The job of being a great-grandparent is just about right

In this file photo from 2000, Riley Bigger, 5, shares a moment with his great grandmother, Pat Michaelis as she helps out in his kindergarten class at Vinland Elementary on Grandparents Day.
In this file photo from 2000, Riley Bigger, 5, shares a moment with his great grandmother, Pat Michaelis as she helps out in his kindergarten class at Vinland Elementary on Grandparents Day. Fresno Bee file

Grandparenting is great. Great-grandparenting is amazing.

Last month my wife Sandy and I became great-grandparents, not to be confused with trying to be great grandparents, which we’ve been working at for the past three decades.

Last month Westin, our first great-grandchild, was born. Westin is the son of Sydney (the daughter of Jacquie, the daughter of Sandy) and Mikel. Sandy and I drove home several days early from visiting our grandchildren in Chula Vista so we could be at Emanuel Hospital in Turlock for Westin’s birth.

One of the reasons great-grandparenting is amazing for me is that I never envisioned myself as a great-grandparent. Only people who were very old, I once imagined, became great-grandparents. They were not just golden-agers; they were platinum-agers. I’m 73, old, but not very old in my mind.

Great-grandparenting is also amazing for me because I am seeing new life in a new generation. The thrill of being nearby when a new person comes into the world is just as exciting as ever.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

Sandy and I were in the hospital shortly before Sydney went into the operating room for a Caesarian section. We were able to give Sydney and Mikel our best wishes, prayers and encouragement before we went into the waiting room.

Seeing Westin later that morning brought back for Sandy and me the many memories we’ve had of seeing children and grandchildren born over the past 49 years. That thrill never gets old.

Sandy loves being around newborns, so once Westin came home with his mom and dad we made it a point to visit him. Clearly, he is loved and cherished by his mom and dad. Both Sydney and Mikel, parents for the first time, have adapted to motherhood and fatherhood as naturally as breathing.

Great-grandmother Sandy is proficient at ordering baby stuff online, so we have already purchased a baby-changing pillow pad which can be placed on our washer or dryer for an easy access when Westin is visiting and needs a diaper change (hopefully by a parent or grandparent).

One of the enjoyable things Sandy and I have appreciated over the years about grandparenting is that we can invite the grandkids to our home, have fun with them and then send them back to their parents for child rearing.

As a great-grandparent, there is another layer of help — the grandparents. Westin is lucky to have grandmothers who love doting on him. Jacquie and Mary enjoy being around kids, and these grandmothers take on the bulk of responsibility of extended-family care. As great-grandparents, Sandy and I can therefore serve as pinch-hitters who can come in occasionally to help with Westin.

For me, in my mid-70s, pinch-hitting is just right. I’m not as young as I used to be. For example, when Sandy and I are around either of our 4-year-old grandsons, serving as the second line of defense after the parents, life can be exhausting.

As great-grandparents, Sandy and I are in the third line of defense. And given our current level of energy, that’s just about right.

We are fortunate to live now only a few blocks from Westin and his family. That means Sydney can stroll by with her son when she wants and connect with us; and my wife and I can take a short walk and drop in on Westin.

I think back to my college days when teachers in various fields — from psychology to anthropology — would talk about the long history of extended families, when generations of families would cluster together in one place, such as the Native Americans on the Midwestern plains. Sandy and I are lucky to be experiencing some of that now.

Living in Los Banos, as we have for many years, we are close to children, grandchildren and now a great-grandchild in a relatively close extended family circle. I guess that makes us the “elders” of this tribe, which brings me back to where I started with this column.

At age 73 I am both an elder and elderly. I have lived almost three-quarters of a century. I am still, thank the Lord, in relatively good health. But I realize there are no guarantees in life, especially when I read obituaries in the Enterprise of friends I’ve known who are younger than I am.

I realize life should be treasured each day. Having a great-grandchild increases that feeling. Seeing Westin soon after he was born and watching him grow and develop each week is truly a blessing and reminds me of all the other blessings I’ve had in children and grandchildren.

I am part of a great circle of life. I have many fewer years to live than Westin. I don’t know what will happen in those relatively few years, but I’m more determined than ever to cherish the love and beauty I encounter each day.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.