Her grandson looked away, his cheeks turning red. We chatted for a bit about his athletic endeavors, and it was clear that his grandma was very proud of him. “He’s really such a great player,” she said again, as her grandson looked down humbly. “I know I’m embarrassing him a little bit,” she said with a laugh, touching his shoulder.
He looked up at her and smiled. It was clear they were very close.
We talked more about their lives, and then I told them about mine. “My dad is living with us,” I said, “so I’m doing okay. Now that I’m a single mom, he’s decided to move in indefinitely.”
“Oh that’s so wonderful!” the grandma said. She knew that my husband had died a year prior and that had been difficult for me. She looked at me kindly. “You know, I live with my grandkids,” she said.
I told her I didn’t realize that. “Oh yes,” she said, “we moved in when the kids were really little.”
We talked for a while about what it is like to live in a three-generation household. I told her how grateful I am to have my dad around. “To be honest, it’s wonderful to live with my grandkids,” the grandma told me, “and I bet your father gets a lot out of living with you too.”
At that moment, her grandson looked up. “You know,” he said, “it’s pretty great for the kids too.”
The grandma paused. Then she looked at him and said, “well, sometimes I think now that they are all in high school, it’s probably time for us to move out.”
The boy looked at his grandma. “No, you can’t do that,” he said. He smiled after he said it. He knew she wasn’t moving out.
The grandma turned to me. “Well, I’m happy to hear your dad is with you,” she said. I told her I am happy about it too. We chatted a bit more and then parted.
I thought about my dad, a 71-year-old widower who had retired a few years earlier to play golf and read all the books he’d set aside during his busy career. But family is family, and when I needed help, he came. Now he is spending his days making breakfasts, organizing backpacks and hearing about the intricacies of second-grade basketball.
I left school and came home to a dozen kids playing tag in my house. My father was in the kitchen, making a snack for my 4-year-old as the other kids joyfully screamed all around him. On the table was a piece of paper showing different angles. “What’s this?” I asked my dad.
He told me that my daughter had drawn it for him. “She’s learning about line segments in school.”
My daughter ran up right then. “I was showing Grandpa about math!” she said, and then ran off with her friends.
He smiled. “She’s really very good at math,” he said as he showed me what she knew.
We talked a bit more about his day. He’d taken a walk and read a book about Napoleon. Then he’d picked up the kids at school and walked them home, collecting a few other friends along the way. Everything was chaotic at home, and his book on Napoleon had been flung onto the floor.
We started to cook dinner together. My boys got into a fight in the middle of it, and I heard my dad shout, “hey, cut that out!” at them. The older kids set the table, and I signed all the papers from their school while my dad helped my youngest in the bathroom. Other parents and neighbors came in and out of the house, picking up their children and just stopping by to say hello.
Eventually, we sat down to eat. We all talked about our days, and the kids each had a story about what happened to them at school. After they finished, my daughter said, “What about you, Grandpa?”
“I had a great day,” he said. “I got to read a lot and then I took a walk and then I picked up all of you.”
She smiled at him. “Sounds good!” she said.
I sat back at that moment and looked at my kids. My daughter was chattering about the details of fourth grade recess and her brother was laughing at something she was saying. My youngest was so close to my dad he was almost in his lap. My father was sitting there, just taking in the moment and listening to my kids with a slight smile on his face.
Just over a year ago, it would have been my husband across the table. He would have comforted my kids and laughed at their jokes and smiled at me across the table. I long every day for a dinner like the ones we had so recently.
But I can’t bring my husband back and I can’t change the fact that my children only have one parent. So I was surprised at my own emotions that night around the dinner table. When I finally paused to take a breath, I realized that for the first time in many months, I was conscious that I was living in a happy moment. I also realized that the happy moment I was feeling was due, in large part, to the role that my dad now plays in my house.
“Grandpa” is not the same as “Dad,” and my kids know that. But they also know that their Grandpa loves them so much that he is there for them every day. He makes their lunches and he finds their socks and he laughs at their stories. What he does on a daily basis is not anything special. But neither is anything I do. What we both do is show up for three little kids through the happy times and the sick times and the bike-riding times and the homework times.
Because showing up is everything.
That night, I thought about the grandma I’d run into earlier that day, the one who talked about living with her grandkids. “To be honest, it’s really great for me” she had said.
Then I thought about what her grandson had said back. “It’s pretty great for the kids too.”