Tag Archives: grandpa

Taking Off the Training Wheels

December 22, 2015 by

The old adage about never forgetting after learning how to ride a bike is pure hokum, and this grandpa is living proof.

On a camping trip this fall with grandsons Barrett (4) and Easton (5), I climbed aboard my daughter-in-law’s girlie bike—the robin’s egg blue cruiser outfitted with a cute basket that is perfect for holding…I dunno…kewpie dolls or friendship bracelets or other sugar-and-spice paraphernalia.

About three feet into my wobbly peddling it struck me that I could not remember the last time I had been on a bicycle. After giving it some thought, I pegged the year to be 1981. I won’t bore you with the comical, look-out-for-that-tree details of our ride over hill and over dale (poor Dale) through the campground that day.

The experience reminded me that Barrett and Easton are born-to-ride daredevils when it comes to two-wheeled action. Not 10 days after the training wheels came off Barrett’s bike he was already flying along the Wabash Trace Trail over in Iowa on one of the popular Taco Rides, and his family has since taken 10-mile jaunts along other, sometimes more challenging trails while crisscrossing the metro.

The thought of which is all absolutely horrifying to me.

And doubly so for my wife, Julie. When we let our imaginations get the best of us, life as grandparents can be a pins-and-needles game of waiting for that inevitable phone call from my son or daughter-in-law where we are informed, “Well, just thought we’d tell you that we’re on our way to the emergency room.”

That’s where this story was supposed to end. Sure, I would have yammered on for a paragraph or three on the terrors of being the grandpa of two young, adventurous boys who don’t know the meaning of fear…but that was going to be pretty much it. Column done. Over. See ya next issue.

Except that we did, in fact, get that phone call.

One week to the day after my tottering bike ride inspired this column, Barrett did a face-plant onto the pavement off his otherwise trusty steed. Yes, he was wearing a helmet, as always, but he knocked out three front teeth, and his bruised and bloodied face looked like a punch-drunk Robert Ne Niro in Raging Bull.

My son, Eric, was a BMX rebel in his teen years, and I recall holding my breath (thank goodness for a gold-plated medical plan) every time that starter gate dropped with a clang and a quartet of riders hurtled toward certain doom. That was at the bicycle track down in Lincoln but now, a generation later, Omaha has a BMX death trap of its own.

And Eric’s reaction to the events of last weekend? He plans to have Barrett fitted with a new mouthguard before going airborne for the first time in a gravity-defying ride on and over the dirt moguls of the local track. All before my grandson’s fat lip is even given a chance to recede to its former pretty-boy profile.

God help us all.


Canine Calamity

April 9, 2015 by

Originally published in March 2015 Herfamily.

I never had a pet as a child.

Okay, so I did at the age of 9 or so have an ill-fated and short-lived guardianship of a turtle whose name I’ve long forgotten, but I’ve never been a pet person.

My mother abhorred the idea of anything furry dwelling in her home, and I was pretty much fine with that. The feeling carried over into adulthood, and my three now-grown children probably felt super-lucky just to have had the brief company of a single pet, a (clean and non-slobbering) feline named Scribbles.

Viral videos portraying cats and dogs doing whatever it is that cats and dogs do have never appeared on any of my playlists. And to be frank, people who describe their little quadruped cuties as their “children”…well, kinda creep me out. I have no innate aversion to cats, even though I take them to be whiskered sociopaths of evil intent, but I have never been at all comfortable around dogs of any make or model.

Before the hate mail begins, please allow me at least a shot at redemption.

My grandsons Barrett and Easton are growing up in a home where the company of canines is prized. Their collie, Summer, recently ascended to that great dog pound in the sky and, after an appropriate period of mourning, has been replaced by a border collie pup carrying an equally seasonal name of Winter.

It’s an understatement to say that I never hit it off with Summer. Perhaps it didn’t help that she stained our Oriental rug as a pup not 10 seconds into her very first visit to our home. My son, Eric, entered with Summer while explaining that all would be well in that the creature was doing a smash-up job when it came to taking care of business, but it was too late. The little thing bounded (Is that what dogs do? They “bound?”) directly to the rug, lifted one leg, and…you know the rest.

I have promised to be different with Winter. My kids already know that I am neurotic, but I don’t want Easton and Barrett to grow up thinking that their granddad is some kind of loathsome monster. I am going to do my best to get to know Winter and not be such a basket case.

Not surprisingly, my first encounter with Winter was, shall we say, trying. “He’s just young and excitable,” I was told as the dog tried to climb up my leg. Yeah, tell that to my now urine-stained shoes (suede, no less) and newish sweater scarred by Winter’s talons or toes or paws or whatever it is they’re called.

