How Did My Strict Parents Turn into These Cool Grandparents?
This weekend, I drove my daughter down to visit her grandparents. My brother dropped his daughters off and the cousins planned to enjoy their first ever slumber party together. I don’t know who was more excited: my daughter, or her doting grandparents.
The girls had a fantastic, joy-filled weekend together. My mother, always the consummate chef, prepared a spread of sweet and savory snacks and delicious meals at every hour. There were endless mugs of hot cocoa and treats. No gastronomical wish went unsatisfied.
When the girls demanded a classic English tea party, Mother ransacked the kitchen cabinets to locate beautiful and delicate china, unused since the 1970s, to serve them fine tea and chocolate-covered biscuits. The tea poured freely and the girls left behind an inordinate mess of crumbs as they skipped around the living room and pretended to speak with heavy English accents.
Mother laughed until her belly hurt. Father relished in the girls’ affection as each one made a pit stop to his recliner chair, leaving a trail of crumbs and sticky gooey handprints all over the leather cushions.
“Come give Grandpa another hug!” he cried. “I love you all!” The sheer joy on his face is undeniably my favorite expression it ever held. There were shrieks that hit decibels I swear could break the windows; and yet, my parents never once complained or asked them to settle down. Not a single “hush.”
Throughout the entire weekend, toys, clothes, art supplies, and hair accessories covered the floors of my parents’ usually-clutter free home. But neither my mother, nor my father, ever uttered a disapproving word or suggested the mess be cleaned.
“Have fun, my beautiful angels!” Mother said as the girls ran around in circles, tumbling to the floor. “This is the best time you could ever give your grandma!” She joined their pillow fights, contributed to the high-pitched squeals and uncontrollable giggles. It was bliss I had rarely, if ever, seen in my mother. She breathed it all in.
What happened to my parents? To be clear, I am truly pleased by their newfound lax attitude. Children should be given space to experience unfettered joy, even at the expense of a tidy home. But I admit that I’m not only perplexed, I am envious.
The truth is, I don’t recognize this carefree couple. What has transpired over the past 20 years is baffling. What happened to my sensitive father? The one who taught me the phrase “noise pollution?” I don’t remember a weekend during childhood when my father did not require us all to keep a silent home while he caught up on much-needed sleep. I blame my own sensitivity to loud noises on this aspect of my upbringing. Our family of four lived a quiet, calm, clutter-free lifestyle. As a result (reclining on the proverbial therapist’s couch) I have a mini-panic attack if my own home becomes overrun by tiny people and their messiness! I work on it everyday. Breathe. It's just stuff. It’s going to be all right.
As a young child, when friends came over for playdates, I felt a wave of anxiety when the noise level increased. And we obeyed the rule to the letter that toys and personal belongings be kept in our bedrooms only. Shared spaces were off limits for little people possessions.
“Quiet!” Mother would say. “You are being too loud! Please, can you lower your voices?” Or, “Did you clean your room? Please keep your desk organized and your clothes neat in the drawers of your dressers.”
But, really, I’m happy for this transformation. I’m happy that my own daughter can freely run around with her cousins, yell and scream to their hearts’ content, and allow the grandparents to tidy after them. How lucky to be a kid!
There is a tinge of jealousy. Maybe I’m remembering it wrong? Maybe it’s selective memory. We have a way of sweeping over particular reminiscences to suit our own perception of childhood as a way to explain why we turned out the way we did.
In our 20s, we enter the stage of parent blaming. Many of us begin therapy to commiserate and release anger about where and how our parents failed us. But by our 30s, when our own families are formed, we embark on humanizing our parents and accept that perhaps they failed in some ways, but recognize that they were doing the best they could with what they had in their own arsenal.
For my own parents, a life of political uncertainty as they fled their own homeland most definitely gave way to a hyper-organized, control-your-environment mentality. When external forces are in a state of disarray, we seek to control what we can.
My parents are more patient and carefree than I ever recall them being when they were just my parents. As grandparents, an infinite amount of tolerance now exists and the crusade to create order has ended. The benefactors of this transformation are the grandchildren.
Maybe I can benefit, too. I appreciate how far my parents traveled to arrive at this place of serenity and patience. Witnessing their transformation softens the perception of my own history, and gives way to a new brand of respect for the parents who can now rest and bask in their family’s love.
How have your parents changed since becoming grandparents? Share your stories with us!
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