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February may be the shortest month of the year, but with school break parked between Tu B’Shevat and George Washington’s birthday, it can feel a lot longer.
Of course, who wouldn’t want the grandkids to come for a visit? Who wouldn’t crave the QT (that’s Quality Time, folks), the long, lazy days together to indulge in the kinds of fun everyone’s usually in too big a hurry to stop and enjoy?
Of course, they could bring their parents. But, assuming your grandkids are old enough to visit on their own, the opportunity to grow your relationship without the interference of their parents is especially priceless. But it can also require some deft strategic thinking.
I recall well a powerful lesson I learned from our son-in-law (SIL) many years ago when our oldest grandson was not quite two-years-old. I stood in their kitchen, cringing at the prospect of having to tell the little guy he couldn’t climb up on a chair to reach some longed-for but out-of-reach treat on a shelf. It was, I could see with my keen Bubbe Vision, an accident simply waiting to happen, one that had the potential of knocking out those cute little front teeth.
“You know,” said the SIL in question who apparently can read minds. “If you’re going to spend a lot of time with him, you’re going to have to get used to saying ‘no.’”
“I know,” I said in a voice somewhere between a sigh and a whimper. “But ‘no’ feels like a betrayal of my Bubbe creed.” That creed being the certainty that this grandchild is so close to perfection that “no” has dropped right out of my vocabulary. Note to grandparents who were once parents of young kids: Notice you never suffered such hesitancies when you were raising your kids? Back then the word “no” formed the backbone of our entire parenting philosophy.
That’s exactly why the tips for surviving February vacation with the grandkids (without having to send them home to their parents with a tattoo picked up while you were busy ordering Disney World tickets) have got to start with the following:
Forge a united front. Thatmeans a phone conversation with the parents out of the kids’ earshot well and before the arrival. This way, if they have rules at home (say, for instance, no use of certain vocabulary, no dislocating their brother’s shoulder, no bonfires in the dumpster), you can be consistent when they’re staying with you. This also avoids the infamous ploy, “But my parents let me…” (fill in the blank, possibly “skateboard down the Interstate.”)
Let the kids know the lay of the land. As soon as they arrive (and the parking lot of the airport is none too soon), let them know that you are thrilled they’ve opted to spend their vacation with you and you have so many wonderful adventures planned. But they will have to agree from the outset to certain simple-but-basic rules. And no piercings, tattoos or other bodily alterations is certainly high on the list.
Monitor the monitor. Not to mention the TV and other hi-tech landmines. TV and the Internet sure can be educational. Just look at those baboons cavorting in the wild. But, between Internet sites and certain cable offerings, there’s a fair amount of depravity on the air. And if they bank on you being too visually impaired or just too naïve to suspect it’s not exactly “Wild Kingdom” they’re watching, you’ll have to pay closer attention.
Deal with the “Do I have to go’s?” It’s no shock that, on occasion, a wonderful bonding experience by you may not always strike the grandkids’ fancy. The theater, Shabbat services, and the local art museum are likely sources of contention. One suggestion: Take turns choosing. On their day you’ll be good-naturedly taking them to the water park. On your day it’s the new cubism retrospective or Shabbat morning services. Sulking? I don’t see any sulking. Have some more rugelach, kid.
Bell the cat. If you do agree to independent outings (depending of course whether the grandchild is 7 or 16 and how much trust their past behavior inspires in you), make it clear how far they can wander and where, and how often you need them to check in. Hint: make sure their cell phone has plenty of juice to avoid the “dead battery” excuse.
With that out of the way, I know you’ll have an absolutely wonderful time. You’ll enjoy new adventures together and regale them with stories—of course they’re true!—about when you were their age. You’ll go out for ice cream even when you’re pooped. You’ll take tons of pictures. And you won’t be surprised if you find yourself needing a vacation of your own when they leave—and looking forward to next February break.
Deborah Fineblum Raub plies the trades of writer, editor, “ghost-blogger,” life story coach and New Age Bubbe from her home in Sharon. MA. Write to her at email@example.com.