What is a grandparent?

It literally means the mother or father of a grown child and the relationship with that child’s children. Traditionally, grandparents enjoy the role of mentor, historian, and loving companion without the day-to-day guidance and raising of those children. It’s all of the fun and none of the work.

That is the ideal role, but more and more grandparents are involved a lot more, as they may take an increased hands-on role. Babysitting while the parents go to work or perhaps living in the same household has become more common during COVID-19 and the monetary pressure it brought. Along with providing families with love, encouragement and patience, they act as role models in most cases and add additional support and a feeling of safety to their grandkids.

A grandparent does not necessarily have to be related by blood. Mine are not, but there is no difference to me or to them.

My paternal grandfather, Poppa Izzy, was my grandmother’s fourth husband, but to me, he was Poppa. They were married way before I was born, so I never knew my biological paternal grandfather. We would visit them for lunch every Sunday and enjoy a lively conversation and great food. He always hugged me very tightly, almost too much so, and made me feel like I was the only person in his life for those few moments.

He was kind and sweet, and although his English was not perfect, I knew everything he said and what he meant.

After he passed away, my grandmother spent the rest of her days alone in her little apartment. During one visit, I noticed that her bed was not made. This was highly unusual, as this was the grandmother who had plastic on her couches and the tidiest home I had ever seen. When I asked her if she was feeling well and explained why, she told me that at her age of 92, she ate when she was hungry, slept when she was tired and watched television if there was something on that held her interest.

I thought that was beyond cool then, and I totally understand it now. She was in business her whole life, starting with her tobacco shop, in which trade she was the only female back then. She had a mattress company and a few others, but by the time I was born, she was retired. She taught me many things, one of which was a very strong work ethic, and I never forgot that.

My grandparents on my mom’s side were the next stop on Sundays, and we spent dinner time with them. He was a store owner, but she was the embodiment of Grandmother in my eyes.

Her couch was uncovered, and it made a great jumpy house. There was a large mirror over it, and inevitably, I would fill it with fingerprints. When we left, she kept them on all week to remind her of me.

My grandfather would allow me to sit on his lap and use his comb to restyle his hair, which was saturated in Brill Cream, as he played with his dentures to make me laugh. Again, the role of grandparent was emblazoned in my heart and in my mind.

I was very fortunate to have these wonderful people in my childhood, and to have three of them into my early adult years. The lessons I learned from them, and the role models they were, enlightened my perspective on my role as Grandma.

One does not have to be biologically related to a child to have a special bond as a grandparent. All it takes is a symbiotic relationship based on love and mutual respect for a child that could use the caring attention of someone that they feel safe with and can go to with anything without the fear of being judged.

Since COVID-19, the distance visiting and lack of personal hugging time has been limited and absolutely brutal. Even though things are opening up a bit, we are still being cautious for those that have not been vaccinated as yet. I cherish every second with my grandchildren, especially when they call and ask for their ‘special time’ with us. And now, we can look forward to more of that quality time.

I hope that as my own grandparents watch over me, as I believe they do, they will notice some things I emulate.

One Christmas when my grandchildren were little, a bit of guacamole spilled onto the glass table in the living room. Grandpa went to get a paper towel, but a little voice in my head said, “Go for it!”

I sat down on the floor next to the culprit and started fingerpainting with the green mush and said, “What are you waiting for?” I swear, I heard my grandmother laugh and give me two thumbs up.

Stay safe and get your vaccines, so you can fingerpaint and hug.