There’s a reason they call them “grand.”

grandmother1My parents visited us last week.

It’s funny, going through the various stages of parenting.

I remember when our first son was born, I promised myself that I would not tolerated from my parents the kind of spoiling that grandparents are often guilty of.

My wife and I were married and living in Oregon for more than two years when our son was born. Prior to that, I had been begging my folks to come visit because, being from the congested North East, I knew they’d love the openness of the Pacific Northwest, if only for a week or two.

Still, they never came … too busy, I suppose.

That is, until our son was born.

Zoom.

Within two weeks, they were on a plane and in Oregon. (note: my mother is deathly afraid of airplanes. In all my life, this was the only time I ever knew of her flying.)

You see where this is going?

So they there were, flown across the entire continent, to see their first-born grandson.

It was October. One evening during their stay, my mother, who I’d not seen in a while, and I took a trip to the grocery store to get some diapers and other stuff my wife wrote on a list.

I forgot what exactly.

With a colicky two-week old baby in the house, my wife and I both first timers and deprived of sleep, that time period is kind of a blur for us.

But something happened at that store that is forever crystallized in my mind.

As we rounded a final isle, bound for the checkout, my mother, having filled our cart with clothes and toys for the baby (none of them were on the list), she met eye level with a rack of Halloween bibs with little itty bitty pumpkins on them.

Irresistible.

She started to reach for one.

Now, having just spent the past 30 minutes watching her impulsively grab anything that was either fuzzy, light blue or had the word “baby” on the package, I had to intervene.

“Mom – don’t,” I said. “He really doesn’t need anything else.”

Her face sagged, like a kid herself, and she said meekly, “What? You don’t think he’ll like it.”

I could tell she was serious.

I reminded her that he was two weeks old and probably had not yet developed a sense of preference, at least as bibs went.

It went right over her head.

It’s been that way ever since. Holidays and birthdays roll around, and we remind her before – and after – that it would be great if she didn’t over do it so much.

Honestly though, she’s gotten better in past years.

grand3Maybe for financial reasons, and the reality of my dad’s quickly approaching retirement, or the bad economy, or both.

Or neither.

Mom’s always been pretty resourceful, getting the most with the least.

So maybe it’s that she finally understands how important it is to my wife and I that the kids receive their gifts in moderation, not excess.

Until only recently, she’d let our oldest really do just about what ever he wanted.

They’d play, at his request.

They’d watch movies, at his request.

She’d stand on her head, order a pizza, hire a circus, dig to the center of the earth, fly to the moon – at his request.

He’d play the, “I’ll test my limits with Grandma,” game.

She indulged in loosing.

He’d stay a day or two at a time with them. Once, he spent a whole week. Each time, we’d get him back, only to find that he had morphed into a boy that had, in just a short time, gotten concretely accustomed to getting exactly what he wanted.

He did then, he does now – and he will always – have my mother in the palm of his hand.

And she absolutely delights in it. There’s no place on Earth she’d rather be.

But lately, my mom has gotten better.

I mean compared to us, she’s still as flexible as cooked spaghetti, but she’s now a bit firmer with him and sets some limits.

grand2She’s improving – and just in time, as our youngest is getting old enough to off load solo for a day or two.

Could be she’s looking back to when she was a young parent, and my grandparents spoiled me. Maybe she relates to the frustration. Could be.

But what is certain is that I’ve been looking back, and reflecting on what my grandparents were to me.

They’re gone now, all four of them.

I miss them.

They gave me an opportunity that my parents never could. The grandparents allowed me to learn, to love and to explore life boundlessly. Not without rules, but without the elaborate structure that my parents demanded, that all good parents do.

My grandparents, like many, were older, wiser and they knew my parents really well. Which in a way made them an extension of my parents, but in a more free way.

I’m better because of it, more open- minded. I can imagine a world with no limits. I love bigger, and dream better because of them.

I miss them. Looking back, I just never realized how quickly they’d be gone from my life – forever.

And so I look at my mom. I watch her go overboard with my kids, with an excess of games and gifts. I know it’s chipping away at the structure I’m trying to instill in them.

And yet, as a famous band of her generation put it, I think to myself, “Let it be.”

Life too short not to. And there’s more to life than rules, don’t you think?

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