Three inspiring stories of families who have found creative ways for grandparents and grandchildren to remain close.

By Penelope Leach, Ph.D.
October 05, 2005
Credit: Horatio

Grandma's Camp

Edith Mattaboni's friends were mystified when she retired and sold her Long Island, NY, home to move to a bigger house in Milford, PA, two years ago. Why would she and her husband, Bruce McBurney, buy a 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom colonial for just the two of them?

But Edie's daughter-in-law, Suzanne, 37, wasn't surprised at all. She knew the answer: Edie intended to fill the extra space -- and her newfound free time -- with her 10 grandchildren.

"My kids would ask me to babysit, and I was rarely able to say yes because of work," Edie, a former human resources manager, remembers. "I liked my job, but I came to realize that there was more to life than that. I wanted to be there for my family."

"Grandma's Camp," which features a dock for fishing and boating, a swing set, a tree house, and a large, toy-filled playroom, opened for business in April 1999. During the week, Edie often cares for the grandkids who aren't yet in school, then adds her children and school-age grandchildren to the mix on weekends. Rarely does a week go by that one or two of the kids -- who range from 1-year-old Morgan to 11-year-old Nico -- aren't visiting Grandma. A calendar on her basement door keeps track of which family members are coming when, and it's usually filled months in advance.

Edie, 60, and Bruce, 59, originally contemplated opening a bed-and-breakfast upon retirement. But they eventually realized that the business would tie them down, making it difficult to visit family. So they took the next logical step and created a sort of inn for their loved ones.

"It's like a vacation home for everyone," says Suzanne, who visits Edie with her husband, John, 37, and children, Veronica, 6, and Louis, 4, about once a month. "I'll go on the pedal boat with the kids, or we'll just sit on the porch and talk. She's given us such a nice place to be together."

Credit: Horatio

This closeness is vital to Edie, who had a difficult childhood and never knew her grandparents. "There wasn't a lot of laughter in my house growing up, so that's what I really want to give my grandchildren right now. I want them to know that Grandma's fun," she says. That includes treating the kids to ice cream for breakfast one morning a week and keeping up on her knowledge of Disney films so she can quiz her granddaughters on trivia from The Little Mermaid.

Overall, though, Edie hopes that her grandchildren will learn a more powerful lesson from her as they get older. "I want them to know that you can overcome anything with a positive attitude," she says. "My life now is better than I ever dreamed it could be."

A Full House

When Joy Kammerling and David Smith leave for work in the morning, no chorus of complaints from daughters Meret, 4, and Thea Grace, 3, follows them out the door. After all, their live-in babysitter has already been up with them since 6:45 a.m., made their breakfast, and is all ready for a day of fun.

This dream sitter is none other than the girls' grandmother, Dorothy Smith, who has cared for them almost since day one. When Joy and David brought 6-week-old Meret home from Vietnam in 1997, Dorothy quickly offered to take early retirement from her job in Santa Barbara, CA, and move with daughter Apryle to Champaign, IL, to be close to her new granddaughter and help out the new parents.

The gesture came as no surprise to Joy and David, who were thrilled with the idea. "Dorothy is such a devoted, affectionate woman," says Joy. "She and Apryle are a constant help to us."Dorothy was already skilled at the role of doting grandma before she arrived -- when her husband died in 1985, she moved to Santa Barbara to be near her son and his children. But when she turned 60, Dorothy was anxious to retire, and to be a part of the adoption going on in Illinois. She knew David and Joy would need more than just daycare, since their jobs as college history professors required them to work nights and weekends.

With Joy and David's help, Dorothy and Apryle found a nearby apartment in the summer of 1997, and the two immediately began caring for Meret and Thea Grace, who arrived in February 1998."I couldn't ask for sweeter babies," says Dorothy. "It's been such a joy to watch them to develop, and to have an influence on them."

On a typical day, Dorothy and Apryle help the girls learn their letters, ride their tricycles, and watch cartoons with them. On one occasion, Dorothy even ran over to help Joy with Meret, even though she had just had eye surgery and wasn't allowed to lift her head.

"Meret had an awful case of the stomach flu, and I figured that since you're usually bending down to take care of a child anyway, that I'd go over," she explains.

The childcare arrangement was so successful that when Joy and David bought a larger house last summer, they asked Dorothy and Apryle to move in, creating a loving, three-generation household." Joy says we're like the Waltons," jokes Dorothy. Son David is also delighted by the full house. "I don't think the kids could imagine life without Grandma," he says.

Four year-old Meret would agree. When Dorothy made plans to visit her mother in Arkansas one summer, Meret fretted until Dorothy's plans fell through. "Then she came over to me, patted my face and said, 'Grandma, I'm so glad you live in the room next to me,'" Dorothy recalls.

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Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the April 2001 issue of Child magazine.



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