Pillow Forts & Mr. Banks
When we were in Idaho we watched both batches of our PNW littles, each for a week-long stint. The first go-round was an almost 10 year old in public school and his almost 2 year old sister, still in diapers. The second was four home-schooled kids, ages 3 to 14, with one freshly potty trained (bless your heart, Sarah!) The third was/is watching the almost 5 year old and the 6 1/2 year old. who live here in DFW. We started with four days of 24/7 and now we're just doing the day shift.
Within six weeks we will have cared for all 8 of them, and we're realizing our limits, physically and otherwise, but overall it's been a lot of fun. And much food for thought.
When I was a young mom, in my early thirty's, I could make it through the day on 6 hours of sleep. Now I need 8+ any given night, and if I spend time with little people during the day, make it nine, at least.
I'm come to believe most of life is made up of grilled cheese, sloppy joes, cheap pizza, chicken nuggets and fish sticks; there is a very small window of time when one feels compelled, at 5 pm, to whip up a batch of chicken parmesan or any foods that require silverware actually. The kids eat the aforementioned foods, mostly without complaint, the value of which cannot be overrated, and it requires minimal amounts of creativity or energy. I'm not sure there's a family anywhere on this earth that truly recognizes the servanthood displayed in a mother putting supper on the table night after night, when she'd be quite content to eat a bowl of Cheerios and go to bed with a book.
I've also realized something else, and this is pivotal for me as a grandparent. When adult parents go away on vacation they throw the rules out the window. They sleep more, eat more, (hopefully especially ice cream) don't work, read more, etc. etc. etc. They don't live by a lot of rules, so maybe we grandparents and kids left behind shouldn't either?
I've come to think those signs about grandparenting, that say there are only fun rules, that's the ticket! I'm thinking that together with the parents we can come up with general guidelines, like what level rating of movie is acceptable, and agree not to let them go inside people's houses, etc. but in general CS and I are hoping we can grow into grandparents who are remembered as a lot of fun, and accepting, rather than being the strict ones, or the grouchy ones, or the ones with a lot of rules, by God. After almost 14 years of being a grandparent, I'm realizing there's still a lot to learn, and sometimes things need to be tweaked, like leaving us the kids, with as little rules/instruction as possible; just go away - have fun! - and don't worry about us. We'll get along fine!
There's a learning curve from thinking you have to raise your grandkids exactly the way you did your own, to realizing they're actually just a grace-of-God chance to do it better the second go 'round. Table manners is not your problem, or learning to save their money, or hang up their clothes, or put down the lid or a myriad of other things that their parents get to decide whether to bother with or not. It really is our job, this time, just to love them and keep them alive, and maybe take the time with them you didn't with our own. Sit in the sandbox with them, let them trash the kitchen baking cookies, dig for worms, all those things that a functioning parent didn't have time for - we can do that this time.
Between watching batch 2 and batch 3, CS and I talked a bit about how it was all going. He graciously let me know I have a less than fabulous tendency to set him aside, and not allow him to have much to say when we're dealing with kids. When I get overwhelmed I go into survival mode, barking out orders, in an attempt to feel like everything is in control. I don't love how it feels, even when I'm doing it, so it's very doubtful our eight littles love it either. Sometimes the most loving thing a person who loves you can do, is tell you the truth.
Hopefully having fewer rules to follow, fewer do's and don'ts, will help me be more gentle and patient; CS tends to take the Mary Poppins 'spoonful of sugar' approach, or even chimney-cleaning, adventure-loving Bert, while I lean toward acting like Michael and Jane Banks' father - 'don't feed the pigeons' and snap to it!
Being aware of my tendency to be too strict or harsh when I feel like everything is coming at me all at once, I'm trying different tactics this go around. For the time we've got this most recent batch of littles, we've played and gotten dirty, spent a day in the car going to see wild animals, done cannonballs into the pool and licked popsicles in the hot tub, eaten hot dogs and mac and cheese (both finger foods!); gone to see a parents' approved movie; I've told the littles to 'go ask Papa' as much as possible. Today, they helped me plant flowers in pots around the pool, and checked out bird's nest we spotted in the shrubs, after a pbj picnic in the back yard.
I also realized how easy it is to answer 'no' by default. When they ask me if they can do something, I'm trying to take the time to consider, and if it's possible, say 'yes' instead of 'no'. To let 'yes' become my default answer as much as I can. I know someday they'll realize I loved them all so dearly, but I need to be sure I'm showing it too, one conversation at a time. Today when they asked if they could build 'pillow and chair forts' in the living room, I said 'yes', I'm going to take lessons from Mary Poppins and try to make cleanup fun, when they're tired of it all.
I wonder if when God is finally done shaping us through allowing us to parent our own children, if He doesn't consider all the mistakes we made, the ways our character still needs shaping, so He gives us another go-round with grandchildren. I've had a lot of grandchildren time these past six weeks, and this weekend I'm going to be ready for a bit of a break, with several nights of 9+ hours of sleep. But I've been truly thankful for all the time we've had with them. Not only do I need more character-building time, but they are all growing up so fast, and opportunities to let them know how much they are loved are slipping through my fingers. I can tell them, but sometimes it's just as simple as saying 'yes' to a pillow and chair fort in the living room.