Babysitting Game Plan

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

I expect to have grandchildren someday, and I've already worked out what I will do when I babysit them: Play.

I had a grandmother who liked to play. She played cards and Chinese checkers, and the cool thing was she didn't let us win. She was competitive, which we learned to love because it made beating her all the sweeter.

I will also follow her lead in displaying ungrandmotherly (or -fatherly, in my case) behavior.

My grandmother looked like the little old Italian woman she was, but she liked to cut loose in unexpected ways.

For example, at picnics she liked to spit watermelon seeds. If the mood struck her, she would just rear back and let fly with a seed for the sheer fun of it, knowing full well that the kids would immediately imitate her.

Our parents disapproved, but what were they going to do? Yell at Grandma? This taught me that age has its privileges. I look forward to spitting watermelon seeds, grandchildren or not, when I get sufficiently up in years to be excused for eccentric behavior.

I probably won't buy my grandchildren too many toys. My grandmother didn't, which meant we had to play with her toys - the cards, the checkers, the jigsaw puzzles - when we went to her house.

I see the wisdom in this now. You don't want the toy to overshadow the relationship. So you won't see me handing a 6-year-old a video game because that would immediately make me less interesting than the toy. We're playing what I want to play. The kid will come along, just as I did at that age, because kids want adult attention.

Not that my grandmother eschewed electronic diversions. I developed a lifelong "Jeopardy" habit from being babysat by her. This was back in the days when Art Fleming was the host, and the show was on in the late morning.

My grandmother didn't watch TV halfheartedly. She got into it, shouting at the set and cheering me on when I came up with a right answer. It was a great way to work up an appetite for lunch.

She was also a lot of fun to watch professional wrestling with. She'd yell at the villains and wince when the heroes got stomped and just generally demonstrate that TV-watching need not be a passive experience.

I think I will do likewise with my grandchildren.

Was it all fun and games at Grandma's? Well, no, probably not. She had a lot of grandchildren, and we tried her patience on occasion.

But I remember little of that because the fun parts stand out so prominently all these years later.

So there's another lesson I think I will apply: Have fun with the grandkids while they're young. Eventually they'll grow up, advance well into middle age and be able to remember only certain things about you. Let them be the right things.