This winter we’re back in the sleepover groove with the grandkids after a long hiatus. Fun for the kids, great for the parents, and nice for us – but tiring. I somehow feel youthful and ancient all at once.
To gird myself for the full catastrophe of the overnights, I harken back to parenting, teaching, and homeschooling, and engage in what I call Get Out of the Way Grandparenting™. Which is basically – get a project going and then step back and see where it goes. I can read aloud and play cards all day, but dress-up, fantasy play, hide and go seek, sit on the floor with the blocks… it gets old quickly. As do I.
Alan had a close, rich relationship with his own nearby grandparents, and he models them as best he can. He plays spaceship in the tent, is a full partner in the detective game, and plays with the aforementioned blocks. On the floor. Oof.
I didn’t have a lot of grandparent time as a kid. I grew up with the “old and tired” image of grandparents, though they were only in their 60s in my childhood. Nana Bea and Grandpa Herman made yearly trips to California bringing the smells of cigars and baking, and matching dresses for my sister and I.
When I think of Nana Bea, she’s in the kitchen, or beating us all at gin rummy, or doing some sort of needle craft. She and I cross-stitched an entire tablecloth and set of napkins on one visit. She taught my sister to sew on her black 1948 Singer sewing machine. Later Karen taught me, and I still have that sewing machine (and it does everything I need – forwards and reverse.) I treasure that connection to her.
Grandpa Herman’s presence was an excuse to see the Giants at Candlestick Park, preferably against the Dodgers. I learned the notation to keep the scorecard, and rooted for Willie Mays amidst peanut shells, cigar smoke, and thick fog. He gave me paper cigar rings, and wood cigar boxes to stash my treasures. I still have one, full of Important Things. These memories are scattered but indelible. Still, they were a little more Get Out of the Way than I want to be.
Alan’s parents offered a different model with our kids. Wednesdays were Grandma and Grandpa Moses days, always always, until the kids moved away from home. They were hands-on, accepting and positive, role models, and playful. They also helped me survive and thrive in motherhood.
These deeply rooted memories added up to both of us wanting to be nearby, the kind of grandparents that shared interests and adventures, and supported our adult children as well. Moving to Portland to be with them was one of the best decisions we ever made.
A recent Camp NanaPa sleepover had me thinking about all that. There’s no formula. One 24 hour sleepover is different from the next. But my approach is always similar – get the fun going, and then Get Out of the Way.
The sunshine (finally!) pulled us outside to play with a red playground ball, my kind of outdoor play. Alan was planning the spring garden, a task that rises to the top on winter days like this. He experimented with PVC pipe, inventing a new kind of trellising structure, and the kids joined in to create their own PVC weapons and tools, waving them through the air and digging in the garden. This led to gold prospecting of course, and when imaginations ran thin, Alan hid rubies and gold (red beads and spare pesos) in the dirt, which demanded a long session of digging and sifting, with intermittent runs around the yard’s perimeter while the jewels were hidden. I cheered everyone on.
In Alan’s memory of his grandfather, the one he emulates, there was lots of puttering and doing odd jobs together. When our grandkids came along, he understood it differently, and realized that Papa had actually given those jobs some advance thought, setting things up so young Alan could participate. He’d thought he was Papa’s right hand man, because the activities were seamless, part of what Papa did. Now he puts forethought into the visits, and the kids are his sidekicks.
Back inside, Ezra went straight to the bath. He’s an immersive kind of seven, at one with the elements. Rosa, at ten, decided the rubies and gold should be exchanged for buildings made with blocks, and set about building a village. I did my own thing while they took their time.
Fresh from the bath, Ezra – perhaps feeling left out – began stealing the jewels and running off with them, or scattering them helter skelter. Entropy. When that didn’t work for any of us, he unhappily proceeded to steal every pillow in the house and stash it into my writing room, which was better than acting out, so I took it, hoping it would all make it back where it belonged, eventually. I did stop him from bringing in the wet bath toys.
It was puzzling, till I realized how long it had been since there was food, and that he must be hangry. Also, he was perhaps creating his own safe haven, a nest. Alan prepared french fries. Ezra was lured into being the Vegetable Thief, a game we play, stealing cucumbers from the counter while my back is turned. He still wasn’t happy, but once I whipped up some eggs, we were saved by a good meal, and everyone calmed down.
Rosa helped him clean up his collected mess, which mystified me as being rather generous. Later I found a paper in my office, a contract asking him to stop thieving in exchange for her help. I don’t always understand why they are out of sorts, but try to support their feelings if I can, and help them gracefully into the next phase. Some days are more successful than others. This time, no blood was lost, or even tears. Sometimes they work harder than other times at getting along, or maybe they’re just getting the hang of it. I don’t think grandparents in the 1960s ever thought about all this. I could be wrong.
