Grandchildren.

I’m fortunate to have grandchildren. After making a few questionable life decisions, I never envisioned being around that long, to be frank. You get to have all that fun playing with them without any of the residual responsibility. Doing the occasional babysit of them isn’t a problem; more of a pleasure. In a strange way, you see aspects of their long dead ancestors in their form and their behaviour and even in their unformed faces.

They are of course a joy. It’s as simple as that.

In my experience, it’s best not to comment on resemblances because the inevitable argument ensues about which side of the conjoined families their looks come from, but it’s still immutably there in the bone structure of their faces and even in aspects of their nature. It just is. Blood is blood, and they’re of your bloodline.

I used to paint and always preferred doing portraiture, so I always notice bone structure, flesh tones and a person’s features. Their colours and persona is what you’ve got to catch, but also their deeper personality. It was always the interesting and awkward people who’d sit for me. The rest prudently backed off, because they were afraid of what I might paint because I never did vanity portraiture. All you got was what I could see about you.

An oil painting takes two or three days to set. I always gave them the portrait, to dispose of as they wished. What I’d taken from them by stealing their image was being given back. I’d had my pleasure in making it.

I’m economical in my physical gestures, but when you see one of your sons doing one that you remembered only your father doing, and then a grandchild doing the same thing, things start to get a little bit creepy. There’s nothing you can do but surrender to the pleasure of the moment and a pang back at a man you had a lot of love and respect for.

My feeling is there’s a little bit more sliding down that double helix than just hair and eye colour. He’s long gone, down in the ground, gone to dust, but not out of your memory, but I can just imagine his smile of enjoyment at such delightful children. You bastard, I would have so enjoyed watching them meeting you, but it was never to be. I still miss him in moments of contemplation. So many recollections of him are like little occasional ambushes creeping up on my emotions when I’m sitting out in the garden reading in the sunshine and least expecting them.

I don’t do if onlies, but if there was only one, it’d be he never met my woman or my children; I’m sure they’d have enjoyed each other’s company. He’d have had a whale of a time with them. He was that sorta man who’d suspend all unnecessary activities just to be gallant and charming to a woman and have a play with a child. If we’d only had some bacon, we could have bacon and eggs, if only someone could just scrounge us up a couple of eggs.

As ever with children, the more you interact with them, formerly known as playing with them, the more you get back from them. I find having a conversation with them fascinating. When you ask them questions beginning with “why”, you quickly realise they live in a simple but fully formed world. It may not be strictly accurate, but it’s functional and works for them. When it doesn’t, they cry, so you make with the feet to fix it and comfort them. They’ve not yet learnt to dissemble, so the answers you get back can be quite bracing at times. And also tellingly accurate at times.

The oldest one, who’s not yet three, has really advanced verbal skills and is picking up vocabulary at an astonishing rate. We all have to be careful what we say or do in his presence. I look at his parents and think youse two guys need to start strapping on roller skates right now if you want to keep up with this one. He’s that quick.

My wife was one time walking around the garden with him trailing behind her and noticed a fallen apple on the grass. She picked it up and saw the worms had already eaten their way into it. She flung it into a flowerbed to compost down. Nowadays, he picks low hanging apples, scowls at them and then flings them into the nearest flower bed. That’s what you do with apples. Monkey sees, monkey does.

I’ve noticed more than once that he has extraordinarily good eyesight; the visual acuity of a bloody hawk. I was going to open a bottle of Prosecco, which is an increasingly popular alternative to champagne, but decided to hand the job over to my youngest son and positioned my grandson beside him, while they both stood at the open kitchen door facing onto the back garden. I know he delights in being an uncle. He eased the tin foil and then the wiring off it.

He used both thumbs to ease the cork off. It came out with a pleasingly loud explosion and flew up into the air and half the length of a long garden.

It went bang! my grandson exclaimed in delight and hared out into the garden to retrieve the cork. Not a moment’s hesitation, he knew exactly where it had landed. Ever since his second birthday when we bought some fireworks to let off in the garden, he loves things that go bang. He’s already looking forward to his third birthday and the fireworks going bang. Note to self – buy some whizz bangs.

