Writing from the Heart: Grandparents’ love

Being a grandparent is far from being a parent, allowing a grandchild to be themselves.


The difference between parenting and grandparenting is as wide a gap as a farmer is from an ear of corn.

My grandmother reached just above my waist. It’s true I am taller than most, but she was really small. She had a perpetual twinkle and when my sister and I would tease her (which for some odd reason we did often), she would laugh and her belly would do that thing you see in cartoons of jolly people. She was adorable. She tried to hide the fact that she was suffering from severe arthritis, but you could see it in the way she held her hands and rubbed her fingers. Her mantra, repeated constantly in Yiddish, was “honish kan coyach” — I have no strength. And she didn’t. Not in her body, anyway. But her intuition was a powerhouse. Somehow she knew to gather my mother, age 11, and my uncle, age 7, and convince her husband to leave Germany before the war.

My grandfather, also an adorable being, owned a tiny toy store in a poor immigrant section of Hartford, Conn. He got up at 6 every morning, carried the same lunch (rye bread slathered with about an inch of Land O’Lakes butter) in wax paper, took two buses, and opened the shop promptly at 9 am.

As youngsters, we worked in his store on Saturdays and after school. When I was 12, a lady came in and asked, “Do you sell toboggans?” and my grandfather, without skipping a beat, answered in his broken English “everytinks a bahggin.” I remember being embarrassed. But when I was all grown up, teaching high school in San Diego, he wrote me a letter consisting of one long word; venyougonagitmerit? Translation: When you gonna get married? My embarrassment had already melted into deep respect and extreme love.

Now it’s my turn. I’m a grandparent, that magical role you hear will change your life (and it does) and finally gives unconditional love its actual meaning.

My husband and I just came back from Taos, New Mexico, where we took our 13-year-old grandson snowboarding. Why was it perfect? For one thing: we are not his parents. My friend Gerry jokes that the reason grandparents and grandkids get along so well is that they have a common enemy. Maybe that’s true for some, but I think it’s because as grandparents we don’t have the “I’ll love you if you play the flute. I’ll love you if you go to Harvard.” There’s no if. There’s simply I’ll love you.

As a mom, I’m afraid I always had an agenda. I took my job seriously. And my job was to teach, to lead, to lecture, to guide, to decide, to pick, to choose, to control, to lead, to know everything.

I thought you could hand self-esteem to your kid like so many Legos in a tidy box, so when they showed me a drawing they had made, I acted with such hyperbolic fervor you would have thought they had solved cold fusion in the pantry. It wasn’t until they were already in college that I read Haim Ginott’s book “Between Parent and Child,” explaining that it isn’t your compliments they thrive on. It’s your recognition in some detail. Look at the drawing, he instructed, and find something specific and comment as in: “Wow, that chimney looks just like the chimney at my best friend’s house.”

I remember wanting my older son to be on a swim team. He was a good swimmer but had no interest in swimming competitively. I drove him to swim meets. I screamed in the bleachers, I found the best coach. I bought him the best goggles and I got the shelf ready for my…I mean his, I mean our, olympic gold medal. But it was my dream. Not his.

Our trip to New Mexico had all the ingredients of a travel nightmare. We were delayed by almost two days, stranded in the airport, then we had to sleep in a lobby of a hotel waiting for a room to open up. We Ubered into the actual city of Baltimore, because the child said “We’re in Baltimore we have to have crab cakes.” (How does a 13-year-old know about Baltimore and crabcakes?) But of course we went because we were taking our cues from the teen travel guide.

It turned out to be the absolute best trip ever.

But when we got home, exhausted, because traveling is exhausting, I thought about all we had done physically and financially and psychologically.

And I said to my husband, the last thing Gramma and Pappy would have done for me was schlep halfway across the country, spend their retirement savings on lift tickets, and eat in a five-star restaurant (on no sleep), order the deluxe platter of crabcakes, king crab legs, shrimp, lobster, clams, mussels, and butter-soaked new red potatoes and not be upset at the size of the leftover waste. No they wouldn’t have done any of those things. Not one.

But what they did do was let me be me. They didn’t talk. They listened. They didn’t judge, they watched. They weren’t attached (as my teacher Ram Dass said) to the fruit of their actions. All they did was love me.

Now because of what they modeled, I get the best gift a grandmother can get. Because who my boy is becoming is not coming from my need and it isnt my job to make anything happen, I get the honor to watch, to listen, to not judge, and to support and see who my grandbaby actually is.

Take a trip with a grandchild. The journey is better than a year of therapy. And just about the same price.