“Don’t tell your mother.”
As a young girl and even into early adulthood, those words, along with a wink, a hug and a silly giggle, gave me permission more than once to venture into what I thought were forbidden and exciting grown-up experiences.
My trusted companion assured me it would be OK to fudge a little on the truth in these adventurous and daring acts. If course, our secret pact with each other made them even more exciting and fun in my young heart.
Now, lest you think this was some clandestine, dark and dangerous partner in crime, I will clarify that these words were my grandmother’s. She was one of the sweetest, kindest and most generous people I know. And, she was truly one of my best friends. I trusted her implicitly with everything, including my thoughts and feelings, my highs and my lows, my opinions and decisions. I could tell her anything without fear of being ratted out.
What were some of our secretive shared adventures? I learned to drink coffee under her watch — the strong Scandinavian coffee that woke you up early and kept you awake through afternoon nap time.
I freely explored her and grandpa’s bakery, racing bakery carts up and down corridors, and eating elephant ear crispies and chocolate-smothered, cream-filled donuts before dinner. We had tea parties with her good china. I was allowed to use the intercom from her apartment to the bakery below to beckon grandpa up for lunch. I tasted my first sip of sherry (and probably my last).
I stayed up with her past midnight watching old movies and Johnny Carson. I learned how to drive under her tutelage because, as she said, she didn’t have long to live anyway.
I told her about my first love, about the bullies at school, my teenage struggles, my college adventures and misadventures. She was my favorite pen pal. She sent cards of love and encouragement, even when I didn’t take time to thank her or return the favor. She laughed at my jokes, cried with me when I hurt, and prayed for me continuously. She pushed me to try new things, and told me I was capable. She is a big part of who I am to this day, and I am thankful and blessed to have had her influence in my life. She is why I love the work I do.
My grandfather had just as much of an impact. Besides his ability to bake, he was an amazing woodworker and handyman. He could decorate a five-layer wedding cake with beautiful, intricate flowers, then go build a shed out of scrap lumber. He was tough, but caring, loved his ketchup, laughed loud, and was both loyal to, and proud of, his grandchildren to a fault.
Many grandparents are playing even bigger roles in children’s lives today. They are caregiving, while both parents work outside the home, and equally involved in helping kids stay active in sports and school. More grandparents are becoming full-time guardians to raise grandchildren in unpredictable circumstances. They are also more likely to pull up roots to move closer to their grandchildren.
Research has shown that when grandparents are involved in positive and healthy ways, their grandchildren learn positive life skills and gain greater self-confidence. And these kids are generally more caring and understanding toward older folks or people with disabilities. Grandparents also get away with offering wisdom and advice that might otherwise be brushed off.
I encourage grandparents to stay involved, speak your wisdom, keep it fun, tell your stories, and share your many talents. Your grandkids are listening, learning, growing and changing in positive ways as a result, even if it doesn’t seem like it now.
I also encourage you to find ways to bolster your own emotional tank. Get together with other seniors and share ideas on how to better connect to your grandkids. A strong support and friendship base will help you navigate everything grandparenting has to offer.
If you are looking for ways to find new friends and get connected, call the Chanhassen Senior Center for information on upcoming programs and events. 952-227-1124.
Here is an upcoming events for both you and your grandchildren.
- Grandparent and Me Pumpkin Painting: 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Chanhassen Recreation Center. Enjoy cookies and juice together. Bring home your unique pumpkin creation. Ages 3-8, $10 per child. Register online or in person at the Rec Center.