From the time he learnt to walk, he’s never walked. He always jogs or runs. He’s not hyperactive or anything like that. He just hits life at a certain high energy pace. On their last visit here, he suddenly stood stock still in the living room. With him, that gets your attention. He was staring hard. Through the open door of the study, and the large window in the back which gives a fine view of the garden I laid out so many years ago. There are trees I planted at the end of it.

Are you okay, I asked.

There’s a bee in that tree, he announced with a certain studied venom.

Nobody’s eyesight is that good I thought, but at the same time, thought I wouldn’t be taking a bet against him either. He’s probably already had a painful encounter with a bee, so he’s on the watch out for them. Bees and him are not going to have a harmonious lifelong relationship, I feel. It’s a family trait. My father once told be he’d remember a good turn for twenty years, but by Christ, he’d never forget a bad one. That auld cruel and vengeful gene is alive and well in him, so you get in the way of it at your own peril Mr. Bee. The spell is broken and he gets back to racing around the house. Upstairs, downstairs and all around the house.

Theres a flip side to that same coin though. He was in the kitchen sitting up at the table like a king of all he surveyed and finishing up a meal we’d prepared for him. We were in the living room reading.

Grandma? he called into the other room.

Yes?

I love you.

He already had her heart, but that unsolicited declaration definitely sealed the deal.

It’s a funny thing, he walks noisily and somehow flat-footed, just like his mother. It seems hard on your feet to my ear. I always walked carefully and recall my father walking me for the umpteenth time around a pitch and putt golf course. Every hole was a par three. One good whack, a careful chip onto the green and the a well-judged putt towards the hole while someone optimistically lifted the flag out of it. You have a great eye and a good pair of shoulders he’d say, give it a try, but I’d no interest in it.

And stop walking like a bloody huge cat, it worries people – too silent. I said okay but had no idea of how to do otherwise. He knew it, but was just tipping me off to work on doing a bit of klumping around the place. I resolved to do extra homework on my klumping, but never quite managed it. To this day, I still see people jumping out of their skin when I say something; they hadn’t realised I’d even entered the room.

I bought a present for the little man about a year ago and put it away for him until he was a wee bit older. I have a couple of savings boxes that all have a magic trick connected to them. He loves playing with them and I naturally indulge him. They’re cubes with a window in the front. He takes a penny from the pot of coins I keep on the desk especially for him for sweetie raids on the village confectionery shop with his hand clenched about a few coins which he never loses one of, drops it down the slot on top and peers through the window to see if it’s arrived. It never does. That’s the magic bit.

He shakes the box and hears the penny banging around inside it, so he knows it’s in it there somewhere. Clever little bugger. He’ll work out the trick of it in the end. He looks at me to explain it, but I won’t. You’re on your own kiddo. He looks at me and sees that will never happen. It’s stubborn versus stubborn, and I already feel he understands. You have got to earn it. When he does, I’ll give him the box because he’ll have earnt it. In my experience, the carrot works a lot better than the stick when it comes to children, but then again I’ve never hit a child in my life. If you were never beaten as a child, it’s a repulsive idea that you’d ever beat your own children.

I bought him a savings box of his own in the shape of a plain ceramic penguin that came with a paint plan, six different paints and a brush. There was a huge pile of them on sale. Obviously, the store couldn’t shift them, which is a sad comment on creative toys. Sitting with him and opening the tiny pots of paint for him one by one at his command, it soon became obvious that the painting plan just wasn’t going to happen. He went straight off the reservation.

What was also obvious though, was that he was totally enjoying and concentrating very hard on painting his first statuette. The results were interesting to say the least, but since he’s only two and a half, I wasn’t expecting a Goya or Velázquez effort. It was an unexpected pleasure to watch. He wasn’t just splashing on the paint carelessly, but making very careful aimed dabs; staring with unblinking concentration at the results of each brush stroke. He was working to some exact plan that was only in his head. You don’t interrupt that.

