Saturday, October 11, 2008

Grandparent Envy

Am I looking a tinge green these days? I promise you it's not from sampling all those 5:00 Fridays I've been testing. It's because I have a tad case of grandparent envy. Bird and Deal have grandparents, of course. I do not. But that's because I am 40, which means I am approaching middle age when most people no longer have grandparents. But honestly, if my grandparents walked into my kitchen and pulled up a seat at the table next to me, I wouldn't be sure who they were. I don't have vivid memories of them, and those I have are with blurred faces like the poor souls who didn't give their consent to be in America's Funniest Home Videos. I do recall glimpses of eating fresh coconut with my Amma, the squishy and syrupy rasagola my Nani made, and the teasing humor of my Dadu. I don't have much else. Mac Daddy, meanwhile, grew up just houses away from his grandparents.

I never really knew my grandparents. They were an ocean away and 12 hours ahead in time. And those are just the literal, measurable distances. When my parents made the choice to give my brother and me a better life in the States, they did so knowing they, and we, would be on our own. They essentially gave up their familial ties (not the heart strings, of course). I am floored to think of the sacrifices they made, moving to a new world and raising two kids all alone. My mom was an insanely young mom, and I cannot imagine her day to day struggle. My parents have now lived in America longer than they lived in India. A milestone for any immigrant. I lived in America longer than I lived in India by my second birthday. I had been back to India only a few times in my young life. Hardly enough to forge a relationship with my relatives. The fact that my family spoke a different dialect of the native tongue that had become foreign to me did not help matters.

And so India was simply a place I was from.

There were many times I ached not having extended family, but the family friend aunties and uncles that became our adopted family quickly filled the void. I was always, however, jealous of my friends who had real live grandparents to visit, read with, adore and be adored by. I was eager for my children to have what I did not. Eager for those pillars of wisdom, the good ol' days, and posterity to be front and center of my children's lives.

But they're not. At least not in the Normal Rockwell ideal that's been steeping in my fantasies since childhood. Bird and Deal have what I call a "ticket relationship" with their grandparents. We need a ticket - plane, bus, or train - to see grandparents. There's only so much relationship building when they see their paternal grandmother once a year for five days. No matter how much time we carve to be with her or how much we talk about her at home or how many photos are hung at their eye level, the daily interaction is missing. Wisconsin might as well be an ocean away.

My parents are at least closer on the map, but they don't see Bird and Deal all that much either. Enough to pal around, read some books, buy some toys, whoop it up, cuddle, and exchange laughs and kisses. Bird and Deal have not celebrated their birthdays with doting grandparents since they were one. They have stopped asking where their grandparents are when they see other kids' gramps and grannies at the playground and car pool. A ticket relationship is not enough to forge a bond. A real relationship with their own secrets and traditions and rituals and games. A ticket relationship does not allow for the trappings of intimacy. There is simply too much to cram in before the next plane, bus, or train takes off. Too much for which to compensate.

I am jealous of our friends who have parents in town. I am not jealous of the free and frequent babysitting or the feasible nights and weekends away to renergize with their spouses (OK, maybe a tish jealous), rather I am envious of the family bond they have. Those kids have a real relationship with their grandparents who are role models, care givers, friends, and confidantes. Those kids have the benefit of the village having a hand in their rearing. Those parents, my friends and peers, have the benefit of a second opinion (solicited or not) and a knowing shoulder to lean on, the perspective of someone who lived to tell about it and perhaps offer insight from their own experiences. Those grandparents have the benefit of seeing the fruits of their labor and seeing the cycle spin round once again.

I see grandparents pick up their grandkids from school time to time. Or at a tennis match. Or simply stopping by to make rice krispie treats and carve pumpkins. Bird and Deal don't get that kind of relationship. The beauty of the every day is impossible in a ticket relationship. Deal asked me recently if Miss Emma, our nanny, was his grandma. That broke my heart for him, and for his biological grandmas. She loves my boys as she loves her own grandchildren. She spoils them as her own. She protects them as her own. She scolds them as her own. She snuggles them as her own. And they in turn love her.

