This is the story of a 74-year-old grandmother. Of course, this is my story, a story about how I joyfully help my family when they need me in summer, fall, winter or spring.
If you are a grandparent, you’ll know what my journey is about: embracing my next generation of children with a generosity of spirit. You don’t and won’t say “No” when your family needs you, no matter your age.
Somehow, I never thought my late 60s and 70s would be so thoroughly about loving my five grandchildren. I couldn’t imagine it, never gave it much importance and put it out of my consciousness.
That is, until I retired at 71 and moved to Austin where one of my sons lived with his two children. Both my son and daughter-in-law work, so organizing summer camp in Idaho takes planning and energy. My energy. Thank goodness, I am in good physical and mental shape.
I just recently returned from taking my 10-year-old grandson and almost 8-year-old granddaughter to camp and, subsequently, picking them up two weeks later.
Large duffle bags, heavy backpacks, melt-downs, staying in a small room at Days Inn for three days and nights and making sure the children were occupied during visitor’s day weekend was at first mind-boggling.
What impressed me was that I was the parent again.
I’ve done this gig before, watched my grandchildren many times. My first son lives in another city, and I have taken care of his three sons from time to time. They are older now and it’s easier.
But this experience challenged me more than previous in-house situations. In the usual context, the children go to school, have their activities, eat dinner and go to bed. Fairly straight-forward.
But on vacation – not on a cruise which offers children lots of activities on-board – things are different.
The concept of keeping the kids safe, watching out for them every minute of the day they are with you, responding to hundreds of questions, making sure their physical and emotional needs are met, getting them to the dock and on-board a riverboat that takes them to camp, hauling duffle-bags and backpacks – well, that’s a step up in grand-parenting.
Because when Grannies take on full responsibilities, it can be exhausting. To say nothing about an eight-year-old who wanders off frequently.
I wasn’t just a chaperone on this summer journey. And it felt like I was more than a parent. These children are under my watch.
When I drive, when we eat, when they swim, I never take my eyes off them. When we visit a toy store (nightmare), and when they finally fall asleep… It is only after they are safely in bed that I settle back with my head on my pillow and try to untangle the day.
After I returned home to Austin with the children, I was amazed I had been able to get through the experience relatively happy and unscathed.
The following are some points I wish to share with you with the hope the you can be more prepared when traveling with your grandchildren.
When you are not used to corralling children 24/7, it is easy to slip into unconsciousness. The watchword is vigilance. The state of staying present, practicing awareness, is a habit.
Humans are easily distracted by phones, iPads, television. But when children are present, when the lives of your grandchildren are fully under your care, you must take extra precautions to sharpen your senses, and steer clear of unneeded stimuli in your environment.
I was fully prepared physically to handle the extra strength I would need to assist with luggage needs, laundry needs (yes, I had to do a laundry run) and all requirements to be active.
Remember when you were in your 20s or 30s and you were running after your kids, and you thought you could never do that as you got older? Guess what? You still think that scenario is true.
I did, but you must act like you did when you were younger if you want to survive the experience. So be prepared for keeping up with all the various zigs and zags when you have sole responsibilities for your grandchildren.
Every day I sat down with my grandchildren to plan the day, especially when it came to meals. This gave them the opportunity to tell me what they expect and what are their needs.
This early morning conversation solves problems before they happen, before they sense indecision or your own mental exhaustion. And make sure they eat well and have varied food choices. My grandchildren appreciated this extra planning.
Despite the few fights and meltdowns, despite the wandering off of my feisty granddaughter, I would share vacation time with my grandchildren anytime, anywhere. I would go the extra mile and take joy in the process. I hope I get asked next summer.
What summer activities do you love to share with your grandchildren or nephews and nieces? What issues did you experience and what strategies helped you solve them? Please share in the comments below.