The greatest joy in my life was being a father and raising children. I know this is true for a lot of our readers who have shared the triumphs and the tragedies of being responsible for precious young lives in their care: an awesome responsibility and privilege. I think very few of us were emotionally and physiologically ready for the task when it happens. But I know that for me the experience was transformational. For a woman I suppose that moment begins when she discovers she is pregnant, and therefore has several months to prepare herself. A man may only look on in wonder and admiration as his wife adapts to this new reality inside her. His moment comes when he holds this tiny child for the first time. Ladies, give your man all the time he needs at this point. He is going through in seconds what you went through in months; it can be a little overwhelming.
Those child raising years can be a challenge as these tiny, totally fearless little creatures grow, and learn about the world around them. Caring for them and teaching them how to navigate their way through an often dangerous and disappointing world is not an enterprise for the faint-hearted, or the self-absorbed (which perhaps explains why so many twenty- and thirty-somethings don’t). But it is wonderfully rewarding and vastly entertaining. When they finally make it through those awkward teenage years and embark upon their own adult lives, there is an exhilarating sense of accomplishment and relief, mixed with joy, and a fair bit of regret.
Why were you in such a rush to get through? Now that you see the end, why didn’t you take more time at the beginning? Now you understand the importance of so many things, can you go back and have another try? Well, yes you can. You can be a grandparent! Which is what we have been doing at our son’s place just outside Seattle, Washington. Amid all the reading and telly, walks to the library and trips to school was a birthday party for their youngest, Eli, who just turned three. She is, like many young girls, enamoured of being a princess, and her gifts – largely a selection of books and dolls centred around Disney’s Frozen – reflected that very powerful social theme.
I have some issues around the essential narcissism of that theme, but I’ll leave that for another time. For the moment it was enough to see our young granddaughter – struggling with her tears at the pain of some new teeth coming in – feeling loved and cared for as her siblings and friends celebrated her birthday with presents and games and singing. Our daughter-in-law made another cake icing extravaganza in honour of the occasion, and to see Eli’s little cherub face light up in shy joy at its presentation was lovely to behold.
The most fun, however, was watching and listening to the girls singing along with the music from Frozen. The movie has some strong and catchy tunes, and even the guys enjoyed singing Olaf’s signature song “In Summer.” I personally like the poignant and wistful “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.” But there is nothing quite so delightful as listening to three- and four- and five-year-old girls belting out “Let it Go” at the top of their tiny lungs. There is something so charmingly incongruous about a three-year-old swinging her arms about defiantly and singing the line “I can’t hold it back anymore!” Just what have you been restraining for those three long years, sweetie?
They say that grandchildren are the reward for not having given your teenaged children what they so richly deserved at the time. That is of course overstatement for effect. Raising teenagers can be as rewarding as raising children. I think that grandchildren are an opportunity to remember what it was like to raise children yourself; to revisit that joy and reward, and to treasure childhood all over again. There is nothing in my experience so filled with the tenderest love. Those who miss out on this experience miss the sweetest part of life.