Here in Geezerville, it can be hazardous to put too much faith in our expectations. We visualize doing at 75 what we’ve mastered at 65, we assume we’ll live out our days in our own home, we imagine relationships coalescing and enduring until we check out. But things change and disappointments loom. Sometimes, it’s just hubris that does us in; in other cases, it’s all about clinging to what is.
I was considering this last Friday while jogging around the block with my grandson, who’s careening toward his second birthday, and it occurred to me that my long-striding days are pretty much over. In a couple of years, I may not be able to catch The Little Guy.
Besides, later this week he’ll be 1,500 miles away, happily ensconced with his dad and mom in Southern California. I’m not sure when we’ll next be able to race.
My neighbor Joe likes to say of his grandkids, “It’s nice to see them come and it’s nice to see them go.” There’s certainly some truth to that, but I’m finding this grandpa thing to be a bit more complicated. When TLG was an infant, he was as inscrutable as any other newborn. We awaited the child that would emerge from that cocoon. Our Friday afternoon visits have given us an opportunity to watch as he grew into his toddler persona — sweet, combative, curious, and demanding.
At the same time, I’ve observed my own transition from a nondescript stranger to a guy named “Da!” It’s hard for me to describe the joy that arises when TLG requests my assistance with a tap on the leg or demands my presence in a tower-building project by pointing emphatically to the floor. These are gestures so endearing, yet so insistent, that I can’t help but comply. In the midst of it, I begin to realize how much I miss those days when our own kids needed my help.
Part of the appeal, of course, is the way toddlers permit geezers to return, if temporarily, to their own childhood. TLG invites me to revisit my youth: chasing him around the house, hide-and-seeking behind the chairs in the living room, contorting our faces to spark a giggle-fest at the dinner table.
And then there are moments when he’s completely focused on a task, and I’m riveted by his improbable, intense concentration — seized by the ineffable magic of learning. I’m sure I felt the same way when our own kids found that moment, but so much time has passed that it seems completely fresh.
It’s not all joy and wonder, though. I took TLG to the zoo a couple of weeks ago and, despite his obvious excitement about the trip, the afternoon was a grind. He was clingy and distracted, uninterested in the animals; we lingered for barely an hour. Back at our place, he played lethargically and collapsed into a long nap. It reminded me that, as TLG grows, our relationship will change.
My older brothers often complain that their own grandchildren barely acknowledge them as the years accumulate. As one of them mentioned recently, “He comes into the house with his iPad and says, ‘Papa, what’s your password?’ And that’s about it.”
Writing in the New York Times, Paula Span recounts her own challenges as her granddaughter moved beyond toddlerdom. “The time comes in any relationship when the initial infatuation dampens a bit,” she notes. “The beloved’s behavior gets a bit annoying; the sense that you’re in accord on everything begins to erode. You find yourself sparring about things that never used to divide you.”
TLG and I haven’t reached that point yet, but I wonder how the distance between us will erode the connection we’ve forged. FaceTime sessions on tiny smartphone screens are seldom revelatory; he may not even remember what “Da” looks like.
And that’s going to have to be OK. Maybe it’s an opportunity to acknowledge the inevitability of change, a chance to ratchet back my expectations of the ideal. I think even TLG has a sense of this transition — and the need to keep things in perspective. When his mom came to pick him up on Friday and we were fumbling our farewells, a familiar aroma emanated from his diaper. “Here ya go, Granddad,” she said, handing him over with a laugh.
I cleaned him up — the last diaper change for the foreseeable future — and sent him scurrying back to his mom. It was, it occurs to me now, the perfect way to say goodbye.