But it is with a certain sense of self-satisfaction that I can report that I kept my cool. Now, the notion of “cool” is subjective. My immediate, knee-jerk reaction was, admittedly, to jerk my knee in revulsion, but I collected myself as quickly as possible and tried my best to not make an international incident of the affair.

I really need to up my game in being the grandpa that I hope to be, but boy, do I have my work
cut out for me.


Illuminating Young Minds

December 10, 2014 by

In my last column I wrote about the poor choice I made for my grandsons’ very first movie theater experience. Easton (5) and Barrett (3) were, it turns out, too young for the seemingly innocuous How to Train Your Dragon 2, it of the PG rating and all. I just plain blew that one.

But I like to think I’m now well on my way to redemption. Hold on. That’s taking too much credit, which should all go to—as is so often the case—my wife, Julie. It was her idea that has given me a shot at rehabilitating my tarnished reputation as a grandpa. And it’s a plan that revolves around a season subscription to The Rose.

A former life had me acting as a performing arts reviewer and I’ve sat in the dark scribbling notes hundreds of times over the last decade. Theater, opera, dance…you name it. But there was a part of me that flinched at the idea of more-more-more theater packed into my already impossible schedule.

Then again, I’ve always dreamed of the days to come when I would be able to introduce my grandkids to the arts. I pictured them joining me as we marveled at works from the likes of Shakespeare and Verdi. And I envisioned them one day learning from their grandpa the proper, cocked-eyebrow way to scrunch up their faces as we puzzled our way through such meatier, noggin’-scratchin’ fare as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot or Endgame.

Our most recent visit to the candy box that is The Rose had the boys mesmerized by their wonderful production of The Cat in the Hat. Before that we were awestruck by the vibrant, technicolor puppetry of another children’s classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The Rose may be theater for young people, but the productions are top-notch at the venerated Omaha institution that is also known for its national touring troupe. Where else can you see an award-winning actor like Noah Diaz donning the iconic striped hat of Dr. Seuss’ whiskered wonder? Diaz is the kind of guy who knocked ‘em dead in an F-Troupe Collaborative staging of Edward Albee’s absurdist The Zoo Story a couple years ago, and now the young talent is “walking the boards” of The Rose, all of which speaks to the magnetic draw of one of the city’s most talented team of artists and staff—regardless of audience age.

Now we’re looking forward to the remainder of the season and such delights as The Brave Little Tailor and Bugsy Malone, Jr.

I like to think that Easton and Barrett will grow up at The Rose, whose programming and productions will take them all the way through to their college years.

The company’s Broken Mirror series will introduce them to complex issues that affect real girls in today’s real world. And the efforts of the Pride Players, which has received honors from such groups as The National Education Association and the American Alliance for Theater and Education, promise that they will be exposed to positive messages of inclusion that will foster respect and love for their friends who will one day come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered.

Forget about my selfish desire for redemption. The Rose has programming and productions that will play an important role in the formative years of my grandkids and beyond.

And I’m glad that Julie and I will be there to share the experience when young minds are illuminated every time the lights dim at The Rose.


24 Hours

October 23, 2014 by

Julie and I have had our grandchildren overnight a good number of times. When working as a tag team, we’re old pros at caring for and entertaining Easton (4) and Barrett (3). A recent weekend presented my first opportunity (That’s the proper word for it, isn’t it? “Opportunity?”) to fly solo in caring for the kids. Julie was off to Des Moines to visit family while the boys’ parents, Lauren and Eric, were cultivating sunburns in lazily floating down a river somewhere on the periphery of the metro.

This chronology of events meant that I would be left alone with the kids for a mere 24 hours or so. Protestations of “Are you sure you can handle this?” and “We could always find some other solution to childcare,” had a downright infantilizing effect and called into question the amount of confidence my loved ones had in me. Me!

Did they forget that I’m a big boy? Did they forget that I had a hand in raising three kids of my own? Sure, that was back when The Gipper was in the Whitehouse but, c’mon, can’t a guy get at least a little respect?

If TV sitcoms are any barometer, American families are often led by a stumbling, fumbling oaf. The airwaves are crowded with such buffoons. Put that man in a kitchen with young kids when mom is away, for example, and it’s almost certain to result in a clichéd scene involving flour, eggs, and milk coating every surface of the room. And its inhabitants.

But I’m not that guy…am I?

My plan was a simple one. I would occupy the kids by taking them to the zoo. On the way home we would stick close to the river and stroll across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge after splashing around in the water feature at the base of that span. Wear ‘em out while having fun. That was the plan.

The zoo was, as always, a magnificent trek spanning all seven continents. We rode the train. We galloped along on the merry-go-round. Slithering reptiles winked at us through alien eyes. An obliging gorilla even flung some feces—always a hit with my doody-obsessed grandkids.

