The Gift of Grandparents

Most kids get raised by their parents. Mom and Dad come to school concerts, drive to basketball practice, and make dinner. But then there are the special few who have their grandparents help out when parents fall short. I am a member of this select few.

In elementary school, I lived with my mom despite her behavioral-emotional disorders. Living hours away, and completely unknown to me, my dad battled in the courts to have me live with him. In his physical absence and my mother’s mental one, my maternal grandparents picked up the slack.

Every Friday night, they would drive an hour from their house to the apartment where my mom and I lived just to order a pizza, have dinner and then take me back to their house for the weekend. (When my sister was born, she also came along.) During those weekends, I was able to exercise my imagination by creating fantasy worlds of my own with dolls, costumes and stories I would tell. I became the first female child usher in the church my grandpa attended. I learned how to swim. My grandpa would take me to the park and let me run wild, going up and down slides, swinging on the monkey bars, and rolling down hills until my clothes were covered in grass stains. I saw a real live elephant at the circus, sang along to musicals and ate more ice cream than should have ever been allowed.

At ten, I finally moved in with my dad and began to collect memories with one of my parents. Despite the move however, my dad made sure to keep my grandparents an integral part of my life. Every weekend instead of my grandparents coming to pick me up, my dad would drop me off at their house on his way to work as a private nurse where he would be for the whole two days and then pick me up each Sunday night.

If the weekends weren’t my oasis already, they certainly were now. Living with my dad was a new experience altogether and being able to return to the place I was so comfortable with-if only for two days-helped me adjust to the change by providing me with a time and place of routine and familiarity. Every Friday night when my dad would drop me off, my grandma already had marinara sauce bubbling away on the stove to make my favorite dinner: a giant plate of her pasta. These weekends I went ice skating, pretending I was an Olympic gold medalist. My grandma took me shopping for school clothes and let me wander around Barnes and Noble for hours at a time. They continued to let me grow, even when the path through adolescence was bumpy.

Slowly, I became more adjusted and comfortable to living with my dad and began to create a sense of familiarity and comfort in our home. I began to visit my grandparents less, but still kept them integrated in my life with daily phone calls and occasional visits.

But when my dad passed away when I was only seventeen, I had to move in with a relative. It was difficult coming to terms with leaving the home I had established with my dad behind, but after all the years with my grandparents, I knew I had a place to go where I would be welcomed. Where I would feel safe, loved, and taken care of, like I always had. I moved in with them and instead of their house being my oasis, it became my home.

Over the last couple of years, things have certainly changed. I now know the challenges my grandparents faced on a daily basis with my mother when I was only a little girl and the challenges they still face with her today. I see the difficulty in their old age of simply getting around the house and making those delicious Italian suppers I have grown to love. Things are certainly not as perfect as I remember them in my childhood, but I appreciate all they have done and will do for me as I get older.

This past August, I left my grandparents to move into my college town. When I return home, I feel that sense of oasis yet again as I return to all that has been familiar to me. There are a few changes, however. Now, my grandpa teases me incessantly about the food I like to eat-which does not include a giant plate of pasta anymore-while my grandma loves to have breakfast with me each morning before my grandpa even wakes up. It’s just the two of us, with the sun streaming in through the dining room onto our plates of cut up fruit, muffins, eggs, and mugs of juice and tea. We talk about everything. Sometimes, it’s the weather and how gray or blue the sky is outside; sometimes, it’s about our plans for the day; sometimes, it’s about the latest family gossip; and sometimes, it’s nothing at all as we sit in each other’s company knowing we don’t need to say a word to know that the other person is completely, and totally, understood.