The younger brother is just over eight months old and a totally different kettle of fish. Most of the time, he’s very quiet and watchful. He keeps a good eye on what his older brother is up to. When he cries or gets upset, his older brother is invariably the first one to reach him and comfort him. He’s a lucky little fellow because my feeling is he’ll always have someone on overwatch looking out for him. Older brother is very protective of him.

He doesn’t like being held like a baby in your arms. Doesn’t like being sat up in your lap either. What he likes is standing up on your lap. This kiddo is off to a sprinting start into life and temporarily deigns to accept your two forefingers to hang onto while he finds his sea legs. He can now stand with the aid of one forefinger from Mum or Dad. He’s only got two lower fangs, but a game kid doesn’t even begin to describe him. This one dropped from the womb and was locked, loaded and hot to trot from the word go.

He’s worked out how to drag himself upright, so the next move will be furniture walking before he goes full solo. Give it a month, he’ll be walking around the joint. Every time he drags himself upright, he turns to look at you and gives you this cheeky grin. Look what I’ve just done. Monkey.

Unlike his older brother, who’s much more a mellow and studied personality, he can go nuclear in an instant. I think it’s a measure of his personality; in a certain way and strange as it may sound, I kinda think he’s frustrated with being a baby. I have the impression he’ll be walking well before he hits the one year mark.

I always find it amazing how a creation like us, with the longest childhood of any creature on the face of the Earth, came to dominate it. The investment in a child is long-term and massive. I once saw a foal being born and within an hour was walking about the pasture, albeit a bit wobbly. By the next day, it was trotting. No way we could match that.

We see the grand children on a very regular basis and always look forward to their visits. We recently babysat them for the weekend while their parents were away attending a friend’s wedding. They’re at that time of life where all their contemporaries are pairing off and commitments are being made. Lots of wedding invites. So much for the idea that marriage as an institution is dead.

It was hot, humid and the sun was splitting the trees. They were getting too hot, so we stripped them down to disposable nappies, slabbed on the sun protection cream and fitted them out with the silly sun hats. We spent most of the weekend in the garden, under the shade of the trees and feeding them a steady stream of liquids.

Evenings were passed watching The Incredibles for the zillionth time, because both of them appear to be fascinated by it. It’s an animation with a clever script, but the fascination I think is it’s about a family. A Mum, a Dad, their kids and just about getting through various scrapes because of their super powers. There’s no Bambi’s mother being shot dead scene in it, but at times it gets dangerously close to it. That’s the fascination I think.

Listening to my wife reading Beowulf (do not ask) to him as a bedtime story and him totally gripped by it is the perfect example. Strong narrative, good and evil, mystery, monsters, bravery and cowardice in the face of terror. That’s an easy sell to any child who has an adventurous heart. Okay, time for you to sleep. More, more. No, I’ll read more to you tomorrow, I promise. More. Tomorrow. If you want to get a child hungry to read books, you only have to read them decent books.

I used to read to our children in the evenings. The nipper on my lap and the other two perched on either arm of the dad chair. When we got to a particularly tense chapter, they’d gradually slide off the arms and into my lap as well. I never quite noticed that transition. Interest, fascination, comfort, fear, whatever. Over the years, the combined weight of us all broke most of the springs on the underside of the poor bloody armchair. My wife would sling an old pillow under the seat cushion to bolster it back up. By the time we replaced it, it literally (pun intended) had about four layers of pillows under the seat cushion, but at the same time all the kids had become readers.

Turning off the TV for six months also helped.

Looking after one is easy, two is a totally different proposition. We split the job. My wife got to keep tabs on the toddler whom she always has a good play with, and I rode shotgun on the baby because I thought that was a suitably sedentary option. I thought I’d bagged the easier option. How wrong I was. He was a bloody nightmare. He’s not quite crawling yet, but he does what’s called commando crawling; making forward progress on his belly just using his hands and elbows to drag himself along.

