Kickass Grandparenting: Out of Business (sort of)

April 3, 2021

Just like that, seven months of Three of Earth School is done. And by “just like that,” I don’t mean “just like that.” More like, “seven years later . . . ” I kid you not, in a contest with four and a half years of mother care, it’s a photo finish, and the judge is passed out in the corner.

We had a fun last day. We went for a long walk in the woods—and it was the boys’ idea! They know trillium and toothwort and how to get to Staebler Point. There was a worm involved, set free when it was too hard to run with it cupped in hands—and I said no to putting it in my pocket.

After lunch we visited the exotic pet store in town, which I had been meaning to take at least animal lover Adrian to.

We had ice cream.

I’m glad I made it special for them and for me. I would have been irritated with myself had it just been another day. It needed an exclamation point.

Seriously, though, as challenging as the year has been, when I am looking back on my life some day from the distant future, I have no doubt I will say this was the most important thing I did in my life. Back before the pandemic (remember before? It’s like saying “back when dinosaurs roamed the earth”), I was facilitating a women’s writing circle. We explored legacy for several weeks, because that’s the phase of life we are in . . . what we leave behind becomes important. I figured maybe making it possible for my mother to stay in her home until she was one hundred years old—and hopefully writing and publishing a book about it—would figure prominently, even though there wouldn’t be anyone around to remember me for it. But now this.

It’s been the worst of times, the best of times, for sure. But if I made Emma and Wynne’s life even a little better, and if I brought even a little joy to Adrian and Elliot, then I’m just going with the best of times—especially now that it’s in the rearview mirror. I hope they will remember these months, if not in their brains (I mean, really, my memories of when I was their age is like dandelion fluff), their hearts will remember. What I do vividly remember of my childhood with happy nostalgia is playing in the woods behind our house by the south bay of Puget Sound. The story of those years consumed my writing practice in my first writing courses. I hope this year stands out for the Littles, like that time does for me.

My sister and I raised families 2500 miles from grandparents. My paternal grandmother barely knew me. And I’m far from my son and his family. To have gotten this time in the same house with these two little guys and watched their development has been a gift. Up close as I’ve been, though, it’s hard to see. But these past two weeks, I’ve taken the long look back to the beginning.

The first thing that comes to mind is the potty talk stage—so very annoying for so long—has vanished. When it stopped, I’m not sure; I just now realized it’s gone. Adrian learned to zip his jacket and know which shoe goes on which foot, and left from right directionally too. He can find his way in the woods. They can both find their way in the woods. He can do puzzles, and he’s a math whiz. He can count by twos, and almost get from twelve to sixteen without skipping the numbers between when counting by ones. He can add and subtract (thanks to “Number Blocks” on Elliot’s school iPad . . . and maybe a little from me too). He knows what I mean when we sit on the living room floor for our daily “Pretend Stories” and I ask him what the plot is. He doesn’t like to come up with a plot, but he knows what I’m talking about.

Can I still play with Duplos when Adrian isn’t here?

Progress with Elliot is more difficult to pinpoint because his learning was more online with his teacher. And he already knew how to do stuff that’s easy to observe. He likes to cook, and it’s been fun to bake goodies with him. He can very nearly do it by himself.

Both of them became so comfortable with arriving here every Sunday afternoon, with being here, with me. I think it really has felt like home to them. Like going to grandma’s house feels to children who grow up in the same town with grandparents. Elliot told me he wants to help me can tomato sauce. I hadn’t even mentioned it. He knows who I am! Guess I’ll need to plant plum tomatoes this year!

As for my own growth, I’ve had to learn to live with noise, with children being children, with clutter, with messes. It’s been challenging to be back there again, so long after my own children grew up and I became a lover of solitude and things in their place. I think I did okay once I learned to let it go. These two guys have some atypical behaviors, though, as you’ve read here, and those continued to test me, much like my mother’s increasing dementia tested me.

When they drove away on Wednesday—just Emma and the boys this week, and a day shorter than usual, and no school, so atypical on several counts—I cried in spite of my relief. What is the sorrow about when something so hard is over? I’m exploring two things: The chance to do it better is over, the same grief I felt when my mother died. And the feeling that my usefulness is done. I know that second one is not true, but this could be the last intense thing I do. It’s certainly not one I thought I would do, and it feels a little like I got a bonus opportunity.

