grandparents who’d rather

Ican’t delete him from my cell phone. I haven’t tried to dial the number because it would be sad to hear a disconnected recording. I already know the number won’t work, or maybe someone else will answer, a young mother, frenzied and breathless. I’d want to hear him, and I wouldn’t have anything to say. I’d just listen, then wait for her to hang up.

His, theirs, was the second phone number I memorized, the one I could always dial and expect an answer. Because as far as I knew, other than visiting me, my paternal grandfather, and his beloved wife, my grandmother, only left the house to buy groceries and yarn on Austin Street. Occasionally, they’d slip beyond Forest Hills in search of puffy liquid stickers for my collection.

My father’s parents loved me in a swollen way—in the call collect anytime way in which we all want to be adored. I treasure most how they loved me for simply being born. For being theirs. I didn’t need witty banter, no awards of recognition, no proof. I was their conversation with strangers, their brag. They were proud of the way I slept. All I could offer in return was me.  A call, a visit, a letter. We should all be loved and love like that.

klein clan

My maternal grandparents are the other kind, the type who’d rather. Rather dance, rather fix a few rounds of margaritas, rather love from a distance. I get it: I’ve wiped my fair share of asses; I’m done. Instead I’ll play with you when you’re dressed in your Sundays, and how nice, your parents already gave you a bath. Then, I’ll go keep my plans and talk about you as if you’re news. "The grandchildren are visiting." Saying it aloud is like a declaration against lonliness. Some grandparents simply don’t love in the details. They love in setting up an easel and handing over a box of crayons as they read a magazine.

Truth: as a mother, I am sometimes that kind of grandparent to my children. I want to get things done, and sitting still knowing all that I’d like to do, makes me restless sometimes. I just have that gene—my mother’s "roadrunner gene." But when I’m aware that I’m doing it, not slowing down and paying attention, I stop and realize these are the details I’m going to miss one day.

There’s something so storybook about the love between a grandparent and their grandchild, so romantic about the way mine made me feel that I was the most important person in their lives, because if it were a movie, Grandma would be knocking down walls and getting vaginal rejuvenation. In a movie, she’d create a rich life, full to the gunwales with friends and a frenzied schedule, having her grandchildren rearrange their schedules to accommodate her film therapy class. She’d have spent a home life with a spatula in hand, and now, with an empty nest, she’d be ready to fly, not wanting to fill it again with the next generation.

There are grandparents like this, with their own vibrant lives, stuffed with curiosity, carpe diem-ing their way through happy hours, dinner parties, and line dancing. But ask them to be a guardian in your will, and they’ll politely decline. Or, they’ll say, "Of course!" But if the shit came down, they’d look for a loophole. They’ve already been there, wiped that. As far as they’re concerned, their life is theirs again. To live the life they’d always imagined, the one they wish they had more of in their parent-teacher conference life, the one spent running errands, driving to ballet–a life of carpooling and compromise. They would rather live it than watch someone else living it for the first time. They’d rather do and go than stay and be.

I genuinely wonder which I’ll be. I know there’s a loaded "wrong" when we think of the grandparents who’d rather. That they should know by now what matters in life: family, a legacy, spending our time sharing our wisdom. Ideally you can have it all, can have an abundance of girlfriend grandmother getaways and also be the first call when there’s news, good or bad, in your grandchild’s life. I don’t know which is more important because I haven’t lived it yet.

A lot of elderly people get depressed because they lose their curiosity. They’ve outlived their friends, their rabbi, and the family doesn’t get together every Sunday anymore. So they live life waiting, not trying. They live life for the collect calls, meddling even when they know they shouldn’t, because it gives them something to do.

Right now, as a mother, as a granddaughter, as a mother with children who have grandparents, I’m siding with the "you are my brag because you were born" as being what matters most. It all goes by so fast. You have to squeeze it, and lick up every moment by paying attention.



