To the Boy’s utter delight, Opa and Oma arrived this morning to stay for the weekend. They came over from Nininand [The Netherlands] by car on the ferry, bringing all sorts of delights with them, such as a book about Pinocchio and a Pinocchio puppet for the Boy, and an adorable little dress for The Girl. They made me very happy by bringing a crate full of my favourite Dutch food stuffs and setting about cleaning my house for me.
My parents were not sure they were ready to become grandparents. When my husband and I first mentioned the fact that we were considering starting a family soon, a look of panic crossed my mother’s face and she said: “As long as you don’t expect me to babysit!” Part of the panic was the introduction of a taboo subject at the dinner table (“one does not discuss procreation with anyone other than the parties directly involved in making the baby”), but I think she also felt a certain dread at the prospect of shifting up a generation.
This led me to reflect on what it means to be a grandparent. What is your role, how does your attitude to life shift? Obviously, I can’t comment from personal experience, but from observation a lot of it seems to be about supporting your children as they become parents. It is like you step back a little and work behind the scenes. My parents are used to living like people in the prime of their life: they are active, they travel, they get involved in new things, they take centre stage. Of course, everyone is the protagonist in their own lives, but the importance and the potential of children temporarily gives their parents the very special role of Shaper. For this time in our lives when our main job is to raise children to become well-rounded, happy people, we are shaping society, shaping the world and shaping the future through them. Grandparents are there in the wings. They pat us on the back when we come off stage left, convinced we did an appalling job. They hand us props and tools when we need them. They change the set between acts. And because they are old hands at the play themselves, they know the lines, they’ve done it before, they can cover for us occasionally, when it gets a bit too much.
The day I found out I was pregnant with my son, I was due to pick my mother up from the station. We were going to a spa to celebrate my birthday, so I thought it would be wise to just check. Just to be sure. I wasn’t expecting a positive result – we had been trying for 18 months and I had been diagnosed with poly-cystic ovaries, so the chance was slim – but I just quickly did a test five minutes before I was due to head out. I was pregnant. My husband and I were in shock. I raced out to see my mum, now about fifteen minutes late, and told her straight away.
The first thing she said was: “Oh you *must* move back to the Netherlands, so I can babysit!”
Now that the kids are here, my parents love being Opa and Oma. They are experts at support from the wings:
* They dedicate themselves to learning how we like to do things with the kids and how best to take care of them so that they can slot into our household and contribute to its running. “Opa, she has to grab the cucumber herself. That is what her mother wants,” my Mum berates my Dad when he tries to stuff a morsel of food in The Girl’s mouth.
* They look out for handy gadgets that might make life easier, appearing on the doorstep with a miniature gazebo (brought over in their car all the way from the Netherlands) to provide shade for our paddling pool.
* They cook, they clean, they make dinner and buy treats. “You shouldn’t take this as criticism,” my Dad says, wearing my apron and wielding a sponge, “but shall I just quickly clean your fridge?”
* They don’t live down the road, which is sad, but we talk on Skype twice a week to keep the relationship going from afar. My son is over the moon when we go and visit them or they come here. When he was a lot smaller, my Dad mused: “Why do you think he likes us so much? What is it he sees in us?”
“He sees that you love him,” was my reply.
So here’s to you, Opa and Oma! Thank you for being so wonderful, and for being there-and-here for us!