Writers are counseled to avoid mixing metaphors. But becoming a grand-dad is to step into a swamp of cross-winds. Here are some of the similes, aphorisms and clichés that have helped me re-connect with my progeny-once-removed after months of Covid isolation.
1. My grandkids are not water barrels anxiously waiting for the steady drip of my trickle-down wisdom. I’ve learned to put a sock in ‘When I was a kid…’ stories. The occasional, well placed, ‘back in the day’ chronicle goes a long way. But I can’t expect them to waste a goodly portion of their ‘four score and ten’ reviewing my tales of yore. It’s not like I’m one of their mesmerizing ‘screens’ after all.
2. I’m learning to be the wallpaper of their lives, to simply be a familiar place to feel safe, secure and unchallenged. It’s a long way from micromanaging our brood of hatchlings—their parents.
3. ‘Watch one. Do one. Teach one,’ is a maxim that surgeons follow in acquiring new skills. There’s real joy in showing how to cast a lure, throw a football, pound a nail. But it’s always better to invite interest than to impose participation: “You want to be part of this project? Here’s how you do it. You try it.’ It’s even more fun to catch them showing it to another.
4. Don’t steal their thunder. When you ask grandchildren their career plans, it’s important to not launch into your own trajectory…especially if they are tracking the same field. Don’t be a legend in your own mind burying them with your accomplishments, your history. They are Adam and Eve. It’s their world to discover.
5. Live-in tech support is readily available for the asking. Seeking their help with the digital world is a way to affirm competence and control of their environment.
6. A good joke is a joy forever. Told right, at the right time, a joke can be a learning/bonding moment across the generation gap. A bad joke—an opportunity to practice tolerance. Grasping an edgy joke—an initiation to the world of adult humor. In general, jokes are a reminder to keep a sidelong glance on life, always looking for other meanings, the play of words, staying alert for the surprise of the unexpected.
7. Yabba-Dabba-Do. Tell on yourself. Kids watch sitcoms and cartoons endlessly laughing at other’s foibles. Our own tales, embarrassing moments, allow us to crash and burn and get back up, to not take ourselves too seriously.
8. 1-2-3-4 Who are we for? I used to like to play sports. Now I’m more like a cheerleader on the sidelines of their lives, an affirmer long on support, short on shove toward sports, academics and everything else.
9. Pan for gold. It’s so gratifying to spot talent and interest in grandchildren and then to put them in the way of developing it. Too much enthusiasm can make it our project not theirs. A light touch allows them to own it.
Ultimately, we’re like a favorite Christmas ornament, dragged out of the box once a year, a cherished link to happy memories to be hung in our place in the family tree. We just have to remember that we go back into the box for long stretches of time.