My July granddaughter/grandfather ritual has just ended. It began with me flying out to California to my son and daughter-in-law’s place. They have four daughters, ages 5, 9, 12, and 15. The blonde, blue-eyed youngest, wearing a pink princess dress and no shoes, waved her wand before throwing herself into my arms, crying, “I love you, Poppa!” The other three girls are only slightly more reserved; when we reconnect in person, it’s a greeting card kind of experience.
The three older girls then flew back to Florida with me, without their parents, for the first two weeks. At the beginning of the 3rd week their parents and youngest sister arrived for a week and then they all flew home together. (The threshold for admission for the first two weeks is one’s 6th birthday, so next year we’ll host four granddaughters.)
This last visit reminded me how life is progressive. And every year I’m reminded, almost instantly, about how much my granddaughters have matured since the previous summer. All three can converse like adults. All three ask tough questions. I have to juggle growing my relationship with them individually while still attending to the group.
Every year I’m also reminded about how much I have had to learn about being responsible for girls. I raised two boys and have no sisters. My learning curve used to be a vertical line; now it’s more like an incline plane, and I’m proud of that.
Part of the learning curve involves understanding preferences. Preferences about hair and food, sleeping arrangements and chores, and sleeping in vs. getting up for an early bike ride with me that includes a stop for pancakes. There’s also a clear preference for visiting the ladies’ room in packs. One moment they are all standing beside me. The next moment they have all disappeared, following a silent cue I don’t ever see.
I’ve been involved with these wonderful girls all their lives, of course, and marvel at how different they are.
One is a talented thespian. Another uses words like bioluminescence and flailing in the same sentence and knows exactly what she is talking about and where she is leading the conversation. The third is so tenacious she makes me shudder. This is the same one who refused an explanation of how a bike with hand brakes and gears works, and then crashed into the back of her sister’s bike by trying to brake with the pedals.
In any case, these aren’t little girls any more. And as much as I delight in the unselfconscious affection of the barefoot, blonde princess, I realize how important it is to pay attention to what grandparenting all four of these fledging women really means. It’s one thing to have a romanticized relationship with grandparenting and with each of them. It’s another to connect with pre-teens and teenagers in a meaningful way, one that creates opportunities and memories for all of us. Because I’m the designated grownup, it’s more up to me to make that happen than it is to any of them.
As much as they’re evolving, so must I. Grandparenting teenagers can’t be the same as grandparenting little girls. So I ask myself: How will I have to change to keep nurturing them in the ways they need?