After 22 hours over the course of a weekend with four grandchildren in the van, one gains an appreciation for the rigors of parenting day in and day out – the noise, the needs, the sibling rivalry, etc. Being in an enclosed space for that many hours, you start to remember how good a parent can get at using his or her arm behind the seat to find a toy or snack to pacify a crying child or solve some other problem, all the time keeping both eyes on the road. You begin to understand why crayons and books are lost in the cavern of the van and peanut butter is smeared on car seats. Cleaning it out at the end of each day? Often too tired.
Two year-long deployments, monthly weekends alone and two-week annual National Guard training has seasoned our daughter, helped her to find ways to do it alone. Parenting, whether alone at times, or all the time, or whether with a spouse, is generally done when a person is young. Since the beginning of time, parents have carried out their responsibilities, but now that I am older I look at what it takes and get tired.
The reason for our weekend trek as we dodged snowstorms and nasty roads; my mother-in-law was celebrating 90 years on this earth. Still living alone in northern Minnesota, she and several others in the family had planned to walk and run a Hot Chocolate 5K in Minnesota, followed by a surprise party with extended family and friends coming to wish her well. One by one the 70 people planning to attend opted out of a white-knuckle drive through blizzard conditions to be at the party, and all the 5K participants used common sense and reason and decided against the trek. In the end, all her children and some of the grandchildren made it to enjoy a day together in the midst of a good old Minnesota snowstorm.
She raised four children herself, understanding what it takes to provide for a family, emotionally, spiritually and financially and how to deal with peanut butter in the car. She has been an example for us in marriage, in her faith, and in widowhood, managing alone now for more than 20 years. She has been an inspiration to her grandchildren as well, taking time to listen to them, offer advice, play games with them and watch their activity on Facebook.
So as I look at one in the generation before me, my mother-in-law, and look at another in the generation after me, my daughter, I stand amazed, and realize each stage in life brings with it opportunities to impact the lives of children.
I know in many cases there are people who are raising their grandchildren for one reason or another, and I believe God must give them an extra measure of strength for each day. Not in that situation myself, I do know that as a grandparent, I can still be of service to our daughter and sons as they parent the next generation. With each generation come new challenges, new pitfalls for children as they are growing up, and I know that grandparents can help them to meet the challenges and avoid the pitfalls.
Though our energy may not be what it was 30 years ago, we can offer time. Whether it be with visits or FaceTime or cards in the mail, I think we can give encouragement and provide a listening ear during a time when parents are busy just making life happen for their children. As I marvel at my daughter and mother-in-law doing living life in the stage they are in, I am more resolute to do the same.