My name is Pat and I am addicted to ‘grand parenting’.
Although I’d heard the warnings about how quickly I could get sucked into “the lifestyle”, I never really believed it would happen to me. One day I’m blogging about sleeping with a grandmother and then suddenly I’m getting a tattoo. I thought I could control it, but I was wrong!
We just got back from a weeklong vacation with Chris, Lindsey and 11 week old Levi; now the addiction is raging. I can’t get enough. Although we were over-the-moon thrilled to be invited to join them on their first family vacation, we were careful to manage our expectations. Quite frankly, I didn’t know exactly how this new family dynamic would unfold, and how I would handle the cross-country travel and living 24 X 7 with an infant. I was excited, yet admittedly somewhat apprehensive. To say the least, the week played out well beyond my wildest dreams.
And now I am a full blown grand parenting addict.
My problem began almost immediately from the time we arrived at Chris and Lindsey’s home in Haddonfield, NJ the night before we flew west. It was bath time- and I was given a chance to perform. I haven’t given a baby a bath since the movie Top Gun with Maverick and Goose scrambling F-14’s and singing “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling”. I was tentative at first, but it took only one giggling smile from Levi as I poured water from a plastic cup on his belly to totally pull me in. I was hooked.
The next day on our trip west to Lake Tahoe, my conditioned worsened. Shamelessly I found myself walking through airport terminals holding Levi to my chest, doing the baby dance, and singing my version of lullabies. I couldn’t get enough.
When I reflect back, the difference between parenting and grand parenting may not appear significantly different, but it is. As my cousin Gretchen explained to me shortly after Levi was born, “We don’t have to raise ’em, we just have to love ’em!” Amen to that.
The next sign of addiction I displayed was utilizing various forms of manipulation. Doesn’t everybody try to get that perfect baby smile when they are in the photo? Or finding the right combination of bizarre noises to get a laugh? So is it really wrong that I repeatedly look him in the eyes and say my name, with hopes of it being the first word he ever speaks ?
“Daideo” (pronounced “dadj-oh”) is the Gaelic word for grandpa. With this moniker now tattooed above the inside of my left ankle (I didn’t even consider this as an early sign!), responses to this have run the gamut from “Cool!” to quizzical and perplexed. In the rich Irish tradition of having phonetically ambiguous names like Sean, Seamus and Siobhan, Daideo has already had its share of curious variations. I’ve heard Daddy-o, Di-dee-o, and even plain old Do-do. I don’t really care how you may read it, I just hope Levi is calling me Daideo long before he can spell, or put complete sentences together.
Another sign of my “problem” began to manifest itself through the comparison of infant care across the decades. While the consistency, smell and the unpredictable timing of baby puke hasn’t really evolved since the 80’s, basic baby-care technology has. Ergonomically designed feeding bottles, variable speed nipples, and diapers with lines that turn from yellow-to-blue when wet (eliminating the need for the old-fashion ‘finger swipe’), are all advances since the mid 80’s when I last had firsthand (pun intended) experience in infant care. Perhaps the slickest advance is the ‘one click’ technology employed by Chicco in the design compatibility of car seat, car seat base, and stroller caddie. At the beginning of the week I didn’t know one stroller from the next. By the end of the week I felt like a clicking pro, smoothly moving from timeshare to minivan to restaurant to hike etc. If you’re thinking baby mobility – think Chicco!
Sharing “Levi Time” with Chris, Lindsey and Leigh is understandable during normal hours. The real challenge is “being there” in the off hours. Let me be clear, competitive grand-parenting requires 24 X 7 vigilance, cat like reflexes, and a perpetual improvisation. Let me paint the picture of the competitive landscape: I think Leigh (aka Gi-Gi) is a ball hog. Period. So I need to be alert and aware at all times so I could get that precious facetime with Levi.
Let me give you some “early bird gets the worm” examples of the lengths I needed to go to get some of that much coveted Levi-time. One morning I awoke around 4:00 AM (bear in mind Tahoe is 3 hours behind our east coast time zone). Listening intently for the slightest sound from Levi in the next room, silence reigned. With the catlike stealthiness I snuck out of bed and sat down to read in the living room, keeping an ear open for the smallest peep. Lindsey, expecting Levi to wake at any moment as well, came down from the master suite, and was surprised to see me waiting up.
“I got this one.” I said nervously in a hushed whisper, raising my hand to halt her intrusion into my area of operation. I was afraid that Leigh may awaken at any moment.