Older brother periodically gets down on all fours beside him to demonstrate how proper crawling should be done but he’s not interested. Commando style gets him there but also into some interesting jams. There are a few pics of him floating around the family chat group that have become the enigma variations. How the hell did he get himself jammed into that position? His head is much too big to have got between that item of furniture and the wall. Perhaps he backed into it? In your dreams.

He’d start off crawling before me, do a foot or two and then look up at me to check if I had eyes on him. Yup, I’ve got you. He’d give it a few minutes and then drag himself another few feet and throw a glance over his shoulder at me. You’re still under obbo mate. A pause then another yard gained and another glance at me to check if my attention had wandered. Getting into a battle of wills with an eight month old scamp wasn’t a situation I ever envisaged getting myself into.

I found out I really couldn’t take my eye off him for thirty seconds or he’d have disappeared. It was like dealing with a great escaper determined to make a home run to Switzerland from Stalag Luft III. In the end, I made damn sure all the doors out of the room we were in were closed. He hasn’t figured out how to open a closed door – yet. Give it six months, and he’ll probably be able to pick the bloody locks to get away.

Because I was trying to limit him, he was fighting back with what meager resources were available to him. I recognised that behaviour pattern as well. You’re only eight months old and you’re not supposed to be that bloody stubborn or daring, but he was trying his best to slug back.

Your heart bursts with pride, though you daren’t show it.

Looking after young children is a young person’s game. By the end of the weekend, both my wife and myself were knackered. There’s a slightly guilty feeling of relief when they go home, but in the following few days, the house feels terribly hollow and empty. It’s not a nice feeling.

You start looking forward to their next visit.

©Pointman

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Comments
9 Responses to “Grandchildren.”
  1. cdquarles says:

    Welcome to the greybeard granddad club. You nailed it.

    Like

  2. bilbaoboy says:

    Good read. Thanks!

    Sat on the terrace over looking the garden with a cold beer in the Basque Country in Northern Spain as the sun goes down. Kids are gone, one working in London, two at Uni also in the UK. No grandkids yet!

    Like

  3. babygrandparents says:

    Ah yes – grandchildren. My definition of success. Forget the money.

    Like

  4. JohnTyler says:

    Toddlers never, ever walk.
    They are either sitting or sleeping or running.
    Walking at that age is not an option.
    It’s because their “walking genes” have not yet had a chance to express themselves.

    Like

  5. waterside4 says:

    Mr Pointman, I remarked to ‘her who must be obeyed’ if I knew how much fun grandchildren would be I would have cut out the middle man and got them wholesale.

    Like

  6. John Haddock says:

    Visiting with three of the littl’uns right now … 4, 2 and 1 month.
    Last visit, a month ago, the 2 yr old declared her food was “Hot”, wife tasted and said, “No, nice!”. “Hot”, “Nice”, “Hot”, “Nice”, back and forth they went until the 2yr old started giggling. Finally she tried and ate the food. So yesterday, in a restaurant, the wife gave the 2 yr old some of her food. 2 yr old says “Hot”, wife says “Nice” and off they go. 2yr old has the game down pat and is laughing at every step of her own stubbornness. Precious memories.

    Like

  7. meltemian says:

    “Looking after one is easy, two is a totally different proposition “…….try twin boys!!
    Thank heavens they are nearly nine now.
    The problems are different but at least I don’t have to move so fast.

    Like

  8. philjourdan says:

    Mine are a bit older – 9-11 now (I have a much older one from a daughter who had him very young – a nice young man now!). I remember my youngest grandchild. We had a terrible thunderstorm, and it had knocked over 2 trees in our back yard. One of them t-boned her swing set (her parents lived in an apartment at that time). fortunately, that and a fence was all they took out.

    But she came over to survey the damage, and then asked me how long it would take to “fix it”? LOL! I told her I would get a new one as there was no fixing that one! But just the idea she thought I could fix it made my chest puff out a few extra inches!

    Grandchildren are the gift you get for raising great children.

    Like

  9. Pointman says:

    His latest gem popped out when my wife was playing with him. “I’m not a toy, I’m an adult”. This from a toddler under three.

    Pointy.

    Like

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