  1. My paternal grandparents were the same as yours, as were my maternal grandparents. As I’ve gotten older though and my paternal grandmother passed away some years ago. I remember when she passed… I couldn’t believe it. I had been there when it happened. It had taken days. My Grammy came and got me and my sister (she had not actually been THERE when it happened, but moments later) and took us to taco bell to get some food. She was then going to take us school supply shopping. I remember thinking that none of it really mattered. I only had one grandmother. How is this possible? I remember thinking. But my Grammy was right there when I needed her and continues to do so today. Going from a rather grandmother, to a I’m just glad you were born grandmother. Loved the post

  2. I have never commented on one of your posts before, but as soon as I saw your first line I felt tears come into my eyes. My maternal grandfather (one who loved in a swollen way) passed away over 5 years ago and I still cannot bring myself to remove his number. I have had three cell phones since then and the number gets passed from one to the next, even as I clear out old friends, ex boyfriends, etc, with frequency. I will never call the number, either, but I’ll also never delete it…

  3. great entry! i had a set of both as well. and see my folks and the in-laws settling into the “i’d rathers.” it makes me sad for my kiddos but your point on how even as parents we begin to fall into the same “mode” hits home. thanks for the reminder. here’s to seeking balance!

  4. Oh my goodness, I didn’t realize until this picture, how much Abbie resembles her grandfather!! I think it’s your father…on the right in the picture above?? Anyway, Abbie has his eyes, beautiful :)

  5. Not to get all self-promoting here, but I blogged recently about women’s writing and why critics seem to applaud writing on subjects like war over things like marriage and motherhood. A commenter suggested I was ghetto-ising. Not sure how to take that….but the point I’m trying to make is you write ‘the life we lead’ so well. And I’m so very glad you do it.

  6. great blog post. like other readers, it put a tear in my eye. my grandfather passed away suddenly 5 months ago. we were extremely close and i think about him each and every day. my cell phone still says ‘gma/gpa home’ and ‘gma/gpa cell’ as it will continue to. he was also one of my facebook friends as he will also continue to be. a cool grandpa at 87 yrs old! always up to speed with technology.

  7. Neither of my grandparents were involved, but my parents were wonderful with my children and I hope I learned from them. My grandchildren have both kinds – my husband and I love the hands on stuff. We change diapers and give baths and take them on vacation. Their other grandparents take them for an hour and bring back home. I think it is their loss – when my children were small I didn’t always have the time or patience to do the things I can do with the grands and I love it!

  8. I’ve pondered the same question – what kind of grandma will I be. As much as I adore (nearly worship) them, I won’t be like my mom is, or like my sister will be. They are the crayons, salt clay, painting the deck together, making taffy, learning to crochet together kind. Nor will I be the stuffy, mean, critical or overbearing kind. But, as circumstances are currently unfolding, I’ll be the happy, content, single, working, traveling kind. The one who gets to pop in and bring gifts from exotic places and swoop in for hugs and special moments, but not signed up for barfed on shirts or snot. I hate snot.

    I hope my eventual cottage on the beach will be a place of joy, contentment and respite for my grand kids (and kids) when life is overwhelming. A place they can come to and stroll on the beach, read a juicy book, look at the stars, inhale the fragrance of peace, sip a warm drink, and fall asleep knowing they are loved and cherished.

    On the other hand – having planned my life out in its entirety repeatedly, and never, ever having it go the way I envisioned, I hate to write with too much conviction what I will be and won’t be. I just hope I have several years to wait. Several. (Darlings…are you listening?)

  9. We had one of each, also. But instead of splitting maternal verses paternal, our split was grandma verses grandpa.

    At the end of every visit to my husband’s family cottage, my mother and father-in-law would stand, arm in arm, waving good-bye. We all would wave and wave and give a final toot on the car horn when we could no longer see one another.

    The last thing we could see was Grandma’s eyes, filled with tears. You could almost see her heart ache. Grandpa, on the other hand, was grinning ear-to-ear, knowing that he could reclaim his clean and quiet house and his afternoon nap in his barcalounger.

    My husband said looking back at them was like looking at a mask;

    Comedy and Tragedy.

    Denise Burks

  10. Stephanie, this post was so moving. It made me cry. My Mommom and Pops were just like your paternal grandparents. They passed away nine months apart during my senior year of high school. For awhile, I would call their answering machine–just to hear my Pops’s voice on the other end. Abigail and Lucas are so fortunate to have two sets of grandparents and two wonderful parents to love them in a “swollen way.” :)

    P.S. Love the newest video by the way! They’re growing up so fast!

  11. My grandmother passed away in August 2008 and almost a month to the day later I upgraded my phone to a Blackberry and was totally unable to delete her number. It’s still in my phone today and I don’t ever want to take it out.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.