Recently I was asked to care for some of my grandchildren for a few days while their parents were out of town. I thought, “This will be a walk in the park!” After all, I had hosted both girls for several weeks this past summer at our lake home and aside from a few middle of the night visits, we did quite well.
Little did I know, or had considered ahead, the Herculean energy needed on a school day during what once was cocktail/dinner hour (between 4 and 8:30 PM). After an active day at the lake swimming, boating and endless crafts, that’s about when we settled in for our daily wind down - cooking and sharing a nice relaxing dinner followed by some playtime, reading and a little screen time. Then bed!
Woah baby, that is not the way it is during the school year - quite the opposite! Climb aboard the express train when the bus drops them off for the real rat race of the day: snacks, interactive homework, dance classes, speech therapy, tennis lessons (Oh no, the racquets are locked in mommy’s car), soccer, cooking dinner, making the next day's lunches, eating, cleaning up, reading, baths and back and foot rubs. Lord, “Please don’t let them ask for a ‘Winkie' story too...!" I had no brain power left to concoct an imaginary story.
By the time they settled in, I was downstairs again finishing their lunches for the next day, dinner clean up, checking the activity calendar for the next day’s onslaught of commitments and then crawling back upstairs to drop myself into bed with a book and a quick text message to my husband who hadn’t seen me all day or night, telling him that I was nearly comatose and needed to go to sleep. Was it really only 9PM?
The hardest part, is that I love my role as their Bubbie/Grandmother and was ill prepared to morph back into the regimented parental role. That takes training! Being Bubbie is about slowly eating the icing off the cake and creating warm, loving memories. It is not about the stress of marching the children through their schedules and eliminating most of the playtime for them and also for me.
And to top it off, I had also agreed to attend Back to School Night for both of the children. My husband, who is always helpful, came over to the house to supervise while I went out. But, by the end of the evening, childcare was the least of my concerns. At back-to-school night I learned that homework was just warming up for the year. The teachers were explaining after-school expectations and not one parent raised his hand with questions or to challenge the assumptions. The only vocal parent was trying to show off how smart her kid was... Should the children be reading silently or aloud, should homework be independent, and the big one - how long will homework actually take? An hour, really????
And when are they supposed to do everything? These children are on the most stressful little roller coaster imaginable! Not to mention the two working parents who jump on the ride right after work. Is it all necessary? And where is the learning and practice of personal and people skills? No one is practicing work life balance here. Spending tired time practicing math problems and spelling words is a far distance from the interactiveness and imagination gained from playing, accepting and learning to be well-adjusted, well-rounded, happy, nonjudgemental little people. Where is the time to do all that?
Although I did not have the gumption to raise these bigger questions about work-life balance and when to expect children to learn those skills if we program them from early years to push straight through the ‘life’ part (I was actually hoping the teacher would catch on to the subtext of my questions), I did ask a few specifics. I learned that these teachers are all business.
As I relax with my morning coffee, I ask myself what I learned from the week? First, next time take a cat nap before the bus comes at 4 and then put on sneakers to wear for the next few hours. Make dinner in advance and don’t expect to remember eating any of it. And most important, make sure you plan some really fun stuff to do when you see the children on the weekend so that they can always remember that you are the cool Bubbie who always wants to hug them and have fun.
Any other tips?