Now don't get me wrong. Bird and Deal love their grandparents too. We talk about them all the time and have their photos placed at kid height in the playroom. They chat on the phone long enough to thank them for birthday gifts. And then we sit and wait for the next plane, bus, or train to arrive. Bird had no grandparents to show off his newly aquired bike riding skills (two wheels!) or swimming strokes. Deal had no grandparents to buy him ice cream and kiss away the tears when the paramedics came. No grandparents to come read to their school classes. No grandparents to whisk them away to a museum or park or penny arcade.

And so my childhood hopes are dashed. I am grateful that my boys are loved and thankful that our parents would do anything for our children, and for us. That goes without saying. I am still sad that the cycle I grew up in goes on. No extended family. Mac Daddy and I have surrounded ourselves with fantastic friends whom we love as family and people who love us in return. The thing is, they actually have family. And that cannot be replaced.

I am astounded that all these families move to live closer to each other. To be closer to their kin,
their flesh and blood, their new generation. Not my family. They're not even on the same continent as us for a good portion of the year. And so history is set on repeat.

I think having grandparents close by would make us all much closer, and not just in terms of geography.
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Anonymous said...

Great post! I grew up in the same town as my grandmothers and alot of my relatives. It was wonderful! I am sorry you did not get to experience this. Granted, I come from a huge family - at Christmastime everyone came home to be with my maternal grandmother - at least 75 people.

This is the exact reason we moved here - so the boys could be in the same town as their only grandparent. Even though she is still young and works full-time it makes a huge difference.

Maybe when it your turn to be the grandmother you can break the cycle.

Anonymous said...

I am very thankful that my son has a close bond to his grandparents. It helped that for his 2 first years of life we were only 5-10 minutes drive from them. Now that we are living 1 1/2 hours away he still gets to see them and he loves every minute with them.

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Kim Tracy Prince said...

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Anonymous said...

He lost me at hello.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I am forcing myself not to cry - my Grandma, and my last Grandparent, died this past August. I grew up next door to her and completely treasure every day I spent with her. I can still hear her voice in my head when I think about it.

We are far from my family too though. I think I focus more on me talking to my parents vs my kids talking to their grandparents. Something to think about!

Anonymous said...

I spent every summer at my grandparents on the Cape. Their home was built on a pond so I lived to swim there, watching them watching me from the porch high above. They drove me crazy, they ate jello salad a lot, only bought day old everything, and loved shopping at Job Lot. They were tough and grumpy and old and I didn't get them. Until they were gone. I long for everything they stood for, the history they gave me, the annoying day old, jello salad, moth ball smelling comfort they always offered. My grandfather remembered seeing a car for the first time. He lived on a farm w/out electricity. He saw this world change, he had context for everything, he knew when to worry and when not to. I miss them so much it hurts. Their house has been ripped down and re-built. I have yet to bring myself to drive by it even after all these years.

I understand the value of family, legacy, connection, history, familiarity. I miss it all the time.

RhoRho said...

Kindof teary-eyed. You'd be jealous of us - we have both sets (actually like 3 sets - paternal ones were divorced and g-pa has great wife/g-ma) of G-parents within twenty minutes, and at least weekly visits. Baby-sitting is thrown in there, too. And although i dream and talk of moving off to the beach, I know it would be devastating for my little girl to lose the relationships, especially with the 3 very different female role-models. My mother is 76, and a little spitfire, but your post made me realize how appreciative and happy we should be to have her.
So that's Barack with your g-parents? Barack's how we roll!

RhoRho said...

Am i a moron? It must be his grandparents.? Come see me, i'm really not the biggest dunce ever.

Glennis said...

I enjoyed your post - it really made me think.

I grew up without knowing my grandparents - my father's father was estranged from him and his mother had passed away before I was born. My mother's parents were alive, but lived in a distant place form us. I met them once.

My parents became very involved grandparents to one of my brothers' kids, because they lived in the same town, my 2 other brothers and I lived farther away when we had our kids, and my parents did not travel by that time.

How odd it is - Brother 2's sons have such a different relationship with their grandmother than my own son does.

My father passed in 2002, and my mother, after having lived alone since then, is now contemplating moving to the town where 2 of my brothers live. After 20 years of living away from family (she and dad moved to the home they bought to retire in in 1988), she will once again be surrounded by children, grandchildren.

it makes me happy, because she has been so lonely since Dad died.

My son has a wonderful relationship with my husband's mother. My mother, he knows hardly at all.

It makes me wonder, though, how different everything can be with just one, or two decisions.