This April I was in Saskatoon being Grandma.
Actually, I was more than Grandma. I was the substitute caregiver for Erik my 16 month-old grandson, the same child who would have called Children's Aid in Guelph last November if only he had known the telephone number. And they would have come, too, had they heard him screaming. The entire neighbourhood knew I was giving him a bath.
So I was a bit worried. Terrified actually. His 36-year-old mother had been my last toddler.
Trudy, the usual caregiver, was in Singapore. His parents were at work. So it was just Grandma and Erik for good or ill: breakfast, naps, Raffi, snacks, playtime, diaper changes, walks, lunches.....two weeks worth of toddler busyness. I even got to give him a bath and put him to bed for the night, a very big deal.
And I was, amazingly, OK. I was even competent. It was a miracle. It was especially miraculous because, in addition to toddler wrangling I somehow managed to buy groceries, prepare meals, and keep the house tidy.
At the end of the first week, talking to Bruce (Grandpa), I recounted the million things I had been up to. Then I asked him to tell me what he had been doing. Reading. Getting groceries. Putting out the garbage. Reading. Dining with friends. Watching movies. And not all on the same day either. He said he was fine, but I felt sorry for him. I was clearly having way more fun.
It was then I realized that by stepping temporarily into the role of caregiver/housekeeper I was fulfilling some of the requirements I consider essential for a stimulating retirement. No wonder I felt so good. I had unintentionally taken on activities that were intellectually, physically, and socially challenging. And all I had to do was spend 2 weeks in Saskatoon in an old house with a busy baby.
So...... how stimulating was the visit?
How much intellectual challenge, for example, could I really claim? I was not, after all, taking a two week Spanish Immersion course. But I was definitely learning a new language. Arm flapping and head
bobbing = "This is delicious. Is there more?" "Ooof!, Ooof!" meant "By all means let's go for a walk and
find dogs!" And though I was not engaged in Sudoku puzzling or Bridge playing, I was certainly solving plenty of new problems. Some had to do with the baby. How, for example, to lure Erik from his bath (which he now loves) without protest? Answer: Let's put all the coloured duckies to bed, one by one. Thank goodness toddlers are so delightfully distractable.
The house proved a bigger problem. On the last day I was still figuring out the fancy gas stove when, while making lunch, I overheated the frying pan. The outside temperature was near freezing, but I put Erik in an extra sweater, opened the doors, and prayed that when the grown-ups returned no-one would notice the oily, burnt smell of my failed pancakes or ask why the house was so cold. At least I hadn't overloaded the electrical panel. Again. That happened the first day when I changed a light bulb and lost power to the living room, dining room and kitchen.
Although I had not foreseen the numerous ways in which the Saskatoon house would outfox me, I did at least anticipate that my time with Erik would require a degree of physicality. Mostly, I saw myself pushing the stroller on dry Westmount sidewalks. I did not reckon on forcing said stroller through snowy slush and puddles the size of small lakes, or having to heave the bulky contraption over curbs and up and down steps. And some steps defeated me: I never did successfully navigate the way into Christie's Mayfair Bakery without help.
Then there was the lifting, carrying and kneeling. Little boys (even the light ones) are heavy. Imagine (for comparison purposes) hefting around a 25 pound turkey several times a day, and jollying it into a stroller or highchair or bathtub. Or soothing a miserable, teething toddler by dancing him back and forth through the kitchen to the living room again and again and again. Or, realizing on Day One that you are sprawled on the carpet making the first of several hundred daily block towers, and you will eventually have to get up. Then down. And up. And down......
And the social advantages of hanging out with a grandchild? It was the reason I made the trip in the first place -- so I could get to know dear little Erik who is so sweet, cheerful and funny. In other words, pretty much like every other grandchild in the history of the universe.
But I hadn't quite appreciated that Two Weeks With a Toddler would have such a profound, wondrous impact. A 16-month-old greets the day ready to embrace every aspect of life with such unbridled enthusiasm. It is a golden time. What grandparent wouldn't want to immerse themselves in all that joy? I now completely understand why my friend Margaret makes frequent trips to her daughter's house in order to help with her two grandsons. I haven't asked her, but I suspect that regular contact with these delightful little guys is probably as necessary as a cup of breakfast coffee. A grandchild endorphin fix.
One hour of Erik in the morning would certainly set me up for the day.
So as the two weeks in Saskatoon came to an end, I began to worry about toddler withdrawal. How would I manage without my sunny little Erik? Then Jenny uttered the magic words: "Trudy takes a week off in July, Mum. Maybe you could come back?"
Oh boy, could I! Erik will be almost 20 months by then. So busy! So much fun!
But next time in Saskatoon, some help would be nice. It would be good to have someone to assist with the stroller. Someone with block-tower experience, and good knees. Someone who needs to rev up his retirement.
It is time to hook Bruce on Toddler Time.