Having just spent 48 hours in the company of the most perfect, funny, adorable, enchanting little man I have ever met, it got me thinking about how right the person was who said that grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for old age.
The little man is sadly not my real life actual grandchild; technically within the family tree he's my nephew (ok, he's my great nephew but I refuse to put that much distance between us). However, given that my own daughters are dragging their heels slightly on that front I feel perfectly entitled to claim my sister's grandson as my own occasionally... when the time comes I'll return the favour!
My memories of my grandparents are of infrequent visits to Croydon by slightly scary crinkly people. My maternal grandmother always came with chocolate in her bag, and Lucozade – a fascinating fizzy concoction in a golden glowing cellophane wrapped bottle. As one of five children, such treats were the stuff our wildest dreams were made of. Sadly these delights were purely for her own consumption...bump! Her husband I remember only as, even to the seven year old me, a very small man who followed meekly in her footsteps. I remember even less about my paternal grandparents, except that the husband/wife relationship appeared very similar. I think they were the last generation of 'old school' grandparents, and I have no recollection of any meaningful interaction with them.
The stern and scary grandparent image was replaced in the seventies with a large helping of schmaltz, delivered by the likes of Clive Dunn in a rocking chair crooning 'Granddad' and a gaggle of mildly nauseating schoolchildren declaring there was 'no-one quite like Grandma.' Possibly these two factors alone have contributed to the rise in nanny’s, nana's, pops, pappy's, gramps or in my own children's case, Peter's (my dad definitely did NOT feel ready for the image!) anything BUT Granddad and Grandma.
The fact is there is no single grandparent stereotype these days. There are grandparents in their early 40's and first time grandparents pushing 80, who may potentially have more health and heartiness than my own grandparents did in their 60's. But their role is often so much more ‘hands on’ than ever before. The need for both parents to work and the crippling cost of childcare often means that a degree of childminding assistance is an absolute life saver. The difference a day or two a week at nana's, or granddad taking care of the school pick-up can be a lifeline for parents.
And personally I believe it offers possibly an even greater opportunity for grandparents. Grandparenting can often be a 'second chance.' Parents who may feel they weren't able to spend as much time with their own children as they would have liked, or that they were too worn out and stressed to appreciate the milestones and magic moments that come and go so quickly now have the opportunity to re-live those times, with little people who are undoubtedly as special to them as their own children. We can take the opportunity to correct a 'bad call' we may have made with our own children, re-live the baking sessions with the lime green icing and to be completely unfazed when little Johnny at playgroup has twice the vocabulary at 18 months than your little pride and joy because we now know they all even out in the end! And what's more you get these joys and benefits without the hassles and day to day responsibilities...or the sleepless nights!
Yes, your children may have different views on parenting than you, and you have to abide by them, occasionally through gritted teeth. But if your children are confident enough to hand you the reins they will generally appreciate that your grip may differ slightly to theirs, although they may wonder when your 'money doesn't grow on trees' philosophy changed to 'spending it like it does!'
And as they get a little older, it may be the grandparents who have the time to drag them away from the Xbox and introduce them to the delights of books, Airfix models, painting by numbers and making cornflake cakes. Further down the line a grandparent is close enough but far enough away emotionally to share worries and confidences with. And one day, the little child whose hand you held to cross the street, will be a young grown up doing the same for you.
Somebody once said that if they had known what fun grandchildren were they would have had them first... I wouldn't go quite that far, but to my girls, perfect as they are, I would say ‘please, one of you....get a move on!!’