenges are familiar; and my ability to handle them perhaps better. When I respond well now, I wish I had done better then. I’m glad we were on that journey together then, as well as this one now. I wish we had talked more often. Love you, my dear cousin. G


  5. This is lovely, front to back, top to bottom. Wish I’d discovered your blog and you a year ago. It would have made the adventure far more interesting and inspiring. The things you made are legion! It will be a year to look back on with pride and laughter for sure, even if it didn’t feel like it in the moment. I read that NYT article back then, and had the same response. Why didn’t I write a book? Or create world peace? I made and did a lot of things, though I’m not sure if any were things I hadn’t done before or would have done because I was quarantined. But I did write some songs, and I’m proud of that new venture, even if I disparage my work, and hope to write more. I continued to create a haven for the grandkids, adapting to them as we went.
    Will you be renaming/transforming your blog as you transform to a different life?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Nancy. And I wish I had discovered you and your blog sooner! But glad to have now. Hooray for song writing! That is awesome. I loved that post. We are amazing kickass grandmothers!

      It will stay Writing Down the Story; there are other themes (Three of Earth Farm and Adventure Log). I guess KAG will get dropped, or at least be only occasional. (There is still Camp Gigi!) Maybe another big thing will come along. I’m sorry Daughter on Duty was a separate blog, or maybe it will be a good thing when my book is published. I don’t know how many of the followers of that blog switched to this one.


  6. I made a million and four memories with this family and you! I’d like to think we made good car travelers and good packers, but I’m not so sure after last week’s drive. Ha. Like everything it was getting easier and now they sense some change. They are more adaptable with where they sleep, and that will make all our future travels Adrian has dreamed up a lot easier!

    WE ALL made it through without ADHD meds. And I also made several extra pounds…..

    Love you mom.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, crying again now. I hope I can go to Madagascar and the African savanna with you. Oh! I already did! The savanna anyway. That little guy has very big dreams. I may pass on going to the moon. I love you too. All of you.


      1. Want to come to Alaska, Peru, or the Australian Outback? Oh Antarctica is on that list too. Maybe I should save all his monthly child tax credit money and take him on a trip.


      2. New entry on our travel wishlist is a summer cruise to Greenland and Iceland, gathering in Montreal.


  7. This is beautiful, Gretchen. My new favorite of 136 favorites. Now you get the time to know the you that is wiser, gentler and more forgiving. You made it better. You made it matter. I am in awe of all of you. (And I would love to read Adrian’s story ! )

    As for me, I made a foglight. With curiosity as the filament and patience as the bulb, I made my way through this uncertain year with equal parts bravery and fear. I made a story. 


    1. Thank you, Bonnie. I love, love, love the foglight! Your curiosity and patience at Nisqually is an inspiration. You have made many stories there. And you are telling them beautifully. (They should hire you, IMO.)


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