by Michael S McCown
by Michael S McCown
Another year, another birthday. I’m not a “birthday” kinda guy. I don’t like the attention and would prefer that it passed quietly and unnoticed. This year I was feeling extra-curmudgeonly and spent the day avoiding most everyone, which is almost impossible, because I have the most wonderful family in the world and they know right where to find me. I usually get through the day by reflecting on the past and thinking of what I can do to improve things going forward.
Despite my shortfalls, I know that I’m truly loved by my family. I spent the afternoon examining the details of our past and how amazing it has been. I thought about my little “quirks” as I poured through a lifetime of saved pictures. My life is wonderful because my family is wonderful. Our biggest blessing? A gloriously twisted sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves. When we get together, decorum, manners and sanity, all get left at the door.
After looking through the pictures, I’m left with one thought; Who AM I and what the hell have I done to the kids…🤔
Me spending some quiet time with my favorite Slippers
…and then there was that one Halloween
And that awesome sale on cold weather gear
Apparently, I’m told I know way too much about chickens…
at least I’m setting a good example for the Grandkids…
We like to pick a theme for Thanksgiving, maybe Pilgrims or …
Last Thanksgiving we all made shirts with Fruit loop patches…
and oddly, needles terrify me, seriously
I also cry like a little girl at weddings, ok, my daughter’s weddings…
My Grandmother, Sister and Nephew came over for a visit. A Christmas card in the making…
and then there was Austria. I just couldn’t get the Sound of Music out of my head
I am the luckiest guy in the world to be a part of this glorious troupe. Something strange happens to normal people when they cross our threshold. They smile and then head for the kitchen.
What is the hardest job in the world? The answer is, of course, subjective. At the end of the day though, I thought that being a parent ultimately topped the list. I was wrong. Becoming a parent, requires only that you participate in the act of procreation and nine-ish months later, you’re a parent. Don’t confuse the word “parent” with the word “Mom” or “Dad”. There is a difference and it’s huge. When you’re called Mom or Dad, savor the moment, it conveys love and a bond that means everything. It is the key to your heart.
So what’s the hardest job in the world? Without a doubt, it’s being a Grandparent. Sounds silly doesn’t it? What makes it so hard? Before I answer that, let’s make a few very broad assumptions about just being a parent.
As a parent, you get to call the shots, you make the rules, they live where you live and do what you say. Also, within reason, you’re allowed to download your values, thoughts, beliefs and baggage into their little hard-drives and get a tax deduction for each of them at the same time. You are also, most likely, the most influential person in their life which can either be good or bad.
Being a parent is tough, but the biggest challenge begins when they grow up and start their own family. It’s here that your parental role, which you have spent the last 18-ish years getting used to, changes drastically. You go from “essential” to “as needed”. Your work is now done and it’s time to sit back, relax and watch your children raise their children the same way you raised them; I mean they learned from watching you, right? …Wrong.
Basically, your career as a parent just went under a microscope. You expect them to do “this” and they do “that”. When you bring it up, they politely point out how they are going to do some things “differently”, and with that, you’re completely crushed. Now, you are officially a Grand Parent with a whole new set of rules and rule #1; you are no longer in charge and that’s that.
If that alone didn’t make it hard enough, how about this:
1. Being a Grandparent is totally voluntary: You actually have to want to participate. You get what you give. You have to be there and be involved and if you sit at home waiting to be included, good luck.
2. Your unsolicited opinions about this or that really don’t seem to matter anymore. Go ahead and point out their parenting flaws and tell them what you would have done differently; then duck and find cover. You’ve just crossed the line.
3. It requires travel, wherever. Your children will probably move away. They don’t come to you, you go to them. They’re busy building their life and raising a family. Never show up unannounced and learn to read between the lines. You didn’t like it when your parents did it to you and they won’t either.
4. Your schedule will “suddenly” begin to look a lot like theirs. Get used to it. You will begin checking with them first before making plans.
5. You will now start second guessing everything. Was I a good parent? If I do “this” will I be in trouble? My God, what do they think of me, the way I parented and why does this feeling hurt so much? I should have done things differently, I should have been…
6. You will stare in amazement as they deal with parenting issues, making incredibly hard decisions and all without your valuable input, yet they still have great results. Never underestimate your children or their capacity to face challenges and prevail.
