September 9, 2016

Grandparent Envy is a Weird Thing

Grandparent envy is a weird thing. And, as this year’s Grandparents Day approaches, I find myself at my father’s house. First, to answer your questions, yes, there is a Grandparents Day, and this year it falls on September 11th. Some may say, “too soon”—though not necessarily about that inauspicious date, but rather about having a Grandparents Day at all. It was signed into being in 1978 by President Carter, who was surely kowtowing to “Big Hallmark.” The Precious Moments lobby is fierce.

Back to my father. He is “Pooh” to my 2 year-old daughter and 4 year-old son. (The “Pooh” thing—you must be wondering—involves his playing Winnie the Pooh in a community theatre production when his first grandchild was born.) But, he’s not nearly as affable (or fond of honey) as Milne’s bear. My dad will turn 73 on Grandparent’s Day Eve, and he is much older at 73 than I plan to be. He’s in pain, and he begins giving himself daily injections this week to fight his Type 2 diabetes. He can be cranky and impatient, and I’m certain he’s voting for Trump. I love my father dearly, but he is a grandpa who constantly thinks my exuberant son talks too loudly. Which the kid absolutely does, but c’mon, Pooh.

The ideal grandparent for my kids would be my mother, who died 19 years ago. I’ve spent much of the last two decades of my life coming to terms with not having a mother. As my 20s and 30s passed, I did not move gracefully through the five stages of grief. I rolled around for a long time in the troughs of Anger and Depression. Those feelings (d)evolved into resentment toward anyone who had a mother during those years—especially when it came time for things like wedding dress shopping…and then divorcing. And then wedding dress shopping again.

I’m gratified to have exorcised much of my most primal grief and all that resentment and to have turned it into gratitude that I was blessed ever to have the amazing mother I did have. But in the past few years, I’ve felt the hot return of envy, not for a mother for myself, but for a grandmother for my babies. When I see the Nanas and Poppys at my kids’ schoolmates’ birthday parties; when I see a tiny suitcase in a store that says, “Goin’ to Grandma’s!”; when my husband John and I re-realize for the 100th time that we will never, ever get even a night to ourselves knowing that the kids are away with a grandparent, being spoiled—I am constantly hit with reminders of not only my loss of my mother, but my children’s loss of her…and my mother’s loss of them.

My kids have one living grandmother in my husband’s mother and one grandfather in their Pooh. Those two seniors are not the grandparents of storybooks. They mean well, John and I constantly remind each other, like a mantra; my father is extremely monetarily generous, and my mother-in-law tries to show up, when it’s convenient. Maybe you get this, in your own way: maybe your parents sucked as parents and are alive and well enough to suck it as grandparents. Maybe they’re divorced and turn every family gathering into a Tennessee Williams one-act. Maybe your in-laws live too far away to play a meaningful role in your kids’ lives, or maybe your mom lives close by and chooses not to.

But my mom. My mother would have been there in every way. She would have sewed Halloween costumes and begged my husband and me to go to Rome for ten days so she could take care of the kids. She would have been at my baby shower and been there at their births. She would have sung with them and chased them and been capable not only of putting them to bed but also making homemade pull-taffy with them in the kitchen. But my kids don’t know what they’re missing, which is kind of good, I guess, and also very, very heartbreaking. John has sworn for years that he’s seen an aura in our children’s room that cannot be anything but my mother. He never met her, but he’s sure this is her light—it can’t be anything else, he says. She’s watching them. I don’t know about that, even if my name is Faith, but God, I love him for it.

The solution, as ever (and perhaps a bit annoyingly) has to be gratitude. Though I miss my mother and what she could have been for my children, they only know and love their Pooh and their Grandma. I must have appreciation for whatever time the kids get with these grandparents, thanks to our schlepping and our stalking the kids in dramatically un-child-proofed surroundings, and how those relationships help them become the adults they will grow into. Recognition of how heroic my husband is in planning the effortful trips from Manhattan to the island south of Sarasota where my dad lives—the car seats, the airport taxis, the flights, the rental cars, the rental cribs, the pull-ups! Gratefulness that we were able to become parents at all, in our 40s, to two healthy children.

Grandparents Day is one of those days to remember that we usually take for granted the very best things we have—extra laps for our kids to climb on, indulgences ritually ladled on their little heads. Free babysitting. If you’re lucky enough to have parents above you and kids below you at the same time, take a moment this to thank God or good genes or resveratrol or whatever you believe in. Even if one of your kids’ grandparents wants to make America great again.