What are Grandparents Made of?

I never knew my grandparents. That isn’t to say I never met them—only that we saw each other seldom because they lived far away. I have memories of visits and fond thoughts about the places they lived, but to say we had a relationship would be a stretch. Some of that, of course, is my own fault, as old fashioned letter-writing is easy and inexpensive and I did not write regularly, something I now regret. When we moved back to Florida, leaving the rat race of Atlanta far behind, part of the hope we had was that our children would really get to know their grandparents because they would live so close. Since I didn’t really know my grandparents, I wasn’t exactly sure what that would look like. I can now honestly say that the children do have good relationships with all their grandparents, and our parents have often pleasantly surprised us.

Jay’s folks split when he was ten, and both are remarried. When we lived in Clearwater, his mom and stepdad, a.k.a. “Mimi and Pappy,” used to stop by at least once a week to hang out, and often took one of the children on an outing, usually for a lunch date, but sometimes for something special, like a show at the theatre in Tampa. Since we moved aboard Take Two, they have hosted all seven of us in their home several times now—and twice during this September haulout—so to say they are doing a good job is an understatement. They even watched all five children and gave Jay and me a whole afternoon to ourselves! Pappy has taken the boys to his golf club several times, to play a round or drive the golf cart, and Mimi has taught Sarah how to knit—something that will serve her well the rest of her life. This is what we had always hoped for.

Jay’s dad, affectionately known as “Skipper,” along with “Grandma Mary,” is the boating contingent in the family. They met us for a week in the Bahamas a couple years ago aboard their catamaran and we cruised the Abacos in tandem, having a terrific time. We would raft up or anchor nearby and the kids would be able to go over for a visit one at a time, a rare treat in a big family. Grandma Mary is a pilot, so she often borrows a plane and flies to wherever we are for a visit, which has been lots of fun. Skipper sends emails which usually include a link to some wild and crazy Lego YouTube video, which our boys love, of course. We don’t see them as often as we would like, but when we do, it is always fun, and our kids adore them.

My parents are also divorced, so when we go to Naples, we have to split our time between my brother’s family, Jay’s parents and aunts and uncles, my dad and his wife, and my mom. It’s a challenge, and we often have to make tough choices since time is limited. My dad, “Papa,” built me and my sister a dollhouse when we were little, and it has been renovated several times over the years. When Sarah turned five, he lovingly restored it and gave it as a gift. Of course, a giant Victorian house doesn’t fit on a 48-foot sailboat, so it’s a gift that stays with the giver, and we have to go visit the dollhouse. I admit that I enjoy these visits as much as Sarah. The boys love to take Papa’s neurotic Great Dane for a run around the lake, and Papa always has something sweet to share. He never forgets a birthday or anniversary, and he always gives the perfect gift.  Who wouldn’t love him? He and Grandma Gail have been sailing with us several times, and have always been extremely supportive of our travel dreams.

My mom, “Nana,” is not much of a boat person, but has probably been aboard more than any of the other grandparents. When we were on the west coast of Florida, it wasn’t unusual for her to pop up for a day trip once or twice a month. She is a very creative person, and the children have many hand-made keepsakes, like hoody-towels made to look like animals, personalized satchels, and a Noah’s ark quilt she partnered with Mimi to make for each of the children when they were babies. She has kept alive some of the traditions from my childhood—like sending Valentines, something my children will never forget. When she lived with my brother, she was always on hand to play a game with the kids or read aloud, two of her fortes.

What are grandparents made of? Old stories and photos, secret stashes of chocolate, outings, bubble baths, handmade gifts, fishing trips, Christmas memories, birthday shopping trips, toaster waffles, secrets about your parents from when they were little, Dominoes and card games, the smell of coffee and bacon, and, in a word, happiness. While I enjoy being a parent, it is really hard work, and not all fun and games—I have to say “no” to so many things in order to raise decent human beings.  A grandparent, on the other hand, has earned the privilege of saying “yes” and of spoiling children with love, gifts, and treats your parents would never give you.