The Joys of Being a Grandparent

It’s good to be a grandparent. It’s a little like Social Security, I guess. You put in a lot of hard work initially, and then down the road a bit, you get it back with a lower tax rate (no diapers, two o’clock feedings, teenage hysterics, or college tuitions) and get to spend it pretty much the way you want to.

We have been blessed with thirteen “returns on investments,” if you will, ranging from two to twenty-five. Some have finished college and are off on their own. Others are learning their ABC’s and starting school. In the summer of 2009, we had them together in one spot and for much of the time, there was this magical ebb and flow of young bodies where there were no ages, no genders, no big, no little. Aside from afternoon naps (the little ones) and evening pub crawls (the older ones), the days were spent wandering the beach, splashing in the pool, playing card games, biking, laughing, and eating. It sure was fun to be a part of—and occasionally, just watch.

The only downside of our particular situation is that none of the grandkids lives, or has ever lived, in the same area as we did. Thus, we’ve spend a good deal of time on the road, making Exxon and Continental very happy campers. We get up to Western New York pretty often, and make annual or semi-annual trips to the Northwest. We even spent a special two weeks in Italy when our Navy son was stationed there.

In the fall, we often find ourselves heading to Indiana, where four of the younger grandkids live. One of the trips traditionally takes place around Halloween, so one October, we stopped and bought several rolls of toilet paper and wrapped up Grandpa like a mummy. Then we snuck around to the back of the house and tapped on the window. Were they scared? Well, not so much, but they were surprised, and that was almost as good. And the germ of an idea was born.

The next time, we didn’t even let them know we were coming. In days past, without cell phones, it would have been almost impossible to pull off. Now, through constant communication with our daughter Anne, we were able to position ourselves in the cereal aisle of the local supermarket just as they stopped in to pick up some groceries after school. Pat and I were concentrating on the display of crackers opposite the breakfast food, when the four of them came pelting down the aisle in search of their favorite brands. As they stood there excitedly grabbing boxes off the shelves, Pat turned around and said, “Excuse me, but do you know where I can find the Cocoa Krispies?” The looks on their faces were priceless.

Since then, we usually do a surprise visit at least once a year. We showed up for a birthday party at Chuckie Cheese. Once, when they were on their own trip to Washington, DC, we were sitting in a booth where they stopped for lunch in Zanesville, Ohio. I like to think we keep them a little off kilter, wondering where we’ll show up next. Don’t spill the beans, but this coming weekend, we’ll be hiding in a corn maze in Indiana. I can’t wait.

Life seems to go by with the speed of light. These are precious times with the most precious gift God has given us. Family. May you and your loved ones hold your particular blessings in your hearts as you celebrate Thanksgiving.


A Lazy Adventure

An early morning mist hangs low over the Upper Cuyahoga where it flows peaceful and serene past Eldon Russell Park on this summer day. The bow of my kayak slices cleanly through the water, my eyes alert for strainers up ahead that might spell trouble. In my concern about getting stuck and possibly capsizing, I pretty much paddle a clear passage. Beside me, however, my friend Audrey, owner of the bright blue and red kayaks, pokes around the reeds at the river’s edge, looking for what, I’m not quite sure. Baby Moses? I tell myself I need to be more adventurous, but then again, I worry about the camera nestled in my lap. I probably should have left it in the car, except I didn’t want to miss another shot like the one of Audrey paddling furiously through a flock of Canada geese, their wings flapping as they try to get airborne while Audrey is grinning madly. Fortunately, it’s nicely imprinted on my memory, but I would have liked to have shared it. Maybe on Facebook.
(Another day, on LaDue Reservoir, as we’re exploring the edges, we spy what looks like an iguana zipping along under the tree branches. It’s green and sort of triangular. Funny how we both think that before we comes to our senses and decide it’s possibly a small beaver or muskrat with a freshly gnawed leafy twig in his mouth.)
A great blue heron erupts from a tree in front of us. As startling as it is, we both take the time to admire the graceful flow of its body as it flies down river and out of sight. We disturb him a few more times until he finally hides (or so he thinks—
Audrey has eagle eyes) in the lower branches of a tree back away from the river. We seem to have the river to ourselves.
We come to a Y. It’s evident that the main channel goes off to the left, but Audrey, naturally, decides that the other way is more interesting. I remember that line from Robert Frost and paddle after her. And it does make a difference. It definitely seems less traveled. I’m never quite sure whether we’ll run aground beyond the next curve or whether my paddle is going to become tangled in some grasses that bend and flatten with the current. I spy a lovely white and pink water lily unfolding in a bed of lily pads. I move over and snap a picture, then decide to put the camera back in its plastic bag and just enjoy the ride. Go find your own splendor, I mutter to the millions who probably will never see my snapshots anyway.
Eventually, we come to the end of things and turn around while its still possible. The trip back is not bad, even against the current. Our heron friend is still perched in his tree, probably very happy to have his feeding grounds all to himself again.
A few weeks later, we’re back on the river, a few miles further downstream where the Camp Hi people have graciously trailered the kayaks. About eight days before, I’d plied this seven mile stretch with Pat in a canoe. In contrast, the kayak seems lighter. Of course, it is. I’m the only one in it. The day is a bit overcast, which, we decide, is for the better.
We’re not alone this day—Labor Day. We launch ahead of the crowd, but due to our leisurely pace, get overtaken by groups of teens and families and some guys and an older couple. (Well, probably about our age.) The wife is putting on a brave face, but I can tell that the constant paddling is taking a toll. Several times, the husband sprints on ahead, then turns around and comes back, which I think is nice.
There’s a place where the river narrows and the current is swift enough to just carry us along, with an occasional dip of the paddle to keep straight. Ahead, though, I begin to hear the sound of white water. Not exactly the mighty Niagara, I remind myself, but I keep my eyes focused for V’s as the water goes over some protruding rocks. The kayak hits it perfectly and I’m through, taking no little pride in the fact that I read it right. I’d done some rafting and canoeing before, but there had always been someone in the boat with expertise. Pretty small potatoes, to be sure, but this time, all the potatoes are mine. I can’t wait until next summer.