On-the-Job Training


Minutes after my first grandchild’s birth, I held him with nine parts wonder…and one part trepidation. From the down on his head to his impossibly tiny toenails, Kieran was perfect. It was love at first sight. But would it be mutual, I wondered.

I can laugh now, but at the time the self-doubt was real.

I grew up thousands of kilometres from my own grandparents, so while I treasured our annual visits, they weren’t part of my daily life. On the other hand, my parents and in-laws were all wonderful grandparents to my own brood, so it’s not that I didn’t have good role models. But still I worried. I was young for a grandmother, inexperienced and untrained. How could I possibly live up to such a revered title?

I’d felt the same irrational anxiety years before when I’d held my youngest child for the first time, my first and only boy. I was a mother of daughters—four of them; I had no experience with sons. Would he see through me? Would he judge me an imposter? In the end, of course, I learned to be my son’s mother the same way I’d learned to be the mother of his sisters: one day and stage at a time, by trial and error and paying attention—the secret of any good relationship!

In the almost seven years since Kieran was born I’ve been blessed with three more grandkids, and each in turn has taught me something important.

As the oldest, Kieran has perhaps taught me the most. He taught me that if I get down to his level when he’s telling me something, we can see eye to eye—which in turn tells him that he has my undivided attention. He taught me that from that same level it’s easier to see the world from his perspective, and that this has its own rewards, like at the beach when we comb the sand for hermit crabs and tiny sea shells. He taught me that the more interest I show in his latest Lego creation or bicycle trick, the more he glows—and the more likely he is to show me his next masterpiece. He taught me that a child’s legs are considerably shorter than an adult’s legs, and to remember that when choosing hiking and biking routes. He taught me that even the sweetest children get tired and cranky sometimes, and that’s okay, too.

From Kieran’s little sister Dahlia, I learned a new lesson: patience. Dahlia was a confirmed Mommy’s girl for the first two years of her life, highly suspicious of any other adult who showed her attention. As much as I wanted to take her into my arms whenever I saw her, I learned to wait for her cues that she was ready. The more willing I was to let her make the first move, the more quickly I earned her trust. I no longer have to wait for hugs now that Dahlia is an exuberant 4-year-old, but the importance of being sensitive to a grandchild’s cues has stayed with me.

At three and a half, my granddaughter Rhea isn’t afraid to ask for exactly what she wants. Just the other day I offered to serve her milk in the special “puppy” cup that her own mother had used as a child. To my surprise, Rhea politely declined and asked instead for the orange mug visible in the open cupboard behind my head—orange being one of her favourite colours. Her reaction caught me off guard; I’d been excited to share something that had been passed down through four generations. But as I handed her the orange mug, I realized that Rhea’s response was something to be celebrated. She knew what she wanted and felt confident and safe enough to ask for it. And isn’t this confidence exactly what I want for her as she eventually grows into adolescence and adulthood? It was the briefest of exchanges and yet it made me pause. How often do I impose my own expectations on the people I love, at the expense of learning what they want?

Even two-month-old Micah has had something to teach me. I’ve made it a priority to spend time with him as much as possible since his birth, since he’s likely to be my last grandchild for a while. But as often as I visit—at least every few days—he refuses to slow down. He’s a little bigger and stronger each time I see him. His rapid growth has been a reminder that each stage in my grandchildren’s lives is fleeting, and that I need to cherish each moment.

I’m sure there are many more lessons in store as the seasons keep turning; I’ve yet to experience the joys of grandparenting ’tweens or adolescents. Thankfully the role comes with excellent on-the-job training!

Rachel Dunstan Muller
Rachel Dunstan Mullerhttp://racheldunstanmuller.com/
Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at islandparent.ca.

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