Grandparents saving the world

Grandparents can be a powerful force for building a stable society. My appreciation for this rose when I watched my sister-in-law Marilyn, a master grandma, at work. She was hosting me for a few days and apologized that she had to babysit her granddaughter. I looked forward to it because I’d already pegged her as a master grandma.

I had heard her telling stories about her grandchildren and enjoying their personalities. She watches them interacting together and vying to get their way. Traits of each are astutely displayed in her accounts—the introverted scholar wearing glasses, the more physical ones, the feisty ones, the ones needing certain types of attention.

Grandma’s love for them is unquestioned, impartial, and immense, but she’s no pushover. Her knowledge of child psychology comes out in stories of adults giving in to child pleading, with the sure result of future trouble.

Aella, nearly two, the youngest and only girl, is not intimidated but establishes her place among her older brother and three older boy cousins. She was dropped off by her daddy and wanted nothing to do with me. I took it as a challenge to interact with her.

Out came ingenious teaching toys unfamiliar to me. Books for pre-readers intrigued me the most. One had pictures of faces depicting various emotions, prompting a lesson in naming feelings. One of the books had little holes just the right size for Aella to place individual Cheerios.

Grandma let Aella pour Cheerios into a bowl and walk around with the bowl, eating them as she pleased. Of course, many of the Cheerios also landed on the floor. We helped her to pick them up and proceed with her work of eating and fitting Cheerios in the right places.

A few dishes had accumulated from breakfast, and Grandma decided it was a good time to do them with Aella there. Aella could help. I wondered how, but Aella knew the protocol. Eagerly she went to a stepstool and tried dragging it to the counter by the sink.

During much of dishwashing time, a thin stream of water flowed from the faucet so that Aella could hold objects there and place them onto a towel placed in front of her. Grandma washed the boring dishes but found tools in her drawers that might do interesting things with water.

When Daddy came to pick up Aella, she came up to me, knowing a goodbye would be appropriate, but she refused Grandma’s suggestion to give me a hug. She waved her goodbye and smiled her “Nice to meet you.”

Grandma acknowledged the impossible indulgences a grandma can tolerate that a busy mom or dad cannot. After Aella’s dad picked her up, Grandma had to straighten up a room made chaotic by Aella’s toys. It was worth it for both Aella and me.

Grandma will be a stable center of support for each of her grandchildren as they grow to maturity. She has formed this relationship at the most important age in their cognitive and emotional development.

When I got permission from Marilyn to post this, she wrote, "I do feel privileged to have had so much time with the kids in their early years and have so enjoyed seeing their little brains and personalities take shape."

As an educator of adults, I am fascinated by progress in educating the very youngest. My lesson in it leaves me convinced that my skill level does not rise to the level of pre-school teacher. I admire this work and give it educational priority. It requires patience and skill few possess. Teachers of the very young must see the world through eyes that would disorient most of us.

But grandparents generally get no pecuniary reward. The same needs to be said about child care workers, who also mold minds that will lead the future. Many desperately needed decent pay before the coronavirus hit. On average they made less than $20,000 a year.

Compare their contribution to society with that of Wall Street financiers whose primary focus is to expand wealth and power. By contrast I think of the Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which gives a little tutorial on the role of banks. Today such banks—main street banks that finance businesses and personal accounts—have less clout than what’s called “the big boys.”

To me it seems that workers who do the most essential tasks get the least money and those who do the least good for society make the most. I hope—and I sense my hope rising in others—that the coronavirus pandemic will upend the status quo of immense injustice and inequity.

To prevent indignation from taking over, I rest my mind and heart in vignettes like Aella with her grandma and generous acts springing out of the pandemic.


Larry Schug said…
As a person who spent his entire life employed doing manual labor, I appreciate very much what you have to say about the disparity between workers like me and "the big boys". One small thing I've taken to doing lately is personally thanking the clerks and cashiers I encounter at every business for putting themselves on the line just so I can buy a newspaper or a doughnut or anything else I might require. And they do their work for little compensation-a completely unjust system in which the person who does the labor gets the smallest share of the reward and is judged by what they do as menial, thereby labeling them as somehow "lesser", though they are truly brave and heroic people. What people don't realize is that in our society all work is service work. We serve each other in a myriad of ways. ALL work is important, period. Just think about how important are the folks who mop the floors, clean the windows, empty the waste baskets, sort the recycling and sanitize every surface we're likely to encounter during the current crisis in which we find ourselves. They are courageous and important. Think about leaving them a tip just as you would a server at a restaurant. At least, thank them and let them know you appreciate what they do for you. All of us are constantly being served by someone and we ourselves are servers.
Being grateful and gracious is incumbent on all of us these days

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