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NewbornWell. It happened.  We became grandparents at the end of December.

Of course, nothing went according to plan. We were expecting this grandson after The Holidays – in early January – right about now.  We were mentally preparing to attend a series of parties, eat without concern, and then buckle down into the New Year with excitement and anticipation for a wonderful new addition to our family.

As is often the case with parenting however… things rarely happen the way one expects.

New father holds son.The birth wasn’t easy.  August “Gus” Greenberg’s arrival required an emergency C-section, and a number of days in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), which one familiarly pronounces “nick-you.” This, of course, led to much angst for all concerned – but in the end our tough-as-nails daughter-in-law and our 8lb. 6oz. grandson are as hearty as we all expected and have been healthy and home for over a week now.

Throughout that time, we got to watch our son and his beloved wife perform as the perfect team. He had her back every step of the way and she was his #1 concern. Proof of this was the fact that he put his 6’3” frame on a cot in her room every night!

Once all of that initial concern began to fade I immediately went into a period of age-related navel gazing. I wasn’t the “parent” on the official documents. The new family wasn’t “mine” anymore. It became very apparent that the next generation was stepping up and I wasn’t in the middle of the action anymore. I had just been moved one table farther away from the dance floor.  Grandparenting.

beautiful grandmother admires babyMy lovely and patient wife JoAnn doesn’t seem to be as bothered by the age stuff. She’s on another planet – elevated there by the rapture she feels for this new baby boy. Although we vowed not to be too vocal, she’s being very generous with her experience and I believe our daughter-in-law appreciates it… at least I hope she does.

Times have changed, and frankly, it’s a miracle we survived our childhoods. Years ago I offered to lend the crib in our attic to a friend of mine who was becoming a father. When I came home, my wife put the kibosh on that plan. “Are you kidding?” she said, “We raised our kids in that crib!!” It turns out that our grandson will not be sleeping in that crib either. Apparently the slats are an unsafe distance from each other and like I said, it’s a miracle our kids (or any of us) survived our childhoods. Gus will have pre-warmed wipes, a sock that communicates his vitals by cellphone, and a car seat that looks like it was designed for the space shuttle.

Grandpa holds grandsonOur friends say that being Grandparents is the most wonderful thing in the world – and I believe them. I’ve held my lanky little blob of a grandson and stared into his calm and fresh face. I can’t wait until he offers up more than gas.

Meanwhile, there’s still been no decision on what he’s going to call us. Am I going to be Slick, Boompa, or just plain Grandpa? Is JoAnn going to be GiGi (Gardening Grandma), Grammy Jo, or something we haven’t even considered? Only time will tell – and ultimately we’ll be whatever works best for Mr. Gus.

In the bigger picture, Gus is a new bud developing on the Ben and Kelsie branch of our family tree. He has three uncles and an aunt, all of whom are going to help him to grow healthy and strong. He has an enormous fan club in St. Louis including his grandparents and great-grandparents. He is blessed in so many ways.

baby footDespite all this musing about getting older I have to say that this natural order of things is quite reassuring. As we travel from generation to generation this inevitable tide of reproduction and renewal is cause for hope and happiness. Sure, we screw up all the time, but in the end, the power of life itself seems to prevail. We are all truly blessed to be here right now.

By the way – have I told you that Gus is a genius?

NathanCaplanAMGLite2My Grandfather, Nathan, was an incredibly shy man.  In addition to being very short (5’4”), he was a quiet and kind immigrant who listened far more than he spoke. He came from Russia to pursue a better life, and made his living as a bicycle-riding handyman in Toronto before moving to Detroit, where my mother was born. Sadly, Nathan became a widower when my mother was three.

As a single parent, Nathan left many of the child-rearing responsibilities to my mother’s siblings, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Al. He never remarried.

NathanWCarLITENathan worked as a plumber and got involved in the fledgling automobile business as a mechanic and inventor. He was so shy, he would send my toddler-aged mother into his shop to shoo away the creatures that huddled around their warm stove overnight.

Ultimately, he invented the brake rest, as well as an improved bumper. When Henry Ford used the bumper on the Model A, my grandfather sued him and won.  He got no enormous cash payout as compensation, but remained proud, nonetheless, that he lived in a country where a poor immigrant could successfully sue the richest man in the nation.

When my mother was sixteen, she and my grandfather came west to join Pearl and Al who had started a small loan business in Los Angeles. My grandpa liked getting his hands dirty, so he ran a small trailer lot, like U-Haul, and tinkered in the back. He lived a very quiet life.