But Easton was flagging fast at the three-hour mark as we made our way back to the car. I felt naps would be in order before we conquered the bridge, so homeward we went. I had no idea as to the extent of Easton’s discomfort until he—without a hint of warning—projectile vomited directly into a basket of fresh laundry that awaited folding. The only good news was that I had very little mess to clean up from the new-ish rug before trudging down to the basement with a putrid load to confront a machine that had every right to mock me with a taunt of “Back so soon?”

After a four-hour nap (Four hours! A new family record!) Easton was magically back to being his old bouncing-off-the-walls self again. There was still plenty of daylight for meandering over the bridge suspended above the swirling eddies of what Barrett calls the “Chocolate River.”

The whole experience reminded me of an old magazine photo feature (Life? Look?) that involved placing the legendary Olympian Jesse Owens in the home of a toddler. His challenge was to ape every movement the small boy made. So the star of the 1936 Olympic Games bounced and crawled and scaled and slithered right alongside the small lad. Until, that is, the greatest athlete on the planet crashed at about the two-hour mark.

So it was with a certain sense of self-satisfaction that I gently laid the kids to bed that night. The doddering old fool that nobody trusted had not only survived, but had thrived—save for a little upchuck—in his assigned duties.

The fact that my bedtime followed only minutes later, even before dusk could yield to a blanket of stars, was completely irrelevant.


Where’s My Grandparent Nickname?

November 6, 2013 by

“Mee-mah” and “Boom-pah.” That’s what my grandsons, Easton, 4, and Barrett, 2½, call their grandmother and grandfather. My wife, Julie, and I think they are just the most adorable nicknames. There’s just one problem—Mee-mah and Boom-pah are the grandkids’ other set of grandparents.

As for us? Different story. When a boo-boo needs kissing or the occasional WWE slugfest breaks out among the boys, we’re summoned with the decidedly un-adorable monikers of plain old “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”

Quibbling over the unequal distribution of nicknames may seem petty, and some in the family take this injustice perhaps way too seriously (My wife won’t be reading this story, will she?). But it does speak to a larger issue, one of territoriality regarding those scarcest of resources—grandkids. And the problem can be vexing when the holiday season approaches.

Okay, maybe “vexing” is too strong a word here. Its use in this context could hint at something other than the great relationship we have with the kids’ other grandparents. You know, the ones that happen to live right across the street from Easton and Barrett. The ones whose other daughter, in turn, lives just two doors down from them, and how that happens to also supply a pair of built-in, age-mirroring, time-stealing cousins to cavort with our grandkids. The ones whose two sons could easily snap up additional properties of their own on that quiet cul-de-sac, virtually turning the place into a private family compound. The ones who regularly…oh, you get the point.

Now where was I? Oh, yes. The subject was grandparent territoriality.

Is it any wonder, then, that Thanksgiving is a two-day “one here and one there” affair distinguished as “Turkey Day” followed by “Football Day?” Or that Christmas Eve must be celebrated at our home on December 23rd? Or that the grandkids will grow up believing that Santa is guilty of countless FAA violations by flying on not one but three successive evenings to each grandparents’ home, bookended by a sooty descent down their own chimney? What kid is going to turn down three days of present unwrapping? Besides, they’re too young to grasp the improbability of St. Nick’s madcap itinerary being more hectic than that of Secretary of State John Kerry’s in his September round of Middle East hop, skip, and jump shuttle diplomacy.

And on that subject of diplomacy, readers should know that Julie and I could not hope for more loving and nurturing co-grandparents, even if the situation does occasionally give me an exasperated, eye-rolling opportunity to explain to my wife, for the umpteenth time, that yes, kidnapping is still a federal crime.

There I go again.

Julie and I don’t pretend to have it rougher than any other grandparents in that age-old balancing act of vying for time with the grandkids. One strategy we employ year-round is to look for the easy stuff—the no-brainers that almost always guarantee time with the little ones, and on our terms at that. We offer to babysit often. Overnighters are even better. What young, career-minded, perpetually harried pair of parents is going to say no to even the briefest reprieve from runny noses, skinned knees, and a certain insufferable cartoon character yammering “I’m the map” ad infinitum? Just sleeping in on a Saturday morning is priceless to them when the kids are with Grandma and Grandpa (Ugh! We simply must do something about those plain-Jane names!).

What I’m saying is…choose your grandparent battles wisely. And better yet, don’t approach them as battles at all. It’s said that the holidays are magic, so what could be more magical than three visits from Santa? Traditions are what we make them. Invent your own.

Now, does anyone know if there is such a thing as a nickname-generating program somewhere out on the interwebs?