The Carrot & The StickSaturday, March 06, 2010
For close to 12 years we have been getting Rebecca (and then also her sister Lauren when she was born 8 years ago) on Saturdays. Both of her parents work so we do babysitting support.
Rebecca routinely babysits, on her own, for some neighbours so the writing is on the wall for us. Soon Rebecca might be trusted to take care of her sister at home or perhaps she will simply become an independent teenager, who will stay at home while we take care of Lauren.
For most of these years the Saturdays have been pleasant and heartwarming days when we have attempted to challenge the girls (the stick) with music, gardening, museum-going, ballet and modern dance evenings or concert evenings. The last one was a Gershwin concert at the VSO a few weeks back. I have picked films that I thought Rebecca should be exposed to such as Tarzan The Ape Man, Gunga Din and The Red Shoes. But “too much” culture can make little girls’ interest diminish so we have applied the carrot with plenty of food goodies they like like “double-stuff” Oreos and an unlimited access to the fridge. It has been Rosemary who has warned me about being too strict with Rebecca as she will not want to come to our house when she does not see the fun of it.
For a while I enjoyed whacking (gently) them on the head with the TV remote. When Lauren described this to her other grandmother I received a phone call from my daughter to cease the abuse, or else.
It is generally understood that grandparents play (when living in the same city) a necessary role in the education of their grandchildren. If the grandparents have funds in the bank, the help can be a financial one. If the parents work and cannot afford a babysitter, grandparents become surrogate babysitters.
The above can be seen in strictly objective terms. Grandparents do as they are told and perform as is expected of them.
But there is a subjective side to this. Grandchildren can grow on the grandparents. When they leave on Saturday nights we are left with a feeling of emptiness. The fine line between the carrot and the stick then becomes important when the implied (even if never uttered out loud) threat of ending the Saturdays and the Mondays (I pick up the girls at school on Mondays) is understood.
And with Rebecca at 12 it is only a matter of short time when going on a date with a girl or boy friend will trump a Saturday visit to the boring grandparents. This is inevitable and I can see the day coming. I keep telling Rosemary that we need to think of alternatives or our life will feel vacant.
Yesterday, Saturday was a preview of things to come. Rebecca brought her well-mannered friend Jessica. We took the three girls (including Lauren) to Watermania in Richmond. Jessica and Rebecca played and chatted in the water. They cast their disapproving eyes on a young boy who was extremely overweight. At one point I asked Rebecca if she wanted to swim some lengths with me so she could practice her beautiful backstroke. Her, “No,” was predictable.
At age 67 one side of me objected at the idea of having to share my precocious granddaughter with her friend. But I also understood that this was the way it had to be and perhaps some day in the not so near future I might again have a relationship with my granddaughter that will be mature as we explore cultural events together.
I watched Lauren in the wave pool. She is now not in the least afraid of the water. She has developed a self-confidence reflected by a wide smile as she navigated the deep end in a foam float. She would fall off every once in a while but there was no panic in her face. It was comforting to see her as it was to see Rosemary hovering around and keeping a watch.
Last night I caught Rebecca using her hands to pick up the shredded Parmesan to put on her gnocchi. “There is a spoon for that! I am shocked at your manners,” I told her, in the presence of her friend. Rebecca's wise mother turned to tell me, “There are times when you should not pursue a battle. This is one such time.”