It’s been about 4 months now since my son called from New York to give us the good news — he and his family of four were moving to Michigan. It felt like the answer to (one of) our prayers.
The plan was for them to build a home nearby and live with us in the interim. Wonderful! Sure, there’ll be some things to work through, but we’ve got the room in the house and together — as a family — we’ll make it work.
The 4-adults-in-the-house part is actually going quite well. My son and daughter-in-law are kind, considerate and very helpful. With the exception of a few minor things, I’d say we’re doing great.
Then there are the babies. Well, technically they are 3 and a half years old and 14 months, but they’re babies to me (actually, anyone under 20 is a baby to me these days). The babies are, first, adorable. I get lots of hugs, kisses, sweet hand-holding time, bedtime books, the whole thing. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I appreciate each moment.
There’s the other side to it — the, let’s say, challenging part. But my wife and I are quick learners, so as a public service, should you ever find yourself in-house grandparenting — or if you know of any people in such an esteemed position — I offer the following survival tips:
Play House. Let’s start with the premises. Remember that quiet, pretty, adult house you finally put together? The one where there was order and cozy solitude? Maybe a favorite reading spot, a kitchen with clean floors, no dangers of breakage of your most prized possessions? Forget those days. The new reality is a loud, chaotic, often-messy house with princess stickers on the windows, diaper odors, and floors strewn with pancake fragments, yogurt stains and other land mines. Be extra careful where you walk anywhere in the house — you could easily break your neck tripping over a toy truck or a 30-year-old hand-me-down naked Barbie doll with one arm.
It’s a kids’ house now. The babies have seized the premises and taken full command and control of the target. This took them approximately 45 minutes.
Mechanical Aptitude. Remember how you struggled years ago to put stuff together for your kids? Feeling a little rusty? Too bad, grandparents, because now everything is way more advanced. You’ll need to be able to quickly install and un-install car seats (impossible), open and close strollers (way harder than you think), construct cribs (188 screws minimum) and assemble toys with extensive directions — in Mandarin. And often you have to do all this while the kids are waiting and crying. So get it together already!
Go Potty. I can confidently report that this is still a big thing. A really big thing for my three-year-old granddaughter. It’s about half of her speech now and she can’t stop cracking herself up. It feels like we’re going to be in this phase for a long time — I’m thinking probably til at least the bat mitzvah.
To her, all bodily functions are a crack up. This has given rise to her constant use of her favorite word, Poopyhead. At home it’s funny, but in public it can lead to embarrassing situations. When we pick her up from preschool at Temple Israel (where I am really hoping she makes a good impression) each time we exit she turns to the security guards and says “Goodbye, Poopyhead!” Forget making a good impression — at this point I’m just hoping we don’t get kicked out of the Temple.
But the potty really is huge deal, especially now that she’s regularly using it. I find myself constantly asking if she has to “go potty,” since there are still some occasional accidents. My wife and I recently hosted Governor Whitmer at our home for a fundraiser. Before she greeted the crowd, we had a private moment alone with her, which was very special. At the end, I asked if she needed to use the bathroom. She said no, but, reflexively, I asked again. “You sure?” Again she declined. I came dangerously close to saying “Are you sure you don’t have to go potty? C’mon, let’s give it a try.”
Her very serious security team had arrived about an hour earlier to “sweep” the house. Asked to explain where all the rooms were and the flow of the house, I pointed down the hall to the last room that used to be my office. I wanted to say “But now it’s the baby nursery and where the poopy diapers are.” Judging by their faces — never cracked a smile — I’m quite sure they wouldn’t have appreciated the humor.
Germ Theory. Sorry, here’s the worst part. The germs these kids bring home are next level. I now officially live inside a petri dish. The baby in daycare is patient zero: colds, viruses, hand, foot and mouth disease. We get regular notes from school about the students' exposure to a variety of nasty viruses. There’s constant coughing and sneezing, along with assorted gross discharges that we wipe all the time. Lots and lots of wiping. In the past month I think I’ve had the flu, a cold, pneumonia and a touch of hand, foot and mouth disease. These babies are adorable, but clearly intent on killing me.
Takeaway. Be smarter than me — wear a hazmat suit and face shield at all times. Doesn’t matter if you’re eating, sleeping or hiding out in the garage pretending you’re busy.
Anxiety. There’s a level of anxiety about having babies in the house that I never experienced when I was a young parent. Maybe I know too much now about the risks of sudden trouble. Or maybe I’ve just become a nervous wreck in my old age. When I’m on duty, I’m worried sick that nothing goes wrong on my watch. Our house isn’t fully childproofed, there are accessible electrical plugs everywhere, two open fireplaces and all variety of choking hazards. The dangers seem to lurk everywhere. Is the bath water too deep? Do I need to cut up the grapes more? Car seat too loose? And what about those drawstrings for the window blinds? So basically I have heart palpitations all the time. If the germs don’t get me, then the panic attacks will.
Watching one’s young grandchildren is a colossal and mentally exhaustive responsibility. There can be no lapses in your vigilance.
My only advice: watch them like hawks at all times and then, when they finally fall asleep, break open the good Chardonnay. If you're too tired for the crystal stemware, I’ve found a sippy cup works just as well.
Dining Out. Another joke. It really doesn’t work with a 3 and a 1 year old. An implosion can and will happen at any moment. Could be as short as 10 minutes, which is about the time you start telling the server to just wrap things up and then argue with the family about whose idea this was. The problem for us is that the 3 year old loves going out to eat more than anything and always asks (don’t ask me why). The last time we were driving back from a failed dinner, with the adults feeling totally frazzled, she suddenly (and adorably) burst out singing “If you’re happy and you know it, go out to eat!”
So we’ll keep doing it sometimes, of course. If you happen to spot us, resist the temptation to come to our table. We’re on the clock and any stop and chat could blow our window of time before disaster strikes.
Final Takeaway. Sharing a house with grandchildren requires energy, patience, tolerance and care. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy it! Savor this brief and precious time together.
One more grandparenting tip that I guess I should mention: Vacate. My wife and I are getting the hell out of here. We will be in Florida for the winter — assuming I'm not felled by a novel virus or plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex.