How's my grandparenting? (that bad, huh) (National Post June 06,2007)

How's my grandparenting? (that bad, huh)

Barbara Kay, National Post
Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2007

For years, trucking companies have enlisted judgmental automobilists in keeping their drivers up -- or rather down -- to speed: "How's My Driving? Call 1-800-TATTLER." Some truckers might resent this, but I wouldn't in their place. Whatever job I'm doing, I need the threat of an external examiner to keep me on top of my game. It was ever thus. Pop quizzes, deadlines, the thrilling A, the humiliating D: I deliver optimum performance only under pressure.

That's why this job suits me. Fear of my editors' (and your) judgment keeps me awake at the wheel. (That's why the e-mail address sits at the bottom of the column.) I wish, though, I had a bluepencilling editor for the other job I take seriously -- being a grandparent, which unlike parenting, boasts no inherent review mechanism to monitor one's level of performance.

For parents, every day is a final exam, and the children are their "marks." If the pediatrician frowns at his weight, if she doesn't toilet-train by the book, if the babysitter quits in despair, if he throws blue-faced tantrums at the grocery store -- you might as well be wearing a sign, "How's my parenting? Please don't call the Children's Aid Society."

But in grandparenting, there are no exams at all. While our kids are burning the midnight oil as we once did, we're just auditing the course for love of the subject. I admit I find the unwonted absence of pressure discombobulating.

My granddaughters Alexa, Toby and Daniela are now respectively 3, 2 and 1. At first, novelty was the motivating agent. Besides, brand new parents are so wet behind the ears that every jar of chicken soup, every reassuring bromide about their competence to handle this enormous new responsibility is received with touching gratitude. So when the babies were tiny, I felt like an A+ grandmother just by showing up.

But from nervous neophytes, my kids have now morphed into coolly efficient domestic managers with no further need of reassurance, while their nannies make excellent chicken soup and much else both nutritious and delicious. At the same time, even though I adore my grandchildren, it turns out I'm as

bored senseless entertaining them as I was playing with my own toddlers (whose first fully comprehended sentence was, "Wait till I finish this chapter ?").

So I seem to be goofing off. At Alexa's third birthday party last week, I sidled away from the festivities for the pleasure of a private chat with an old friend and consequently missed the party's climactic moment, the collective bashing of the Dora the Explorer pinata on the back lawn. Nobody actually expressed open disapproval, but I sensed a definite C-air (not to mention an unspoken "finally") in the pointed, "Oh, there you are?" with which my eventual reappearance at the scene was acknowledged.

This episode was followed by an unsettling conversation with a Phi Beta Kappa grandmother, the ineffable Vera -- or "Bubbie," as she is known to Beckett, little Toby's best friend. Vera arrives daily after Beckett's nap to whisk him off to some pleasurable activity, thence to her home for dinner, after which she delivers him, bathed and pyjamad, to his parents, thanking them for the privilege. Me: "Gee, you really spend a lot of time with Beckett."

Vera: "I love it! I can't keep my hands off him! I have to see him every day!"

"Well, I try to drop in to see Toby for an hour or so every few ?"

"Yesterday I took him to Cavendish Mall!We had such fun!"

"Actually I'm not keen on driving Toby around, because what if I had an accid-"

"I take him everywhere! Last month I took him to the mountains to sugar off!" "Sugaring off? At two?"

"He loved it! Next time I'll take Toby too!"

I asked my daughter if she wished I were more like Vera. With exquisite diplomacy she said I must find my own "comfort level." That's no help. What has comfort got to do with achievement?

Last night, I had that school nightmare -- you know the one -- where I couldn't find the exam room, but anyway forgot I had even registered for that course, therefore hadn't attended any lectures, so was doomed to fail.

I see I have my work cut out for me teaching my granddaughters that unconditional love is for sissies. They must learn to judge me for all our sakes.

© National Post 2007