My husband and I recently took our 3-year-old granddaughter to tap-dancing lessons.

My husband and I recently took our 3-year-old granddaughter to tap-dancing lessons.

At the first class, the instructor took attendance and then started right in tap-tap-tapping. Her students gradually realized they were to mimic her, and soon they were clacking their toes, stomping their heels, skipping forward and attempting to skip backward. Skipping backward, it turns out, is crazy-hard.

My granddaughter struggled the most. She was the youngest in the group, and several classes in, when the teacher progressed to tapping in circles, counting, "five, six, seven, eight!" our dancer stopped, one small patent-leather foot in the air, and dropped to the floor, where she lay spread-eagled. Immediately, the girl next to her did the same.

My husband and I observed this display of civil disobedience with mixed feelings. On one hand, the idea had been for our granddaughter to learn a few tap steps. On the other, I felt the urge to fall to the floor myself. "It's a movement," my husband murmured. I certainly hoped so.

Earlier this year, we ferried our 3-year-old grandson to gymnastics classes. As his buddy, I spent nine weeks wondering if I could jump into the large foam pit and make it seem like an accident.

During each session, groups moved from one area to another, led by enthusiastic instructors. "Let's all fly to the red mats!" our spirited leader would cry, flapping her arms, before she outlined the next routine: Crawl through this tunnel, swing on these rings, bounce three times on the trampoline, jump down here and climb up there. My grandson usually started to hurl himself into action after "crawl through."

"Not yet," I'd say into his ear. "You need to hear all the things to do." Sometimes he'd relax and wait. Other times, he'd point to the end of the line. "You stand there," he'd suggest. (Get this woman out of my hair.)

Back to tap lessons. My granddaughter's parents visited the class after we gave them our field report, and my daughter groaned as her daughter attempted backward skipping. I, meanwhile, looked on with delight and cared very little if my granddaughter ever skipped backward.

At that moment, I understood the difference between parents and grandparents. As a parent, I would have felt-have felt-exactly as my daughter did: as if I'd failed my child by not teaching her to skip backward the moment she could walk. As if my own clunky genes were responsible for the weird sideways hopping thing my kid was doing.

As a grandmother, I'm anxiety-free. I can watch this toddler with nothing but the usual adoration and a desire to laugh like a loving hyena. This serenity derives from knowing the future: I worried about a daughter who now runs, lifts weights and does one-handed handstands.

Parents and grandparents are alike in many ways. We all want the children we love to find joy, stay safe and keep their mouths off water fountains. Grandparents, however, are free agents. We care because we want to care. We're crazy about caring. We want to care every second we can, because life is finite and you never know.

Parents care because they have no choice. From the moment they gaze into their newborn's face and realize they would die for this creature - instantly and without conscious thought-parents are prisoners of love.

And all of us - children, parents and grandparents alike - want to jump into big pits of foam from time to time. Is that so wrong?

Margo Bartlett and her husband have two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren and two car seats. She also writes the Just Thinking column for ThisWeek Community News. You can reach her at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.