Though far from the perfect parent, I always tried my best. Every day was a balancing act: you discipline your kids, while trying not to be too tough or too lenient. You push your children to achieve something, but you don’t want to raise driven and humorless people who creep you out when they come home for the holidays. You want to protect them from all unpleasantness, while at the same time you hope they learn that life can be harsh. It isn’t easy.
As a grandparent, things are quite different. I do very little parenting, grand or otherwise. My job is to spoil and to dote on my beautiful granddaughter. Come to think of it, I now understand why they characterize getting old as “entering your dotage.” Webster defines this time of life as a “state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.” That sounds about right. I was never particularly mentally poised, and alertness is overrated. On the other hand, I can’t really blame the mistakes I’ve made on senility. They stem from immaturity and irresponsibility.
Last summer, we held a big family reunion at Chestnut Ridge Park. While the adults sat around eating, reminiscing and drinking beer, the grandchild and I scoped out the picnic shelter looking for goodies neither one of us is supposed to eat – she, because she is only a year old and has very few teeth and I, because I am way too fat.
We found some delightful chocolate-covered peanut butter cookies and filled our faces. I mentioned to my daughter how much her little one seems to enjoy peanut butter. “Dad!” my daughter cried. “Babies are not supposed to have peanut butter until they are at least 2. She may be allergic!” Word spread through the party like wildfire: Dumb Bob fed the baby peanut butter. I was pushed aside while a gaggle of mothers, grandmothers and aunts fussed over the baby. Soon, a sister-in-law who works as a nurse checked out the baby and pronounced her alive and well. Mercy Flight could be called off.
I had to suffer the slings, arrows and nasty looks from every female member of my extended family. I swear, I fed my own kids everything from table scraps to Mighty Taco and they all made it to adulthood. Reluctantly, my daughter allowed me to take the baby back and continue our foraging. As we walked away, I asked my little angel if she preferred bottled or canned beer. “That’s not funny, Dad,” I heard as we headed for the s’mores.
Just last week, I was playing with my favorite toddler. We were rolling around on the basement floor pretending to be sharks. Mother and grandmother were watching us, unaware that they were our targets. They were sitting comfortably in chairs and we were going to pull them into the “water” and eat them for lunch. When I mentioned lunch, the grandchild announced it was time for a snack. She jumped in my lap and said, “Grampa, cookie.”
I attempted to stand up while holding her, which is no easy task for an avid indoorsman like me. As I stood, I steadied myself on her little super coupe car. It gave way and I flew backward, landing on my back while still clutching her. My head took the full force of the fall; the little one was fine. Mama and grandma screamed and literally walked over my body to grab the child and make sure she was OK. For all my wife and daughter knew, I could be bleeding from the ears. They left me on the concrete floor and took the grandchild upstairs for cookies, milk and mothering. “I’m fine,” I yelled after them. The cellar lights went out. I was in the doghouse again.