For some time now, I’ve had this uncomfortable suspicion that my children’s grandparents make better parents than we do.
I do understand that, in a way, this it the right of the good grandparent to be doting, loving, obnoxiously attentive, before sending the kids right back to The World of Parents Who Say No.
We cut the kids off at two books before bed, the grandparents can make it through a dozen, plus songs. We are the ones who say “no cookies before dinner” not even realizing that the kid is asking in the first place because Grandpa already gave her three.
It’s a cliché, of course. Which is comforting. Because that’s how I know I’m not alone.
But then there’s my parents (all four of them) who put even stellar grandparents to shame.
I can hardly be bothered to find a clean baby spoon most days, all while my stepmother has made room in her small Manhattan apartment for an entire array of kids dishes, cutlery, sippie cups, and bibs to match any outfit or occasion. She even has kids placemats. Placemats! Do we have placemats? No.
Grandpa, or my dad, is willing to prepare a James Beard-quality dinner each time we visit, and at the same time, preparing an equally gourmet alternative just to suit Thalia’s limited culinary view. We’re talking homemade ketchup.
My stepfather has somehow, seemingly out of nowhere, developed saint-like patience, which he once demonstrated in a Guiness Book-qualifying swing pushing session so extensive, Thalia puked immediately afterwards.
And my mother – God, my mother. I don’t know if it’s an entire lifetime spent as a progressive early childhood educator, but she’s always a chapter ahead of me, telling me that Thalia is drawing straight lines/identifying chipmunk sounds/eating red snapper before I even realize she’s capable of it.
Am I insecure about this? No.
Not at all.
Mostly I repress it all pretty well–especially on the days Thalia wakes up first thing and asks for one grandparent or another. Heck, in the end my kids benefit, I get a break, and we all win. But I admit a lump in my throat when this weekend, my own grandmother suggested that Thalia loved her grandma so much, she was more like a second mother.
“Yes,” I agreed reflexively before realizing exactly what I was saying. “Um…no. Wait. Not a second mother. Like a grandmother. A terrific grandmother.”
Not only do the grandparents do no wrong, what they do is extra-right. They can read more Sandra Boynton books to the kids, prepare more nutritious meals, endure more zoo and museum and germy bookstore visits. They actually talk to the kids the whole time on car trips–Look at the helicopter. Here comes a tunnel. Hey, how many different birds can you see?–and not just pop in a CD. They can get Thalia to eat ham, teach her about fat peas, show her the world through magnifying glasses and binoculars, clean up after her, get her to sleep on time, and still get Sage fed and the laundry done, all without relying on Dora.
Hell, my mom can carry the baby longer in the Bjorn than I can.
But this weekend, at last I caught one teeny little chink in the armor. One almost imperceptible bit of deception that made me sigh with relief that indeed, the grandparents are human and not some kind of super-robot nurturing machines that always put the needs and desires of their littlest genetic recipients ahead of their own.
From the den in my mother’s house, I heard her describing a scene to Thalia that could have come from any of the many children’s books occupying progressively more real estate on her selves: See that man? What is he wearing? Is he wearing a coat? Is that wind? What sound does the wind make?
As I peeked into the room, I noticed Thalia slowly backing away from them, shaking her head in uncharacteristic protest.
My mother continued: But what a big coat he’s wearing! And do you see the scarf? What color is that scarf? Does it look cold here? Do you see that bird?
Thalia responded, “A different show, Grandma.”
And that’s when I realized.
It was not a book at all my parents were showing Thalia. They were not enlightening her about the change of seasons or teaching the science of snowfall or expounding on temperate zones or the effects of December wind on the animal kingdom.
They were trying to trick her into letting them watch The Weather Channel.