Grandchildren are quite unlike anything else in life: at once a reminder of both age and youth; of innocence and guilt; of cynicism and wonder; of joy and… well, joy if I’m honest. They are your children’s gift to you, and proof that you at least got something right. They simultaneously delight and exhaust. Their progress through life without brakes is breathtaking, following a rationale and a logic that it would take an Einstein to either follow or deny:
“Grandad, can we go outside and play football.”
“Well, not just now, it’s chucking it down.”
“But what if it’s still raining later? You said we could play football today.”
“OK, well if it’s still raining later, we’ll play football anyway.”
“Yes, alright I’ll just put my shoes on…”
Yesterday, when I was in what passed for – at a very cursory glance – my prime, when my own children saw me, albeit briefly, as a superhero, I was still young enough to be one. By the time my grandchildren first saw me in the same light, I was old enough to realise that any attempt to live up to it could prove fatal. I could kill myself just trying to squeeze into a leotard. Just attempting to hoist lycra over my midriff could bring on a stroke. None-the-less, this could be my one chance to be Superman without the attendant risks associated with confronting anything more threatening than a bottle of ketchup in the hands of a four-year old or a toddler with a full nappy. Grandchildren don’t care that you can’t fly: their love is unequivocal. Mind you, they are unusually prone to coughing in your face.
The devastation caused by a three-year old with a wax crayon sometimes has to be seen to be believed. My children constantly tell me, “You would have gone mad if I had done that. With them, you just redecorate.” It might well be true, but only because it requires less effort. The great privilege of being a grandparent is that you do get to say ‘Yes. Why not?’ much more often than you did as a parent. It is expected. You are shorn of the responsibility of parenthood: allowed to know that sometimes what is best for the child is not always what is best for the child: that another afternoon slumped in front of Peppa Pig will not actually kill either of you; that there is nothing wrong with just being daft from time to time; that if they really won’t eat anything other than chocolate, well, at least it’s something. I know that it won’t stay like this forever: soon enough they’ll be too big to ‘climb upon my knee’ and I will become the smelly old man they have to visit sometimes, when their conscience gets the better of them. Not so much forgotten as sidelined: a ‘do you remember when…?’ by-line in their lives. It’s just how it is.
Obviously, when they’re more thrilled to see me waiting for them at the school gates than their parents, it’s awful – but on the other hand…
Grandparenthood is a gift, but it is, never-the-less, a twenty-four hours a day job and once you qualify there is no going back: you are forever grandad. Fortunately, the only cost is a constant availability for cuddles and conversation – not too onerous is it? This is a topsy-turvy world we are living in, but when a four-year old grandchild inveigles their way onto your knee and falls asleep, there is not too much wrong with it, if I’m honest.