• jstrupek

The grand discovery of grandparenting

Originally published

A little over a month ago was the first anniversary of my becoming a grandfather. The party invitations said it was my grandson Carter’s first birthday, the cake had his name on it, none of the presents were mine, everyone sang to him, and no one wanted my picture, but inside I knew it was my day too. Although he changed the most - starting the year crying, confused and hungry and ending it laughing, alert, and shoveling handfuls of crunchy snacks in his mouth - things changed for me too. Physically I gained a few pounds. A few crunchy snacks passed my lips also, only mine were deep fried. But there was something else.

In the months leading up to my becoming a grandfather, people told me it was going to be life-changing. I was skeptical. The only genuinely life-changing moments I have experienced are limited to marrying my wife, becoming a parent, and Planet of the Apes, circa 1968.

It was evident from day one marriage changed it. I discovered just because I always ate nacho chips while sitting in my recliner didn't mean I could keep the bag there. With the arrival of children, my life didn't so much change as it was twisted and torn like an oak tree in a tornado. The babies constantly cried for formula and someone to rock them. I constantly cried for my wife to knock me unconscious so I could get some sleep. And how could anyone be the same after seeing talking chimpanzees and Charlton Heston growling “Get your hands off me you damned dirty ape?”

The day Carter was born I started looking for signs my life had changed. The night I got home after I held him for the first time I had heartburn, the Wi-Fi wasn’t working, and one of the dogs tracked mud into the house. A day in the life. Every time we were together, I kept an eye out for some changes. I didn’t notice any, but he did remind me of some things I had long forgotten. The warm feeling you get from holding a male infant whose mechanics you forgot to arrange correctly when changing a diaper resulting in a urine soaked leg. His and yours. That babies are geysers of partially digested formula, and they drool like a full-grown St. Bernard. During their first months, children are unpredictable leaking liquid fecal time bombs. Like a puppy, except a dog doesn’t grow up to quadruple your car insurance rates and accuse you of child abuse because you asked them to empty the dishwasher two days in a row.

As the year progressed though, things felt a little different. It was more than just decreased drainage. It was his joy in discovery. Bright colors. Splashing water. The sour taste of a pickle and the soft sweetness of a banana. And music. Not just the happy melody of a children’s tune. One afternoon we grandfathers, Carter and my son grabbed lunch at a favorite establishment. The jukebox was playing. Jukebox music is like oxygen or the Shamrock Shake. You don’t notice it till it’s gone. Or someone plays Sweet Home Alabama three times in an hour and screams the words like they’re a drunk 22-year-old standing in a muddy field at a county fair concert. I didn’t notice the music until Carter stiffened in his high chair, tilted his head and cracked a wide toothy grin. Then started to bounce to the rhythm of a song. A tune I heard thousands of times, that rocked my dorm room speakers decades ago, and now made an occasional underappreciated reappearance on SiriusXM’s 70s on 7. Don't Bring Me Down by the Electric Light Orchestra. At that moment I got to experience the song with someone who never heard it before. I realized then that through Carter I was finding renewed appreciation in things I had stopped noticing.

Bubbles, a warm breeze on your face, someone you love walking through the door, a juicy tangerine, the sloppy kiss of a dog, the pages of a familiar book. Not only the joy of re-discovery but also appreciating a child’s ability to live in the moment. Nothing else matters but what’s in front of them.

I wouldn't say being a grandparent has so much changed my life as it has given me a renewed perspective. Be grateful for even the simplest pleasures and focus on the now, because the next moment will be here soon enough.

So, if you need me for something, it’ll have to wait. I’m sitting here with some crunchy treats re-discovering Charlton Heston in a loincloth.

Hey. Don't bring me down.