Now That I’m a Grandmother …


As a teenager I sometimes went on the amusement park roller coaster several times in succession just to repeat the slow suspense of climbing, the exhilaration of the speedy plummet, and the pull and restraint of rounding corners.

After the arrival of children, my life contained all the elements of suspense, exhilaration, pull, and restraint without my leaving home. There were times when I thought of the amusement park, and I imagined my grand-mothering days would be like riding the kiddie train with the little bell clanging as the train made its slow circle on the flat track while the rest of the world went by on more exciting rides.

Now that the reality of grandmothering is with me, I smile at my inadequate imaginings, for I am on one of those exciting loop-de-loop rides, loving every minute. And I haven’t left home yet.

In the midst of a quiet afternoon my phone will ring and I will hear, “Mother, say something, anything. I just want to hear a calm adult voice.” Some twenty minutes later we hang up giggling and happy—and grateful that these calls are not long distance.

At least one afternoon each week a small hand is placed in mine as I do errands. That small hand is attached to a sweet little person who is having a wonderful adventure in whatever we do for those hours. Our little one is totally unaware that at home the young mother is regrouping herself and restructuring the remaining members of her tight little band of preschoolers. Within a few hours that little angel with me returns home refreshed, halo shining; watching his reentry into home atmosphere is as exhilarating as watching the latest space shuttle touch down.

A special adventure for my grandchildren is when one of them gets to spend the night with us. The one whose turn it is bounces into our home joyfully, and as the others see their turns approaching nearer and nearer, their eyes shine in anticipation.

Some of my most precious moments are those when the phone tings and a small sobbing voice pours out the frustrations and responsibilities of growing up. I am getting quite good at finding words of comfort to share with them between their sobs. Within a few sentences, calm begins to enter the voice, the words slow down, and before long I hear, “Well, I have to go play now. Thank you for talking to me about my sadnesses.”

Grandparenting has brought totally new challenges of tact and silence into my life. These were not among my sterling qualities while I mothered my group. I usually said what I thought needed to be said, cutting through excuses and rationalizations that I thought clouded the issues. Now that I understand free agency better, and the need for adults to make choices on their own, I do more pondering before speaking.

I am also finding it easier to watch and listen as the children learn basic gospel principles; and being a backup reinforcement for their parents, I find great joy in saying, “Your mother is teaching you correctly.” The little person struggling there with questions of right and wrong, good and better, reminds me of someone else not so long ago, and I learn again how righteousness passes from generation to generation.

At one time our family took up little room at church. Now my husband and I have to take turns squeezing into one of the many rows where our family sits as the young ones play musical laps.

My husband and I have found that the Holy Ghost still offers us suggestions regarding our grown children. This came as a surprise to me, and I have come closer to my Heavenly Father as I have pondered ways to counsel my children without being offensive or interfering. The Holy Ghost guides and directs them also.

I had no idea we as grandparents had so much to learn. I really thought that after the children were grown and into their own homes it would be a slow ride around a small circle on a flat track. We’ve been delightfully surprised by the roller coaster of our grandparenting. The rides have great suspense, just the right touch of exhilaration, and lots of pull and restraint around the corners.

[photos] Photo illustration by Tom Pratt and Royce Bair

Mildred Barthel, mother of seven, assists in social services work in the Cedar Rapids Iowa Stake.