After listening to last Tuesday’s show, I considered placing an ad for a grandparent willing to make breakfast for my kids every morning or read them stories several times a week over video chat.
On a whim, I typed into Google “Grandparents wanted” and was surprised to discover I’m not the first one to joke about this.
Kristen, a reader of the New York Times Motherlode posted in Absent Grandparents that after her parents died she thought about placing this kind of ad in Craigslist.
She says, “Love is an incredible gift and an asset. I wish I could surround my son with more of it. No matter how imperfect, I wish we had others on our team, backing up our plays, pinch hitting for us when needed and most importantly, rooting us on in that special way that only family can.”
Living far away from relatives, I envy my friends who have grandparents backing up their plays. Janis, my best friend in Washington, D.C., tells me that every day her husband’s parents pick her up from the metro after work with her son fed and bathed from school. In the summers, my bridesmaid Esther who lives in Washington State, flies her son to Los Angeles to bond with her parents and learn Korean.
Wow. My mother died before my kids were born and Thomas’ dad died this January. Their only chance to bond with Grandma Teresa on Thomas’ side and Grandpa John on mine occurs once a year at noisy restaurant dinners splintered by holiday chaos and jet lag.
My kids can’t speak Korean, the language that Grandma Teresa is most comfortable with. She skyped with us twice, when Thomas’ siblings set it up, but only smiled shyly from the distance. And Grandpa John, well, he’s probably pissed that I’m even calling him “Grandpa.” Unfortunately, we have never been able to agree on a better name. He thinks the Chinese word for Grandpa sounds even worse: Wai Goon or Lou Goon Goon. Wai means external. Lou means Old. Goon just adds further insult I suppose. Once while bouncing newborn Kyra on his lap, he asked me, “How about if she just calls me John?”
Honestly, I haven’t tried very hard to find an alternative name for my dad because I’m still angry about these three awkward conversations:
LESLIE: So, I have some good news. I’m pregnant again.
DAD: (Let’s out a sigh like a balloon losing air.)
LESLIE: You don’t have anything to say about another grandchild?
DAD: Nothing to be excited about. I’m getting older. Life goes on.
LESLIE: So, I was thinking about visiting this Christmas, since it will be the first time everyone’s meeting Ethan.
DAD: That’s okay. Save money. Just send pictures or video.
LESLIE: When we’re visiting, I need a babysitter for Kyra and Ethan for a few hours after we put them to bed.
DAD: Did you ask your godparents?
LESLIE: I did and they can’t commit right now.
DAD: What are you going to do?
I rub these exchanges like worry stones, until I’m no longer sure of their original form. It’s taken me a long time to understand that it’s not because he doesn’t love Kyra and Ethan. According to Lisa Belkin of Motherlode’s Just Don’t Call me ‘Grandma' post, it’s a baby boomer thing. Dad just doesn’t want to feel old.
What he doesn’t understand is that I worry that my kids are growing up untethered. Perhaps one day, they might wonder what place or culture or ancestors they belong to.
You see, Kyra and Ethan probably have more grandparents than most kids. I’ve made sure of that, collecting over a dozen surrogate grandparents in addition to Grandma Teresa and Grandpa John, but they are all spread across the Lower 48.
And while my kids do receive tons of love from surrogate grandparents, I can’t help feeling a bit jealous when I hear their own grandchildren laughing in the background nearly every time I call.
The chances that these grandparents could read to them or tell them stories are rare. Sadly, I fear that they will only be connected with slivers of materialistic associations, such as “This grandma sent you the ribbon dress. That grandma gave you your favorite Lightning McQueen sleeping bag.”
Do you worry about your kids growing up untethered? And if so, how do you weave a more durable thread between your kids and their grandparents?