Twenty-four hours after their departure, I cleaned up in the family room. Oofda! Bring on the tears of endings along with the look back. I wish I had taken a before photo of the table I cleaned off. But I found Adrian’s artwork and Elliot’s uncompleted morning work pages. And don’t get me started on evidence of all the strategies that didn’t work. I had some big ideas last September. Reality check: you are not in charge here.

[I always meant to tell you about that sticky note creation—the yellow/red/green. If I recall correctly, it’s a volcano. You see it erupting at the top—the yellow? Then the long red river of lava. I don’t remember what the green is. Maybe the ocean, like in Hawaii. And the one to the left is a turtle (?) with an egg sac. Adrian is four! An animal facts genius.]

So, that’s a wrap on Three of Earth School. I guess I get to keep the second WiFi, installed for three people to be on it at once. Really, I think that went not too badly. It felt like a crisis at the moment when it went down, but mostly it came back (I think), and overall it didn’t happen as often as we perhaps feared it would, given this rural location.

We will all remember this as a challenging year, lives and expectations turned upside down. But like the years with my mother, when all is said and done, I’m so grateful to have been here in the muddle. And we did better than our worst.

Oh, one other thing. It’s not really over. Elliot will be in school and after school care, but I get days with Adrian. We don’t know the schedule, or if he (and Emma) will be here or I will be there, but I’ll keep you posted. Thank you for being here with me. Next up, jury duty.

For a look back at preparing for week one, click here.

12 thoughts on “Kickass Grandparenting: Out of Business (sort of)

  1. I had to come back to this a second time before commenting because there was so much to love in this post. Ending all this with an exclamation point (you did!), the gift of witnessing growth and change, overcoming or at least abiding by the challenges, even cleaning up as a therapeutic activity, and how the pandemic will be marked forever for you and them by this experience. I’m sure you truly made a difference in your family’s lives, and were changed by it as well. Thank you for sharing all this. — Nancy

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This made me cry. Again. I never plan a post, other than maybe the topic or the beginning place. It’s pretty much stream of consciousness from there. It’s so nice to know it actually makes sense, and has themes! Thank you, Nancy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. They will remember. In their minds, images and values and ways in the woods and a sense they should “ask Gigi” about this or that. In their hearts a love of things you love, the color in the downstairs apartment, a whimsy for arranging, hugs and smells of rain and cookies, and a connection to you and to place that is in their core being. Especially to you, their Gigi. Carry on, notice what’s next. Thank you for sharing the journey, make them a book of photos and blog posts for sharing when they are much older. Capture their sayings and quotes. Legacy indeed, and love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Christina. Such lovely words, my friend. Thank you for being there with me in the muddle; it has meant so much to me. Yes, a book of blog posts. Great idea. Another project! 😬 Perhaps I’ll call it, “We Have Capable Hands.”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I recently posed a question in a blog post about how we would want to be remembered. It occurs to me now that it is our legacy I was really asking about. Since I’ve known you there has been the closing of one circle and the opening of another. This chapter may be ending but this beautiful story will continue. (And with caution we assume the TofES is over) It probably sounds silly for me to say how proud I am of you. But I am. Grateful to know you. Thanks for writing down the story ♡

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There have indeed been many closings and openings in our lives—yours too. Legacy, the idea of legacy, is an interesting explore. Indeed on the assumption. Schools could close again at the drop of a hat. And thank you so much, my friend.

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  4. Excellent job of capturing the reality, the emotion, the incompleteness, and the legacy of this time, Gretchen! Your words and photos bring us right there with you. Be well in the silence and the feelings of an extraordinary job well done! Ann

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    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gretchen, when you began this commentary on “Kickass Grandparenting” I wrote to you about my paternal grandmother who inherited five young granddaughters when her eldest died of an abcessed tooth. She “kept” the two oldest and saw that the other three were taken care of by relatives. I never met this grandmother but your life has introduced me to her. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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