It’s a warm September evening. In a quiet residential area on the Adriatic coast on the Croatian island of Pag, there is an old house with a garden with a few fig-trees. Under one of these trees, at the wooden table, sits an elderly man. He is gazing upon shimmering lights of the setting sun, touching delicately small see waves. A gentle breeze touches man’s face when he mindlessly chews one of the ripe figs.
He seems to be far away in his thoughts. Very far.
In the neighboring garden a small family party starts but the man looks like he does not hear anything and keep watching intensively at the see, as if he was looking for something.
Suddenly a little few-year old girl comes to him and touches his hand.
Grandpa Mladen, will you tell me a story tonight?
Mladen looks like he just came back to life, having heard his granddaughter’s voice.
Of course I will, my dear.
He takes her on his laps. His eyes are getting wet…
When I saw this happening in front of me many years ago, I did not understand much. I had no idea how Mladen could sit all day at this table, chewing figs and watching the sea, while life was going by. He only cheered up when his granddaughter Jasna was around. But one day he decided to explain his life’s mystery to my older friend…
I have been wondering about Malden’s special relationship with Jasna for years. And only recently it occurred to me, that his story had the key to it. It happened on the day when I saw my parents and in-laws meeting our newborn daughter Tosia for the first time and having eyes full of joyful sparks. They expressed a giant happiness. I decided to explore and understand more this special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. I believed that by doing this, I could finally find the key to Mladen’s mystery. So I grabbed a phone and asked each of them a question, which we then discussed for a long time. What does it mean to be a grandparent for you? Here is what I learnt.
Life never stops
I am so happy; part of me is in this little baby girl, in this new life, my mom commented. This is so human, I thought. We would love to live forever. And we sometimes do. There is a very strong need in us to pass our genes further, to next generations. This gives immortality. One day we will be gone from this world, but part of us will physically stay here in another human being.
Grandchildren also take over something else. They take memories with them. They will learn and remember grandpas and related sounds, images, flavors and smells. And they will take all of it with them in their adult life. They will tell stories, keep pictures or videos and on special occasions wear their jewelry, which they were once given. Sometimes, when they close their eyes before falling asleep, they will come back to those wonderful, almost magical childhood times, when they were together.
Life never stops and it is a huge relief and source of inner peace for grandparents. They can feel like sitting in a beautiful garden in summer, under a big fruit tree. The tree, although very mature, is still burgeoning and new twigs are growing. How wonderful is to watch another wonder of nature and tasting slowly delicious home-made wine…
Being a parent II
Many of us recognize the urge to make things better next time, if something goes not exactly as we wished. Sometimes we may even think: if only I could relive my life again, I would change this or that. The beautiful thing about becoming a grandparent is that it gives a perfect opportunity to relive the role of a parent.
I was amazed to hear my parents and in-laws confessing that they did not give all they potentially could to their kids (by the way, they also spoke about me in this case…). First, they needed or wanted to work and have a career; they wanted to be present in the outside world, socialize with people, experience life for their own sake. So not surprisingly they did not have the full day to be around with their little ones.
And second, they were not emotionally that mature when we were born, as they see it now from a distance. They got angry quickly, they were impatient, they did not pay attention enough. As I heard very boldly: moms are not able to enjoy their baby’s birth enough. It was not said to judge any mothers. It was actually a very intimate, personal confession.
Now they feel they can correct all their past errors and broaden the spectrum of caregiving. They can and want to bring lots of calm, distance, absolute protection, tolerance, understanding, patience and above all, they can give lots of their attention. What is also beautiful is that grandpas have more clarity what they would like to show to their grandchildren. Contrary to parents, they already know what is the more and less important in life. So this is why they care less about new parenting ideas and caregiving gurus. Come on. What matters to them is to show the best of themselves and this world. As my mom in-law beautifully phrased it: I would like Tosia to have a bath in my tub full of foam, to notice a full palette of colors during a walk in the park in autumn, to hear the difference in birds singing various tunes…
Once on the radio children were asked: what are grandmas? Some little girl replied: Grandmas are adults who have time for children. Who can argue with that?
Expecting a grandchild is like waiting for a very important guest who is coming to our house from a faraway land. The waiting time takes long 9 months, which are a bit stressful, as any long journey. So when babies arrive in this world, grandpas’ emotions are hitting the roof, from unbelievable joy to relief. Their voice is trembling and tears are flowing when they feel the breath of a little one on their chin, touch their hands and smell their small head for the first time. In this moment a miracle is happening and part of it is that grandpas become young again…
All these mixed emotions, combined with the urge to relive a parenting role, make grandpas feel much younger. Now they focus on a new life rather than think of the time which has passed. Who cares! New life is here and waiting to take care of it!
In the beginning they want to actively take part in caregiving. They also want to make a connection, build their own relationship. In some years the miracle will continue when their grandchildren independently choose to spend time with them. This will be a sign that they are on the same page as if they were at similar age! It gives a huge energy and willingness to open hearts and minds for everything which is fresh, full of life, passion, even if sometimes it looks crazy. This is youth. And how amazing is to feel young again and appreciate the myriad of colors and beauty of life…
Respect to grandpas
This weekend we celebrate Grandma’s and Grandpa’s Day in my country. It is the first time in my life that I have no one to make a call to. I miss them a lot. However, life never stops, and we have new grandpas in our family. I now realize better, how precious they are for us and for Tosia. That is why let me quote Janet Lansbury, who addressed these words to concerned young parents: Leave the grandparents alone. They deserve to develop their own relationships with their grandchildren. If they are not daily caregivers, it doesn’t matter if they have different parenting practices than we do. Most of the time they know better, anyway.
And how about Mladen’s mystery?
As there was no language my friend and Malden could speak, Mladen drew a schematic picture. He sketched himself sitting at the table, his granddaughter Jasna standing by and… another woman somwhere at the top of the page, between clouds in the sky. And then he drew a line between that woman to Jasna, and another line between Jasna and himself. He looked at my friend and made a move with his hand as he was painting the same lines again in the air, pointing at him and Jasna, and then at Jasna and to the sky. With his sad eyes, he looked again at my friend to check if he was well understood.