MarcieJannStepsHUFFMy mother, Marcie, was an active teenager.  She was a great athlete and an excellent student. When she entered U.C.L.A. she was living with my grandfather and taking care of him. One night when she got home from school, he announced to her that he was going to be taking dance lessons at Arthur Murray on Tuesday and Thursday nights. She looked at him and said “Dance lessons?” He just nodded.

The next night he said to her “You know, Masha, (his nickname for my mother), you can make plans for tomorrow night. I have my dance lesson.” In that moment my mom realized that Nathan was taking the lessons so that she wouldn’t have to come home to care for him at night. He was forcing himself to do something he had no desire to do, in order to allow his daughter the freedom she needed as a teenager.

My grandfather wasn’t rich. He didn’t buy things for his daughter. He didn’t take her out to fancy dinners, or on long trips – what he did was sacrifice. He put his feelings aside, because he knew that my mother wouldn’t leave him alone unless he found a way to be busy outside of the house. He pushed himself to do the right thing, even though it was uncomfortable and inconvenient.

This story of my grandfather reminds me that the job of parenting is often a selfless one. It’s often about the practical sacrifices we make, emotionally or physically, to do what’s right for our children.

Sometimes these sacrifices mean taking an uncomfortable path – saying no and going through the discomfort of teaching our kids to deal with adversity. Sometimes, it’s about the devotion of real time, leaving all else alone and putting down our phones to look our kids in the eye when we’re having a conversation with them.

PearlnMarcieNZaydieLITE

Pearl, Nathan, and Marcie

The days of doting offspring seem long gone, but it’s clear that children still care about their parent’s feelings, opinions, and concerns. It is our job to help our children grow, even if it sometimes goes against our nature to hold them, cuddle them, and protect them. We don’t need to take dance lessons to release our children from their obligation to us, but we do need to consider their lives, their ages, and their feelings as we continue to set for them an example of how thinking, loving adults behave.

If you sometimes feel overwhelmed by driving your kids to school, or signing them up for summer camp, or letting them walk to the park, remember that you’re doing the right thing.  You might also tell them about their grandparents. It will give them a sense of pride, and the foundation they’ll need to stand tall.

When my wifeIMG_0857 JoAnn was pregnant with Emily, our fourth child, my mother decided that JoAnn needed a “day off.” She invited our family (three boys, ages fifteen, twelve and, six plus our newborn) and my sister’s family to meet her for dinner on Monday nights. “It will give you all a sense of family,” she said.

My sister has three kids. At the time, her oldest was fourteen, followed by two twelve-year-old twins – so even though they went to different schools, the kids were all pretty compatible in age.

IMG_0873We chose to eat “Monday Night Dinner” at a centrally located restaurant called the Souplantation, known as Sweet Tomatoes in Northern California and the rest of the country. Part of the plan was that each family had to scan the weekend newspaper to find the restaurant’s discount coupons. Our children did this with glee because they knew that it made Grandma very happy when they proudly presented their coupons when it came time to pay. In this way, they were contributing to making the meal possible.

IMG_0851Word of Monday Night Dinner became part of our vernacular. Our kids would speak of it often, and their friends were always curious. Grandma was very inclusive, and providing that her grandchild called her personally ahead of time and asked if it would be OK to bring a friend, their pals were always welcomed. Some even joined us regularly. They remain family friends to this day.

IMG_0864My parents had a very amicable divorce, so when my father heard that we were all gathering on Monday nights, he wanted to take part. That meant including his wonderful second wife (my stepmother) and their two sons. Once again, my mother chose the inclusive high road: “Greenberg – party of fourteen!”

Here’s the catch. It worked! Today our children, their cousins and their uncles are all very comfortable and loving with each other. They understand the concept that we are all family and that, idiosyncrasies included, we stand by each other and “show up.” There is a sense of unity and, although she passed away a couple of years ago, there is a reverence for Grandma Marcie that keeps her, and her goals, alive.

IMG_0902As I think about my mom today, I realized that she always did the right thing even if it caused her pain, embarrassment, or difficulty. This was the most important lesson she taught us all. My parents each had their problems, and neither of them was easy to live with — neither was ever wrong or capable of conceding — but they rose above their own frustration with each other to demonstrate for all of us how adults should communicate. This is why I credit “Setting an Example” as the most important thing that parents can do.

Swallowing anger and aggression is unhealthy – but my parents didn’t ignore their anger, they just did something positive about it. Both strong personalities, they chose to part company amicably and better appreciate each other without having to cohabitate.

IMG_0884So in addition to learning the value of a dollar (from coupon clipping), the need to ask permission to bring a guest, the importance of thanking your host, and getting to know your family, my children and I were treated to the concept that a peaceful life is more important than getting the last word.

Monday Night Dinner. Give it a try any day of the week.