A Fair Trade

A Fair Trade

From Chicken Soup for the Grandparent's Soul

A Fair Trade

I’ve learned . . . it’s not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts. It gives you an opportunity to be counted on.

Ann Richards

“Keep away from children.” That’s what my matchbook cover says. Gladly. I’m seventy-four years old and heavily into the osteoporosis-and-angioplasty scene. But how can I keep away from children? We have a ten-year-old adopted granddaughter.

Nobody likes to be one of life’s clichés. But we are. Startling statistics these days tell how many grandparents adopt grandchildren. My husband and I are two of them.

Our car has no bumper sticker that says, “I’m spending my children’s inheritance.” We are. But not on travel.

So this grandmother’s life revolves around Girl Scouts and choir, dance and piano lessons. She’s a much-ignored advocate for good manners. A much-resisted fashion consultant.

Well, you get the picture.

If ever there was a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell situation, this is it. You get questions, or looks.

At the clinic, at the school office, wherever. “You’re her . . . mother?” Well, yes, legally speaking. You keep explaining, like someone in a Zen riddle. “I’m her mother. I’m also her grandmother.”

The kid gets questions, too, from other kids. “Why do you live with your grandparents?” “What’s wrong with your parents?” My advice to her: “Tell them it’s none of their business.” But she came up with a better one: “My parents couldn’t take care of me.”

That’s true.

Every adoptive grandparent and grandchild has some kind of soap-opera scenario. And it’s nobody’s business.

Culture shock bombards adoptive grandparents. There are two kinds. Math and sex.

Math first. Let’s say you did bring up five children. Your oldest is now fifty-three. Your youngest is now thirty-four. That means you’ve been out of the loop for a while.

So you find that elementary-school math is a big culture shock.

You never mastered the so-called New Math thirty years ago. Now you find yourself clueless when confronted by a fifth-grade math book.

Go ask your granddad. Never mind. He’s clueless, too.

Sex at the modern ten-year-old level is an even bigger culture shock. The words! The jokes! The casual, offhand reports of startling playground shenanigans.

Everything has speeded up. Now ten-year-olds act like teenagers. The giggling gender awareness. The raucous music. The constant sass. If this is fifth grade, what lies in wait in middle school?

And there are little ironies in the fire.

Take sewing. I can’t sew. But now I have to sew Scout badges on vests, initials on dancewear, tails on costumes, buttons on many things. A real seamstress could do this in minutes. It takes me hours.

It doesn’t help to have arthritic hands.

So here I am with a ten-year-old who’s bigger than I am and wears bigger shoes that are getting even bigger. And more expensive.

Here’s the part of the soap opera I’ll tell: We were her foster grandparents for several years before we adopted her. Adoption took some doing. And yes, our advanced age was questioned by social workers, lawyers, the works.

But in the end, after some hassle, the kid was ours.

She’s pretty. She dances and sings. She makes friends. She gets good grades. Well, if you don’t count spelling. They have something now called “creative spelling,” and you’d better believe it’s creative.

So we’re statistics—grandparents who have adopted a grandchild. And when you’re in your mid-seventies, and your child is ten, you may rightly wonder about another kind of statistic: What are the chances you’ll be around for her high-school graduation, her college diploma, her wedding day, her first child?

Luckily, the kid’s beloved aunt and other relatives are standing by, ready to take over when the time comes.

Sometimes statistics end up cutting it pretty close. But the kid’s with her own family. You wouldn’t take that for anything.

Luise Putcamp, jr



“Now, now, sweetie. That was an outdoor voice. We need to remember to use our indoor voices when we’re inside.”

CLOSE TO HOME. ©John McPherson. Reprinted with permission of Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

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