Is there such a thing as grandparent overkill? Or, for that matter, under kill? Our friends who have two sons and six grandchildren living in two different cities have yet to miss a grandchild's birthday--even if it means flying across the country for a weekend after they've just spent a week vacationing with that family. Sometimes it's only the grammie who goes, but at least one of them is there to help blow out the candles for each and party with every grandchild.
It floors me. Like our friends, we have two children and four grandchildren living in two different cities far from us. We have missed several birthdays--in fact, we've probably missed more than we've made. Physically. But we hope we've added to the general birthday excitement in each household by marking the occasion with bouquets of balloons (florists deliver!), presents or promises (always kept) to shop together for a bike or go to the circus together. We've sung songs on the telephone and tried to make a fuss in a variety of ways. But we have not usually been physically present. Sometimes it was by choice--other obligations got in the way. Sometimes we weren't invited--birthdays were celebrated by a weekend train trip to a city with a great zoo. Or sometimes it was too much hassle--the celebrant and her family were spending a week or two in a city where they once lived and partying with friends she'd met at pre-school there.
Do I sound like I'm making excuses? Paterfamilias doesn't think so. When the subject comes up for discussion--should we be there for the birthday party--I feel faint at the thought of all that noise and the commotion of a house filled with dozens of children I don't know and of how little help I would be. Paterfamilias likes to say, "I still have my own life to live. I'll be there if they need me." Do birthday's qualify as "need me?" Are we--make that me--letting the grandchildren down? Is there a model for what a grandparent should do about birthdays?
These children are precious to us, and yet, a birthday weekend is a hectic one. Lots of preparation and excitement about all those friends coming over or taking all those friends some place special. The kids get keyed up. The parents are busy, busy, busy with preparations and overseeing children and making sure no one goes home crying and that everyone gets a goodie bag. We don't get to spend quality time with anyone--unless it's our child's in-laws, the other grandparents, who've made their way to the birthday weekend as well.
Paterfamilias was away on business when the 4th birthday for one of our grandchildren rolled around. I wasn't going to go until my son hinted that it would be really special if I came, that a 4th birthday was a big deal for this child. So I packed my bags and got on a flight.. And when I arrived, my granddaughter took my hand and walked into the house with me. "My house," she told me solemnly, "is your house when you're here." Quite a reward for showing up.