When you live a long distance from your grandchildren, they don’t grow up gradually, but rather in spurts and starts between visits. Each time you see them they’re different than you remember: the baby is suddenly a toddler, the grade-schooler is now a gymnast, or a soccer player, or a skater, and the high-schooler is now driving to school.
It can be hard to keep up. When you see them face-to-face only intermittently it takes awhile to know just how to treat each of them appropriately.
And so it was when I spent a few days with my two grandchildren in Ottawa.
As part of my grandparent duties I was assigned to pick up the younger grandson in the afternoon and bring him home for a snack.
On the short drive back to the house I tried to make light conversation:
“So, how was day-care today?”
“It’s NOT day-care, grandpa, it’s pre-school!”
“Okay how was pre-school?”
“Pretty good, except my tummy was a little sick.”
“Oh my, are you all right?”
“Yes but I think you should drive faster because I need to go to the bathroom again.”
With that kind of pressure it only took me a couple of minutes to negotiate the light traffic, punch in the secret code on the garage door, and get him past the happy dog into the bathroom and on to the toilet.
“Whew”, he said, “that was close!”
I left him to his private duties, but kept the door ajar so we could continue to chat if he wanted. After several minutes of rude noises a peaceful silence settled in.
Finally he called out “Grandpa, I like it when you come to visit.”
Ah, just what an old man loves to hear.
“I like it too,” I called back.
Another short silence, then:
“Grandpa, could you come and wipe my bum?”
Oh boy, I thought. It had been about thirty years since I was pressed into fulfilling my share of that particular parental duty and I wasn’t sure I still had the stomach for it. Reluctantly I returned to the bathroom to find him standing bent over waiting on me, his little white bum in the air. With great care and attention to detail I cleaned him up and reorganized his tee shirt into his trousers, good as new.
“Thanks, Grandpa”, he said. “Now we can have a snack.”
As we sat munching on crackers and milk, I thought about how youngsters learn to manoeuvre their way through the many little obstacles that life inevitably presents to them.
“By the way,” I said, “who wipes your bum when you’re at pre-school?”
“Oh Grandpa,” he replied, “don’t you know the rules?”
“What rules? I confessed.
He looked up from his snack incredulously.
“At pre-school you have to wipe your own bum!”
I guess I should have known…