By Bob Ritzema
I recently went for Grandparents Day at my grandchildren’s school. All three of my grandchildren are in the same school for just one year–Calvin in 6th grade, Theo in 2nd grade, and Willa in preschool. Next year, Calvin will go on to a secondary school and they won’t be together any longer. But this year, their classrooms are all within a few steps of each other.
Grandparents Day is not a national or regional event. Instead, each school decides whether, when, and how to celebrate. In my limited experience, the day is well-liked and long-remembered by both grandparents and grandchildren. It’s also very well attended. When I drove up to my grandkids’ school about 15 minutes before the scheduled grandparent arrival time, there were so many cars turning in the drive and snaking back to the parking lot that it created a mini-traffic jam. I finally got parked and into the school, but it took me until the actual start time to get directions and make my way to the first classroom.
I went to Willa’s class first, figuring that an almost-four-year-old would find it harder than the others would to wait for me to arrive. The children were in a semi-circle around the teacher, and there were larger chairs behind their chairs for grandparents to sit. All the chairs were full, and some grandparents were standing. I got to sit behind Willa, and she kept turning around with a huge smile on her face, as if to say that having her grandpa there made this day wonderful. Seeing her in her first-ever classroom was pretty wonderful for me, too.
The first ten minutes was spent on an abbreviated version of the class’s morning routine, featuring the day of the week, color of the day, and letter of the day. Then there was some one-on-one time for the children and their grandparents. We put paint on Willa’s hand and she made a handprint for me to take.
After twenty minutes, I was off to Theo’s classroom. Theo is a child who typically stops by reality only briefly while on the way to his next fantasy, so it was nice to see him waiting for me at his desk with a stack of papers that showed that he does actually do well at real-world tasks like math and writing. His teacher had asked the children to write about their favorite time with their grandparent, and Theo wrote a pretty good account of what we had done together during my visit a couple months earlier. He read me a simple story. It’s nice to hear that his reading, though still effortful, is coming along. I can only imagine what it will be like in a year or two when he’ll be able to immerse himself fully in the world of books.
Then it was time to head to Calvin’s classroom. Calvin is a veteran of Grandparents Days, some attended by me and some by Grandpa Pete and Grandma Ginny, and is understandably less enthusiastic about having a grandparent in the classroom than either Willa or Theo. He had an assignment we had to complete pertaining to places I had lived or visited during my life; this was obviously a set-up for some future geography lesson. We hung out together until it was time to go to the school-wide chapel that was the last scheduled event for Grandparents Day. Afterwards, I gathered up all three of the grandkids to get our picture taken.
I stayed with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandkids for another couple days, having fun with the kids and noticing how they had changed. Theo and I spent time building a haunted house with Legos. I went to Calvin’s soccer game and we played chess together. We have been playing chess every few months–whenever I visited–for about three years, and I’ve seen his skills gradually improve. This was the best game I had ever seen him play. We ended up with a draw; if he gets much better in the next few years, I’ll be fortunate to keep from regularly losing to him. And I played superheroes with Willa. The kids have several capes to wear during such games. She put on The Flash’s cape, but said she was Spiderman. She gave me the Supergirl cape, so that’s who I was. Preschoolers tend to adapt gender stereotypes quite readily, and in many respects Willa identifies strongly with girly things. It was delightful that she played a male superhero and assigned me to be a female superhero with no sense of incongruity. She turned off the lights in the playroom and dining room, and we used our superpowers to battle the dark forces of . . . well, darkness.
When Theo is asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he says he wants to be a grandpa. He doesn’t quite get that he would have to have kids of his own first in order for grandparenthood to be a possibility. He just sees a couple old guys who are pretty relaxed and apparently without much to do except be available to play, read stories, and provide laps to sit on. Plus they don’t have anyone telling them to pick up their toys or turn off the TV! All those things are pretty neat. The best thing about being a grandpa, though, is seeing how totally unique and special your grandchildren are.
By Bob Ritzema