The Importance of Doting on Grandkids

My husband and I are taking our granddaughter to a weeklong ballet camp.

I say “ballet camp,” as if she's hiking in pointe shoes and canoeing on Swan Lake, when in fact she's probably learning basic positions along with her fellow campers, all of them outfitted in pale pink leotards and pink satin shoes.

This grandchild's first dance class taught her mostly to lie on the floor before running out of the studio altogether, but she was younger then and had a teacher who acted as if her students were seasoned members of the corps de ballet instead of preschoolers who mostly wanted to lick the mirrors.

My granddaughter is older now and has taken other dance classes since then. While I've yet to see her perform, I'm sure she has talent, because she's light on her feet, is a willing learner and who am I kidding, I'm her grandmother. Of course I think she has talent! Or spirit, anyway. Or maybe just nerve. The point is, I approve of her, no matter how she dances.

When she and her same-age cousin were babies, I was like a star-struck teenager. I couldn't take my eyes off them. I carried out entire conversations with their parents while gazing like one besotted at the sleeping infants. When the babies were just out of sight I found myself craning my neck, peering around corners and sometimes, I suspect, walking away mid-conversation. This surprised me, because I think of myself as a pragmatic, down-to-earth type.

At least I am consistent. A year ago, another grandson joined the family and I've been tracking him like a cartoon character following a beckoning aroma. You might think I'd be used to babies by now, but I'm as agog as ever.

No one would accuse me of being disenchanted with the older children, either. What happened at breakfast, or why they have a Band-Aid, or what they told the new girl at school (“I asked if she wanted to get married,” my grandson reported matter-of-factly when his parents asked if he'd been friendly to a newcomer—all of it, every word is of deep, abiding interest to me. I can't imagine it will ever be otherwise.

During my four years as a grandmother, I've developed a sort of mission statement about grandparenting in general. I haven't worked out the precise wording yet, but roughly, it is this: “Our adoration may be used for everyone's benefit.”

Applied liberally, grandparents can be many things—caretakers, teachers, confidants, pals—while simultaneously offering relief and validation to the grandchildren's loving but often exhausted, perhaps even exasperated, parents. The most important role, however, has little to do with crawling under the dining room table to camp out, or reading the same book four times in succession or playing hide and seek your granddaughter's way (she tells you where she'll be hiding). A grandparent's most important assignment is to be absolutely crazy about the grandchildren, period.

Sure, grandparents can share life skills and take the grandchildren to Europe and the zoo and shoe shopping, but their most valuable contribution is an indefatigable interest in the grandchildren themselves. Every child deserves loving, supportive parents; for a child also to have grandparents who want to know—really want to know—pretty much anything the child cares to share is a bonus whose value cannot be overstated. I'm glad to award that bonus to my grandchildren. Just try to stop me.

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.