Lindsey shook her head, laughed, and went back up to sleep. Levi awoke shortly thereafter, and I checked (a blue line!) and changed, fed, then returned Levi to slumber without Gi-Gi ever knowing what happened. If you could have seen the look in Leigh’s eyes the next morning when she realized what had happened! It was a major Daideo victory! On yet another day, Leigh had awoken early. I feigned sleep while she got up and I watched her peek into Levi’s room. Sensing no movement she went into the bathroom. Only then did Levi let go the softest coo just loud enough to be heard. While Leigh sat ‘mid business’ I was able to leap up and pounce into diaper-checking and formula-feeding mode. Another Daideo victory! If you are going to one up me in competitive grand-parenting, you have get up pretty early!
Is this a problem? (Oh, don’t for a second feel sorry for Gi-Gi. She’s had plenty of victories with ample amount of Levi time under her belt)
“What’s the prize”, you ask?
The spoils of victory are simple (and addictive!). It’s that moment when he wraps his fingers around my thumb as he sucks on his bottle. It’s feeling his dead weight as he collapses, sated, with arms and legs dangling with complete trust. It’s the softness of his skin and the silkiness of his hair on my lips when I kiss him. It’s the cooing and smiling as he looks into my eyes, sometimes gracing me with that big, infectious grin. It’s the feel of his fist grasping the collar of my t-shirt and some chest hairs; it hurts good – so incredibly good.
It’s his smell. It’s his breath whispering on my ear.
It’s the way he settles in to the nook of my neck, that space saved for only the special and precious, as I sing him my lullabies.
These are the gifts, the reasons why. I can’t get enough.
While 3 months ago the basic skills of changing diapers, 4:00 AM feedings, evening baths, soothing lullabies and doing “the baby dance” were just memories from 3 decades past. Levi’s arrival has made them come alive and transformed them into entirely new nuggets of intimacy, bonding and unconditional love. They are timeless and boundless gifts I will treasure and cherish for a lifetime.
On the topic of lullabies, let me begin with a clear and clean admission: I don’t know any traditional lullabies and I can’t sing. But I bring to Levi what I have. When Chris and Caity were growing up, one of the bedtime songs I would sings was Cat Steven’s ‘Tea for the Tillerman”. It was simple, soft and words easily recalled. I sang this to Caity at her wedding reception.
The other bedtime lullaby I would sing was the only two verses I remember from a whaling song I had learned during Second Class Summer training at the Naval Academy. My memory is more than a little foggy from this era, but as I recall, classmate and career Navy SEAL Tom Carlson, made this song a mandatory requirement prior to going on Liberty. While it’s probably not tough like “SEAL Training”, it may be tough to listen to. Singing to Levi.
A latecomer to my repertoire of lullabies is “Mr. Sun Cho Lee”. This is a mildly irreverent observation of the different races that make up the melting pot called Hawaii. I remember it fondly from the mid-70’s and it has always been a great reminder of how people of different races can live in the same place. While it’s a fun little ditty, I’m not sure the Beamer Brothers would appreciate my rendition, but I’d like to think they’d smile at this haole boy teaching his grandson to sing “Mr. Kamakawiwi’ole got plenty not too much of nah-ting!” in the New Jersey suburbs!
Even though I can’t sing, I just can’t stop. I think Levi likes my singing.
Despite the sometimes ruthless and cutthroat (in the most gentle and loving way of course!) competition for coveted Levi time, there is that one thing that genuinely trumps everything else: That is watching Chris be a dad. Clearly every generation wants to be better than the one before, and Chris certainly does that. He is engaged, gentle, tireless, informed, patient and above all else, loving. He takes ‘being a dad’ to another level. I am humbled, proud, honored and grateful all in the same moment when I see the love he shares with his new family.
There is no greater gift Chris and Lindsey can ever give Leigh and me than the time for us to be Daideo and Gi-Gi.
Whatever my relationship with Levi will ultimately be, I hope above all else he knows that I have loved him from the very moment I heard he was going to be born. I hope he learns from me, in word and in example, that it takes all kinds of people with all kinds of names to make the world go around – even if he doesn’t understand them all.
My final admission is my secret prayer. I pray for the day to hear these words come out of Levi’s mouth, with just a mild hint of exasperation in his voice, “It’s Daideo! Just like its spelled!”
Perhaps then I’ll have my fix. But probably not; I’ll never have enough of this.