spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily
Dr. Seuss Fell in the Aquarium/Garland Cannon
I really needed to practice self-compassion after having spent Friday through Sunday with my five-year-old granddaughter whose first words to me were “You’re not my real grammy. “My real grammy lives in Colorado.”

Could failing to be the "real grammy" put me at a disadvantage with my little cherub?  Not being a “real grammy” might mean that rules for getting along and going along wouldn’t apply to me. This little girl and her Grandma Alzie might need to fashion our own rules—in a hurry and quietly.

Working things out with little or no disturbance were explicit parts of my responsibility on this visit. My son had asked me to come to Los Osos to watch our beloved girl so he could sleep, and Miss E’s regular sitter, Tracy, could take a much-needed break. Everyone is exhausted because daddy has been temporarily working a night shift and though it is winding down and he will be back to full time parenting, he still has a few days to go.

I discovered right away that a child makes rules for the benefit of the child. The child wants what the child wants.  Child rules can be as simple as keeping the ace of diamonds lost fairly according to the rules of the card game “Roar.” A child can refuse to budge from the computer when grandma says three hours of animated games in Daddy’s room is enough.

Daddy would hope grammy would be the rule maker and enforcer, that she would take charge of the child swiftly and silently, relocating her, preferably downstairs.  Dragging her off the chair kicking and screaming is not an adult option. Luckily, Daddy’s need to sleep will soon be over. He is, after all, the authority figure who issues time outs and puts the iPad out of reach.

Sadly, on this visit I did not have the clout to convince the child to follow my rules without an argument. More than once, daddy did have to wake up, get up, and assert his authority.

Finally, when it was Sunday afternoon and I was ready to head back to San Francisco, I gave in to a sprinkle of self-pitying tears and a few rips of self-criticism. Why had my sweet little girl not said goodbye to me as I bustled my belongings out the door? Had my inability to enforce rules made me a grammy failure? Would the Colorado grammy have done a better job? Would she have made better breakfasts? My little charge had eaten eggs I fried and the toast with the butter and jam. She had not found fault with the microwave popcorn we munched as we watched Toy Story 2 twice and El Dorado once. Not to compare myself to the Colorado grammy, but I did wonder if on her visits she plays multiple games of Roar? Would she have slept in the bed with the little girl and her stuffed toys? Would she have read the requisite two books at bedtime and listened to the child read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish? 

Exhausted from the drive home, I went to bed, confused and disappointed that my visit had not made life easier for this dear son and his little girl. The next morning I turned for perspective to my friend, Kate. She pointed out that both my son and I had expectations about the outcome of the visit. And this hadn’t proved skillful. On the way home from Kate’s I listened to a self-compassion podcast. That helped. With self-compassion warming me, I thanked my inner critic for trying to steer me into being the best grammy I could be, suggesting to her that less harsh rhetoric would still be effective.

Now I am rethinking my role, seeing myself a rule-making, boundary setting grammy. A lot like the Colorado grammy. At about the time I am feeling at peace, my exhausted son calls to be sure I have made it safely back to San Francisco. He suggests that for smoother future forays, he will “franchise my visits.” I imagine from now on each visit will have a set agenda with designated spots in and about the estuary, park, school grounds and beach where I will be permitted to go on foot. There will be a list of equipment for the child such as helmets, bikes, scooters, skateboards from which I will choose, depending on the terrain of the spot to which we are headed. I am not nor will not be allowed to drive the child anywhere.

“Franchising visits” makes me laugh. I appreciate his effort and don’t bother telling him I had already planned to be a more consistent grammy who sets clear boundaries. As for him, it is too late to redo my parenting.

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