I’m a teacher, so you know what that means: summers off! Time off used to make me nervous because I like to fill my days. For years I taught summer school, so that was a good transition from full time, to part time to off time. By August, I loved my summer days. When we became grandparents five years ago, I decided to enjoy the entire summer vacation.
My initiation into grandparenthood began with an ill-fated cross-country adventure.
We took a road trip to Seattle in anticipation of Shawna and Dave’s first baby’s arrival. The trip was ill-fated not because of our destination, or our mission, but because after many months of planning and prepping our friend’s underused Mini-Winnebago, the thing died on day one in Buffalo, NY. From there, we cobbled together a patchwork of trains,
planes, and automobiles to get to Seattle in time.
One small glitch: we now had nowhere to live. We’d originally planned to camp the Winnie next to Shawna and Dave’s rental. We’d be close but not underfoot in their two-bedroom apartment. With no Winnie, we had to get creative. Luckily, the apartment upstairs was vacant, and the landlords liked Shawna and Dave. We bartered: we’d work for our keep. Soon, the landlords liked us, too.
Baby Kitzman’s due date came and went. We stayed busy: I replanted the front yard and painted two empty rooms. Gary and Dave built stairs to the backyard. Shawna was getting bigger and less zen each day. And me, East Coast mom that I am, told her to get her midwives moving. Eventually Edie brightened our day, summer, lives, about two weeks later than expected. She was a wonder. Wonderful. Full of wonder. Beautiful. Worth the trip, and the wait. We had to leave shortly after her birth as we had been gone from CT for five weeks.
The next summer, Edie and her family relocated to West Hartford. Joy! No longer working at summer school, I was able to take Edie three days a week while her parents started jobs and bought a house. I loved holding her, feeding her, singing all my famous lullabies to her. The same routines that I had used on Shawna and her sister Ashley I refashioned for this new baby. Edie was cautious. She didn’t warm up to everyone, but she really liked me. I could tell.
Ashley and Jeff delighted us with Baby Colette the following fall. There wasn’t the big drama, nor the crazy trip, because they live in Brooklyn. But Jeff had to be away the day after Colette came home from the hospital, so I stayed with Ashley and Colette for a few days. I had no idea how to help Ashley with her breast-feeding problems, but I was happy to hold and change and sing to this little girl.
I love watching the personalities of these girls, who are about a year apart in age, emerge. They have very different temperaments. Colette is much more likely to jump off of a couch or pull the dog’s tail. She tells stories with her art. She is dramatic and bold.
The Kitzmans had their second daughter a year and a half later. Emmeline is the jokester, the word-tester, the neck cuddler. She announces herself: “Emmeline at Memere House!” She loves the dog and the kiddie pool and to sit in “E.E. car seat”, when I pick up Edie second.
The Rigbys had Julien the following fall. When Ashley called, and said “I want you here”, Gary and I were thrilled to drive out of West Hartford on a Wednesday night. We would take care of Colette while Jeff and Ashley went to the hospital. Julien is a ready smiler, the strong, silent type. He dresses like his dad; cool clothes, no nonsense. He doesn’t say much, but understands a lot. He will tolerate his sister bossing him around for just so long. Julien loves to sit with Pepere for a book or two.
As grandparents, we couldn’t be happier or busier. Gary rebuilt a huge playscape for the Kitzman’s yard, complete with two slides and a picnic table. He helped Jeff build stairs in Brooklyn, so the kids had access to their city backyard. Pepere has retrofitted bikes, scooters, and wagons. Now that the kids are around 2, 2, 4, and 5, we’e taken them camping, some of them skiing, all of them boating. We had the two sets of grandkids for separate weeks while their folks went on adult-only vacations. Some of their time overlapped, so the cousins had cookouts, picnics, library visits, and playdates, with still other (second) cousins.
It all sounds great and it was, but I learned something. Last year, I really pushed for a car with third row seating. I got it. But as Kum-by-ah as this all is, I found out that four little kids in car seats—with seat belts that they can’t do—is a ton of work. I had to climb over the second row babies in 90 degree heat to strap in kids who wanted their stationary windows open. Oy.
Blessed, busy, needed, loved, appreciated, entertained. Oh, yeah, as grandparents, we love it. This “summer off” thing is the bomb!
Teri Michaud is a teacher, writer, athlete, and all-around adventurer. You can find her on the back of a motorcycle, renovating a house, or baking a mean quiche. She is a lifelong West Hartford resident who has been married for 38 years to a man she crushed on pretty hard in high school. She’s the mother of blogger Shawna Kitzman, and Ashley Rigby, who lives in Brooklyn, NY with her family.