Adventures in Grandparenting: Remember the Fun

Margo Bartlett
Margo Bartlett

Raising children requires energy. You know this, I know this. It has to do with having babies and then having the babies—you can't drop them back at the hospital whenever you need a break, a nap or a two-week vacation.

Not that you'd want to, of course. Though you might be swaying with exhaustion, adoring that baby is your default setting from now on, through diapers and around-the-clock feedings and tantrums in the library and night terrors and homework and hard times in middle school to moving a year's worth of stuff up to the fourth floor of the dorm.

Of course, the rest of your life doesn't stop while all this is going on. You still have your career, your education and your aspirations. You still have bills and leaking toilets and engine mount replacement costs. You have a mortgage or rent payments and day care fees and emergencies. You have friends to see and books to read and classes to take and invitations to your cousin's wedding in Sacramento. Through it all, you're trying every minute to raise your children to be wise, responsible, caring, unselfish adults.

If I had made a guess when my daughters were small as to when life might be more restful, I'd have said maybe when we have grandchildren. We'll read books and draw pictures and play with toys while their parents handle the heavy work.

But here is what we discovered, very soon after our first grandchild was born: Grandparenting is exhausting, too. Utterly, mysteriously exhausting.

“Why are we sotired?” we'd say, driving home after spending a mere two hours with one tiny infant. The baby wasn't running us ragged. He wasn't running at all. He was resting in place, observing us thoughtfully and maybe putting his foot in his mouth. We could only conclude it was our own adrenaline on high alert, constantly surveying for possible threats: choking hazards! Splinters! Wet diapers! Rashes! No wonder we went home unraveled.

Now it's several years later, and here we are, on the floor, holding a blue truck or a small plastic dog. We have been assigned these items by a grandchild, who is now telling us exactly what we may and may not do with them. We suspect we have been given toys not currently enjoying A-list status, but who cares? I'll gladly play the nonspeaking part of the monkey named Bobo Bunny if doing so will buy me half an hour with Bobo's owner.

A while back, our granddaughter proposed we play house. She was the mama, I was the dada and her grandfather was the sister. Each time Dada and Sister ad-libbed a line, Mama smacked them down. Only when we realized that ours were walk-on roles, requiring nothing but agreement with every plot point, could the game proceed.

The daughter of my cousin spoke not long ago at her grandmother's funeral. She had three brothers and many cousins, she said, but only her grandmother was always willing to go to the basement with her, to play a bowling game involving plastic milk bottles. Her grandmother—my aunt—bowled tirelessly with her, and that's what she remembers.

I heard this young woman speak, and thought about my own grandchildren. Soon they'll race through the house, jingling car keys and calling out their goodbyes. When the door slams and silence descends, I hope they'll remember what I remember, what my cousin's daughter remembers. I hope they'll remember the fun.

Margo Bartlett and her husband have two daughters, two sons-in-law, three grandchildren and two car seats. She also writes theJust Thinking column for ThisWeek Community News. You can reach her at