7. If you’re smart, you’ll check with them on the rules they’ve made for their children. If you’re really smart, you’ll actually follow them. I’m struggling with just being smart.
8. You’re still their Mom and Dad. Show your love by supporting their decisions and respecting the goals they’ve set for the children. You can love and spoil the Grandkids, just know where the line is. As a Grandparent, it’s your job to “tap-dance” right up to the edge.
9. Learn to be a good source for solicited advice and ideas, be non-judgmental and your home, a place of peace for the family. Love your Grandchildren more than life itself. They represent the best of your children, who represent the best of you.
10. The bond between a Grandparent and a Grandchild is a truly wonderful thing. To see such joy spring forth from your beloved child is what makes life worth living. But, if something goes horribly wrong and you are blessed to continue raising these precious grandchildren, raise them as your children would have wanted. Show them the passion, desires and beliefs of their parents. Instill in them a sense of “family” and belonging; When they look into your eyes, make sure they always see the reflections of their Mom and Dad and show them that they are never alone, that they belong to a large loving Family with a sense of continuity, shared history and memories of the loved and lost.
Being a Grandparent warms my soul as in the eyes of my Grandchildren, I see the reflection of my children, who I absolutely adore. We are thrilled to welcome each new addition to our family and have never been happier. August can’t get here soon enough, as we will be welcoming our fourth Grandchild. He will be surrounded by his wonderful parents and a large supportive family, who will be bursting at the seams with love and affection. Our bags are already packed and I can’t wait.
Sometimes, I’m absolutely amazed that we’re not extinct. We really should be. We certainly didn’t get this far in human evolution because of our superior intellect. Most likely, it was just pure dumb luck; think, Forrest Gump.
Whether you believe in the theory of Creationism or Evolution, really isn’t important for this argument. What does matter, is that we agree that we’ve been living here for a long, long time. I’d like to think that after this long, we would’ve learned SOMETHING about getting along with each other. Getting along should be ingrained in us. It should be easy. It’s a “core” thing.
What’s a core behavior? So, you’re walking down a trail and you come face to face with a bear. No one has to tell you that this is a problem. You won’t find yourself thinking, “I wonder if this bear would mind if I scratched its tummy” or “let’s poke at it with this stick”; you just knew you were in danger and “fight or flight” kicked in. You also knew that the odds were bad and that most likely, you were going to be the largest part of the next crap the bear was going to take. Either way, you just knew. We also know not to blindly stick our arm into a deep dark hole or eat 3 day old roadkill. Again, somehow, you just know that this is not a good idea. It’s critical knowledge that’s been passed down thru life experience and recorded deep within our genes.
Throughout our very long history, inevitably, some idiot would do something like I mentioned above, then we would all start to cringe, but refuse to look away, and it would usually end very badly for the person; proving that the odd “gut-feeling” we had, was probably worth paying attention to. It also proves that we like drama. Don’t think I’m right? OK, next car crash, don’t watch as you drive on by.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say that humanity, in some form, has been wandering the earth for 15,000 years. In that time span does anyone really think that someone today could make a mistake that hasn’t been made at least a thousand times already? I’m speaking in a general way; a core mistake. Obviously, playing “chicken” with a hand grenade wasn’t possible 2000 years ago, but tempting the Fates was, and stupid is stupid no matter what year it is.
Pain and Death are great Teachers and we’ve been in their class for eons. You would think that there wouldn’t be any mistakes left to make, that prior generations would have warned us, that our “gut” would have warned us. We’ll they did, it does and we still don’t appear to have learned a thing; nothing. It’s hard to believe that we are capable of the horrible things we do to ourselves and to each other. Maybe we just don’t “get it” or we are simply unable or unwilling to “learn”.
To be fair, lets define the word: Learn:
“To gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught”
Let’s check the boxes; It appears that we’ve acquired knowledge, we’ve studied, we’ve had experience AND that the prior generations HAVE “passed it on”.
