If Only I Could Parent Like A Grandparent

by Melissa L. Fenton

Every time my kids go to my mom’s house, they return disgustingly happy. It’s as if a trip to Nana’s house for the weekend rejuvenates their spirit as much as a week at a desert spa would do to me. Everything about them is more relaxed, calmer, simpler, and content. What in the hell is she doing to them that I’m not?

I think I figured it out the other day when I went out for a morning walk and ran into a grandpa and his granddaughter. Only a few minutes of watching their interaction together told me all I needed to know. Of course I’m doing it wrong, and my mom is doing it right. She’s a grandparent, and grandparents have decades of parenting wisdom under their belts that can only be gleaned by raising one set of kids (mistakes and all) and then making up for it by being completely awesome with the children of their children. I cannot wait.

The little girl walking alongside her grandpa was about 2 years old, wearing only an over-filled and sagging pink princess pull-up diaper. She was shirtless, barefoot, and had a wicked case of bedhead hair. She may have even had peanut butter and jelly stuck to her cheeks.

They were going for a walk too. She was bouncing around pointing at trees and clouds, and helping grandpa yell at the dog. He looked like he just woke up too, and was skipping along, albeit a little slower, behind her. He would yell to the dog, “Come back here!” and she would repeat it, slurred words and all, “Omm ack ear!” And then they would giggle together, oblivious to anything or anyone else in their world.

They were having the best time. Just the very best time. Time, as in, they had all the time in the world to just be together, and nothing else mattered. I can’t remember ever feeling like that with a toddler — so in the moment, living and inhaling just what was around us at that second, not thinking 10 or 20 minutes or an hour ahead of time.

I couldn’t stop looking at this little girl and observing how completely full of joy she was, and I remembered all those times spent roaming outside with my boys when they were little like this. Except I also remember worrying about even being outside, about how they could never be barefoot, about how they needed to be dressed, about how a sagging diaper on my barefoot toddler would have made me look like a lazy mother, about how I would have made sure their faces were clean and their hair combed, and whether or not we were still on schedule for the day.

The “schedule.” It was all about the schedule. Time was meant to be kept, not enjoyed. We had snack times to keep, playgroups to be at, nap schedules and quiet times to check off our list. We had milestones to reach and check off our list, part of a never-ending parenting list I mentally kept swirling around in my head at all time. The “schedule” and the “list.” Something told me this grandpa hasn’t kept a list or schedule dealing with children in at least a decade, and yet here he was parenting his ass off in front of me, and wiping the floor with his patience and exceptional way of handling a wiry toddler. Holy shit, the lessons this man could have taught me years ago. Sigh.

If only I could go back, I would have spent more lazy days with barefoot kids in sagging diapers, just walking around outside looking at the trees, yelling at dogs, giggling about what was right in front of us, not worrying about what the day was going to hold. I would have ditched the watch, the list, and all the damn schedules. Because nothing else really mattered. Oh, I thought it did, but it really didn’t. I would go back and have the best time, all the time, and not let all those years go by full of anxiety and wishing them away. If only I could have parented back then a little more like a grandparent.

I said goodbye to the little girl and her grandpa, and all the way home I thought about how I can’t wait to have my grandchildren over someday. We’re gonna have so much fun being lazy and imperfect, which I now realize is actually perfect.

Because now I know what really matters.