A soak in the hot tub in the dark led to looking for constellations, practicing submerging techniques, after which we read (Ezra) and played with blocks (Rosa). Ezra has been enthralled with Under Water/Under Earth, two books in one by Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski. It’s his perfect book, full of minutiae in words and drawings, history and science in one. It gets us adults yawning after a bit, but is so much better than his other favorite, The Way Things Work. That’s a snorer.
Feeling overheated, he mentioned how their window at home gets so much sunlight, and how the shades don’t work anymore. That’s when he murmured, “It took me a long time to break them.” I tried not to laugh. His penchant for taking things apart in his quest to find out How They Work, often leads to accidental breakage and destruction, somehow surprising him every time. He isn’t trying to break them; it’s all in the interest of science. It’s exasperating, and I try to rescue things before complete destruction occurs. We discovered, after they left, that some valves in the hot tub had been screwed shut or removed, and assumed it was him. Later we found out Rosa had done it and I felt bad for immediately blaming him. It’s complicated.
Alan enjoys telling bedtime stories, as he did with our own children – the same ongoing adventures featuring Jack the Sailor, Benjy the Wonder Dog, and Maggie the Magic Boat. While it doesn’t lead to sleepiness, the tradition goes deep. The rest of us went to bed, but Rosa the Night Owl drew blueprints for each of her buildings, emulating her father, who has been drawing garden bed blueprints.
~ End Act I: Blessed but restless sleep, listening with one ear. ~
I’m the early bird enjoying the quiet, and Ezra is often next, sweet, sleepy, and snuggly; my favorite time with him. “This is going to be a great day, right?” he says, a mantra, wriggling under a blanket next to me, reminiscing about last night’s Jack story, “The best story ever.”
While he’d rather be read to, and impatiently waits for us to be done with our quiet coffee and morning routine, he now reads independently, which is just a game changer. I suggested he read My Father’s Dragon and he gobbled it up and was done by the time the French toast and bacon were ready.
Before her eyes were fully open, Rosa dove back into blueprints, which segued into designing future projects, while advocating for the purchase of a third set of blocks; they use them all, no matter how many we have. At breakfast there was more drawing, poring over the map in My Father’s Dragon (aren’t books with maps the best?), and a brief examination of the spotted towhees and dark-eyed juncos outside the window who came to finish off the birdseed on the patio, which we now keep accessible for occasional handful tosses. Maybe I’ve forgotten the nuances of my childhood with grandparents, but I’m not sure there were any.
Alan worked on his 2022 Garden Spreadsheet (what one does when it’s too cold in the garden) which drew the kids’ attention, and discussion of garden plans and spreadsheets ensued. They mapped out when sugar snap peas would go in the ground, when lettuce would go under lights, and which beds to use for what. There was some tickling in there somewhere. Spreadsheet exploration and Fun with Formulas turned into a creating compound words game. These kids are our kind of word and number nerds. Seeing how one activity morphs into the next is fascinating to me.
Rosa’s camera was on the table nearby, so when Ezra picked it up, Alan showed him How It Works, while Rosa was happy to pose. We will never leave him alone with it until some maturing takes place.
Blueprinting done, the rubies and gold could now be used to purchase a building. I had to correctly guess each building’s price, a game that sounded like The Price is Right TV show. The only one I guessed was The Mansion, which cost me 100 beads, well worth it.
The buildings were razed, and Ezra built a ramp, his most complicated project yet, using the instructions for the first time. Rosa cleaned up, taking great pleasure in stacking them neatly in the box. This fascinates me, as neither my own children nor I are wired this way. My daughter described her teen bedroom as “organized chaos,” and my own childhood room was just chaos, as my older sister, whom I shared with, can attest to.
I thought they’d grown out of playdough, but absence and the heart and all that, and Ezra loves to cook, so we made a batch. (I wish I didn’t avoid gluten and sugar so I could be the cookie baking Nana.) But both kids stayed immersed in playdough while Alan and I did lots and lots of other things. Getting something going and turning it over to their imagination often bring delightful surprises. Or falls flat. You never know.
There was time for another hot tub, Ezra watched some Mark Rober videos (a pool full of jello and a rocket powered golf club) and Rosa did a math problem based on a limerick (thanks Facebook), because she can’t hear about an equation without needing to solve it.
I know this is a long post, but it was a long weekend. Thanks, if you stayed this long. Probably only their mother will read all this.
The house was a wreck, the day was over, we took them home, swept and sorted, ran the Roomba, and rewarded ourselves with take-out sushi for dinner. Early to bed, duh.