I thought my parents would live forever. Don’t we all?
My parents were so young when they had us that they expected to be young grandparents too, they way their parents were. They had four kids by the time they were 26, quite a contrast to what happened with their own offspring. I didn’t even meet my husband until I was 32, and then we wanted some fun years as crazy-in-love spontaneous idiot romantics before jumping into a life of parental responsibility, so we didn’t have our first child for five more years.
We’re not the only ones who waited. Now there’s something called ‘the grandparent deficit’, as coined by Time Magazine, where there’s a whole generation of kids who don’t have grandparents young enough to help out with babysitting, or even be active enough to run around with them the way so many of our own grandparents did. I remember watching my great-grandmother play tennis! My grandmother, who turned 95 last year, was only 47 when I was born, and I was her fourth grandchild. We have a personal relationship, the two of us, and I don’t think there’s anything I can’t discuss with her pretty honestly. Thanks to her own life choices, she now has a dynasty, with enough children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to form a small army. She’s a role model for me, but I’m never going to be able to get together with my own dynasty the way she can, because I had my first child at 37 and my second at 41.
So I get why it’s a sad thing, this grandparent deficit. My own grandparents were incredibly devoted, and couldn’t get enough of us. They had a healthy (perhaps unhealthy?) rivalry going, and we benefited from it, getting to spend many weekends with them all geared towards making sure we’d have as much fun as possible. And it wasn’t even about extravagance; some of my fondest memories of my mom’s mother, who died when I was in college, took place in her living room, where she invented her own games to play with us, or in the bathroom, where she made up a whole series of stories featuring the Wickawitch family just to keep us from being bored in the bath or even on the toilet. There’s some intimacy you don’t get when there are 60 years between you.
That same grandmother and I became friends, too. As a teenager, I’d hop on the subway so we could go to movies together, I’d tell her things I didn’t tell other people, and even my friends wanted to come with me and hang out with her. My kids are 11 and 7 now, and my dad is 72, although he’s the youngest, hippest 72 a person could be. I lost my mom to cancer a few years ago, and while my kids spent time with her, they won’t have teenage friendships with her, and they won’t even grow up knowing her, which breaks my heart.
But I don’t think there’s that much we can do about it. People don’t get married just to get out of their parents’ homes anymore. My parents got married at 20 and split up 11 years later, because what they wanted at 20 stopped being relevant when they hit their 30s. Telling people to have kids earlier isn’t a reasonable solution, because it isn’t really a solvable problem. All we can do is make sure that our kids have as much of a relationship with our parents as we can. When there’s a day off school, and I’m free, my dad is usually my very first call, and my in-laws know they can come over any weekend they’re available. Now that my son has a cell phone, he texts his grandparents, too, building up a relationship with them that doesn’t have to go through us.
And my superhero dad is still more active than most people I know, so I think there’s still time for those special relationships to keep building. My grandmother knows my kids too, no small feat for a woman who has 16 great-grandchildren. At least they’re setting some great examples. We can also hope that our kids don’t do as we did, and will start popping out their own kids early enough for us to enjoy them.