The New Breed of Grandparents
When I was a kid -- which, granted, was way back in the 20th century -- my brother and I would often be dropped off at Grandma Esther and Grandpa Sam's house on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. There we'd spend endless hours bouncing on the bed, listening to subversive stories about dumb things my father did when he was a child, and creating spectacular arts-and-crafts projects involving brown paper grocery bags, pipe cleaners, uncooked macaroni, and Elmer's glue. Weather permitting, Esther would change out of her housedress, and we'd get sour pickles and bialys to munch as we ambled into Chinatown for egg rolls and a Coke. By the time we got back to the apartment, I'd had my fill of food, toys my parents had previously declined to buy me, and the thing I wanted more than anything: two adults' undivided attention. No matter how often my parents left us with Esther and Sam so they could do boring grown-up things or simply catch a break from our manic energy, my grandparents would regularly call and ask, "So when can we see Greg and Stephie? You never bring them to visit."
Just 30-odd years later, grandparents like that seem as rare as rotary phones. My friend Jen says her parents adore their grandsons, who are 5 and 2. They help out financially and attend birthday parties with great pomp and ceremony. But as far as relieving the weary parents with a little childcare, it's like making plans with any other busy couple: They need to sync their Treos and get back to her. Jen's parents write plays and perform in their community theater, operate a cooperative recycling program at the town dump, have an in with maitre d's at all the decent restaurants in their area, and are on a notoriously raucous cocktail circuit.
Other mothers I've spoken to say the same thing: that between world travel, figure-drawing classes, golf lessons, and "me" time, today's grandparents don't come with as many built-in advantages as previous incarnations did. Teaching the kiddies to build a log cabin out of tongue depressors doesn't automatically make it to the top of their to-do list.