Published October 4, 2019 in Warp & Woof
Mira and Her Big Brother
Grandchildren in the World
When they first come into the world, they have no idea what’s in store for them. And it will be a long time before they have much influence over it.
They do, however, influence us, their elders – parents and grandparents. We love them, nurture them, are entertained by them. We raise our offspring in a spirit of optimism. They force it upon us.
Grandchildren, perhaps, even more than the immediately present and demanding children, suffuse that spirit. We must make it good for them for, surely, we have the power!
I have two grandchildren (so far). They are almost four and about 13 months. Big brother Owen is bemused by his baby sister Mira, but his primary concern seems to be to keep her from messing with his creations and toys. She is surprisingly mobile – and curious. He mainly seeks peace.
They both are driven by achievement. Mira is now taking her first steps.
She is tall, can pull herself up on most pieces of furniture in her house and her grandparents’ house. Yes, even walk without holding on. This presents an increasing threat to Owen – whose own achievement motivations require imagination, role playing, and manual dexterity. And he is aware of knowledge – he tells us as much when he says: “I’m almost four, I know lots.” He appears to be contrasting his mammoth achievement portfolio to his baby sister’s trivial level of development.
They each have their own communication styles: Mira by smiling, grasping, pointing, vocalizing (not quite words yet); Owen by his politeness (“Excuse Me!” when he wants to talk) and questions (“Why?” is the eternal question). Both seem to have an urge to share – stories, experiences, objects, food – and both seem to crave attention from adults, including their grandparents! “Play with me, grandpa!” commands Owen, and outstretched arms from Mira indicate she wants to be removed from her highchair.
As grandparents not charged with primary care for these two, we have the best of both worlds. We see them and interact regularly, but then can always send them home with their parents. We welcome them at our house, providing accommodations like training potties, highchairs, car seats, step stools, as the need arises. Plenty of books and toys at our place, too. When we babysit at their house evenings, we’ve learned to nail the bedtime routine for both – as well as feeding them dinner (and playing together). But we’re never required to spend more than a few hours devoted to their care. This is good for septuagenarians.
Even such relatively short stretches, however, remind me of the sense of foreboding we all share these days. That commitment to optimism is being increasingly challenged. What sort of world will they inherit? How much of their future misfortune will be our fault? In extreme cases, it appears that some are foregoing having children altogether. Has guilt and fear consumed them to such an extent?
It’s clear that much of Mira and Owen’s education will be focused on dealing with their own uncertain futures. What will they now need to learn? Instead of success tools, it seems they will be learning mostly survival tools! Even their parents – what will they have to look forward to in their own retirement? Will they even have a retirement? Will lifespans increase, or drastically contract? What about economic resources? Will my two grandchildren grow up conditioned to expect less? It seems the moral choice for them would be … absolutely, yes! Nobody should be allowed to have as much in their future lives as their parents had (or their grandparents). At least, that’s the way it looks from the privileged positions we find ourselves in today.
Perhaps the secret for us grandparents is to spend even more time in direct contact with our grandchildren. Then, we wouldn’t have time to think too hard about these questions. Their wonder at the world – at their own bodies, minds, and capabilities — might consume us as much as it does them. We might discover some of their innocence. Optimism may then begin to climb out of that pit of anxiety and pessimism.