Ralph Schroeder explains how helping raise his grandson has given him new life.
Thanks for taking me sliding five years ago out on the big snowy hill. It must’ve been embarrassing to have a 60 year-old yelling like a 5 year-old, as we rode up and down the hill again and again, rolling over dramatically, with me all red-faced and puffing and hobbling and acting much sillier than any of the normal 30 year-olds. Thanks for holding my hand and trusting in my sense of balance and having faith that I wouldn’t do anything to harm either of us.
Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but there were times when you had more faith in me than I did. The first run down the first hill when I lifted you up and onto my lap while seated on that sheet of plastic on the snow, then pushed off into that death-defying mad rush into the freezing air—what trust you had. And you wanted to go again! What a gift of faith in the old man. And what an opportunity for the child still trapped in the old man’s body to act like a child again.
Thanks for taking me shopping at the grocery store. I pushed the race-car/shopping cart while you drove, taking hair-raising two-wheel corners, narrowly missing displays of pancake syrup and cleaning solutions, skidding to a halt in front of the frozen foods where I would try to convince you that the frozen king crab claws are your favorite food and that you really wanted to chew on one right now. Where we stop for long, dreamy discussions over the merits of frosted donuts over glazed, lemon cake over Little Debbies, while stalled in the bakery aisle. Then, finally, I have the enormous pleasure of choosing a box of assorted donuts and watching the appreciation spread across your perfect face, turning to rapture as I pry open the box and we are forced to choose one immediately and nibble it on the way to the checkout lane.
In the last hundred or so trips, you’ve gone from riding backward in the rumble seat to riding perched on the back between my arms so you could jump off and proudly bring the pound of bacon or pancake mix or box of cereal we always buy and dump it in the basket. Soon you insisted on unloading the cart yourself, completely, before the clerk could check everything out. And now, to the day when you are pushing by yourself, and can tell me how much the cereal, milk and donuts cost, all together. And I am finally forced to act like the adult that I wish I wasn’t, even if only not to embarrass you.
Thanks for the wrestling matches on the living room where we would circle each other, eye to glaring eye, me on my knees, lunging and drawing back, looking for an opportunity. Foolishly thinking I saw an opening, I would move forward and you would dodge aside, locking me in a paralyzing headlock. Groaning, I would beg for mercy, you would relent, then I would turn on you, threatening to crush you like an ant, and you would be forced to throw me off with both of your feet in my chest. We would test our strength and agility against each other, pushing each other to the limits and just beyond, imagining ourselves in capes and dashing outfits and starring in heroic stories of our own devising.
When calmer minds finally prevailed and bedtime called our battles to a halt, and you were tucked into your sheets, I would get the last goodnight call where we would both pretend to be quiet and give each other the last hug and secretly get into that last headlock or twisting thumb grip. At some moment, when I wasn’t paying close enough attention, you grew taller and stronger while I had a sore back or a cold or some adult responsibility, and you took pity on me and chose not to embarrass me with proof of your superiority in strength and agility, perhaps after watching me have to pull myself up with the help of the couch. The real me, who looks out through these out-of-focus eyes, still believes he can take a fall and throw holds with the best of them. And generous you, you don’t contest it.
Thanks for the walks we have taken, when everything on earth is brand new and exciting and fresh in your eyes, and I can pretend to be filled with wisdom and knowledge and experience. When I can point out the clouds and trees and the stream running through them, and you can ignore me in the excitement of the discovery of a stick and a mud puddle to whip it with, while standing in it. I have learned and relearned the potential joy in any new place when we have shared it, when I have had it freshened with your perspective, or I have chosen to motivate myself for your sake to find something new and interesting and exciting despite myself.
Thanks for dragging me from my easy chair when I’m all done-in and forcing me to play soccer by your rules. Thanks for taking my hand when we cross the street. Thanks for falling asleep, collapsed on my shoulder, while I sang strange songs against your head. Thanks for letting it slide when I lose my patience, for repeating things three times when I can’t quite hear, for watching my show when you know Spongebob is on. Thanks for Spongebob. Thanks for greeting me at the top of the stairs when I’m all burned out, and giving me a reason not to complain. Thanks for the sparkle in your eyes. For your nutsy little dances. For whistling on the inhale. For scamming another cookie. For stories of the girls chasing you at recess. For Legos and an excuse to ride amusement rides and get excited about fireworks. Thanks for not caring how much I earn or if I can retire. Thanks for taking my love for granted.
In the newness of beginning life there seems to be an abundance of a growing force that spreads around to the old tired life next to it, that can salve old wounds and re-sensitize calloused nerves and revitalize the hulk we grown men choose to become. I will never forget seeing you from a great distance as you came walking to meet me on my way home from work, and as you jumped to wave in excitement, so did my weary heart.
There is a misconception out there that adults give life to the child. I am quite sure that it is just the opposite.
Photo by Randy Schroeder