Clearly, I’m missing something here. With all of the wars, cruelty, self-destruction and hate around us today, how exactly, have we evolved since the biblical times of Genesis or the days of the Cro-Magnon Man? Maybe if someone would have just written it all down so that we would have a guidebook, or maybe a list of suggestions, say 10 or so, on things we should or shouldn’t do, to get along with each other and then passed it down…
Bottom line. Our ancestors have shown us what has worked and what hasn’t. We live in the shadow of so much history, yet we ignore it’s lessons. Our language is full of clichés and idioms that try to warn us; Once bitten, twice shy, Those that do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it (Santayana), War is Hell, Cruelty is contagious in uncivilized communities (Jacobs) and We as Human beings, have the capacity for extreme cruelty (Nyong’o).
I’m beginning to think that we just exist day-to-day. We are not growing, learning or evolving as a species. Humanity is like a bunch of monkeys trying to drive a car: Their all in turning the wheel and honking the horn, fighting over how to make it go, but none can agree on anything, so they just fight amongst themselves and go absolutely nowhere.
So, please, remind me again, how have we survived this long? Oh, that’s right; pure dumb luck.
The reflection in the store window followed my every movement. The Edges blurred, the detail faint yet, familiar. I paused and peered deeply into the glass; It was my Father, it was my Sons.
With each step, the gallon of water in his hand seemed to grow heavier. In the other, he had a large plastic bag. It was heavy and cutting into his palm, but it was worth it; the bag was filled with cans of food, given to him by a generous family at a gas station a few miles back. Like a Christmas present, he didn’t want to open it until he found a place to relax, where he could savor this special moment. This unopened bag gave him something to look forward to, which was a rare feeling these days.
Ahead, dark clouds were gathering and on the radio at the gas station, he had heard there was a chance of rain. Experience had taught him that with the rain, cold weather would soon follow and that he needed to find an overpass quickly. He liked overpasses as there was usually a flat spot near the top where he could be dry, warm and stay hidden from the prying eyes of others. Unfortunately, there were none in sight and as the radio predicted, it was beginning to rain.
Between his old heavy backpack, the gallon of water and the plastic bag, each step along the litter covered highway was difficult and growing harder as the mud was beginning to cover his worn shoes and seep inside, filling the gaps between his toes, which were making a squishing sound with each step.
Once, while walking, he had found a five dollar bill and to this day, he had trouble keeping his eyes looking ahead as he was afraid that he might step over a twenty or something. This had become an obsession for him and he found that occasionally he would become so focused that he would wander onto the highway, looking up at the last second as a car came speeding by.
At night, he dreamed of finding a lost wallet full of cash. He pictured himself in a hotel room, soaking in a warm bathtub full of white suds with bubbles floating in the air. Then he would lay on the bed wrapped in the soft blankets, warm and safe, where he would drift off to sleep; no longer afraid of being harmed by others who may discover his hiding place and take from him his precious food and the last of his possessions. He could finally breathe and be at peace, if only just for a night.
It was starting to rain harder now and he wished for some kind of shelter, anything. He was looking forward to eating soon, as through the plastic, he could see a can with a picture of pasta covered in a delicious red sauce. One of his favorites, heated or not. But not yet, he had to keep going.
He always walked against traffic, afraid of being hit from behind by a distracted driver, who was digging around in the floorboard for a misplaced diamond ring or something. Occasionally, he would look into the drivers eyes as they approached. They all had somewhere to be; someone waiting for them. He would smile and occasionally wave, but most would just look away, pretending not to see him.
The rain was running down his neck, giving him chills as it spread across his back. Lightning was filling the skies, beautiful but deadly as he was the tallest object in sight. He outstretched his arm, daring the storm to find him, secretly praying that it would.
To his dismay, it was now the middle of the night and he had still found no shelter. The rain had passed and as expected, the temperature was falling. He was in the middle of nowhere. He finally accepted that it was just going to be a long, cold night and the pasta would have to wait for the sunrise.
It was too dark to look for money now and he was able to hold his head up as he walked. He liked the break. Staring at the ground constantly made his neck ache. With an old blanket over his shoulder and a faster pace, he found he was able to keep somewhat warm and decided to push on, searching for the lights of the next town. He hoped that maybe things would be better there, that maybe something good would happen. Maybe.