Octo Observations: Quality Family Time Counts

A 24-hour visit with a soon-to-graduate high school grand-daughter is super satisfying. Especially if she has been raised to enjoy adults. Yesterday Caroline from Connecticut arrived in Richmond. And her Pop Pop, along with Pippa our pup, and I have loved every minute, every hour with her.

She is the second born of three girls. As she says, “I am often asked if I am the ballerina or if I am the gymnast. ‘No,’ I say. I am the Middle daughter.’”  And as her proud grandmother, I doubt she adds, “I am the captain of my squash team and a cracker jack tennis player!” Thanks to wonderful parenting, she is totally comfortable in her role. I love her equanimity, her sweet personality, and her view of life.

For two years, I have been on a quest to interview younger members of our family, including all nine grandchildren. Every “child” lives in a different city, from Connecticut to Seattle, and their ages range from 31 to 12. One day these answers will be included in Bonus Days, currently in its infancy. (At my age, no time to dilly dally!) 

Sweet Caroline readily agreed to be “interviewed.” Returning from a tasty dinner at our local eatery, we curled up, comfy in our retirement cottage living room. Pop Pop stretched out in his adjacent sunroom recliner, with ears perked up. The time flew by. I loved asking and listening. I loved Caroline’s articulate, thoughtful replies. She speaks beautifully. Her vocabulary reflects the solid secondary education she has received. No “ah’s,” “likes,” “you knows”…just good old fashioned, well-constructed sentences flowing seamlessly.

No matter their ages, each one of our “grandbabies” has strong opinions. Each one has different beliefs about such topics as religion, social media, use of cellphones, manners, sex, marriage, politics, etc. I love the interchange. I love that I do not feel like a fossil, and they do not treat me as one. I love that they feel comfortable to open up, to share honest answers. Hopefully, that is because we have developed solid relationships, despite physical distance, that generate a safe haven, or soft-landing space. A few questions may be skipped, however, with our youngest two grandchildren, as they may be too young to have serious thoughts on those subjects. After all, do 12 year olds know yet how they want to “contribute to the integrity of our country,”  or “how to avoid the rising number of single parents and failed marriages?” Maybe so. Best to check with their moms.

Being surrounded by friends whose families live within a small radius is often hard. I admit to occasional attacks of envy. Those who have lived in one city all their lives seem to produce children who also settle nearby.  Corporate families like ours never had the opportunity to stay put. We moved frequently, because a move signaled a career boost for dad. I have learned, however, that thanks to modern communication, it is still possible to create meaningful connections to our grandchildren. These “Generation Gab” conversations bring us closer. They open my eyes wider.  What fun to know how these vibrant young people think and feel!

These “interviews,” like my new book, are a work in progress. So far, I have asked the same questions of our older daughter, her older son and his wife, my oldest nephew from California, our professional ballerina grand-daughter and her sister Caroline. If I don’t move faster, I will need to resort to questionnaires via email. Time to get cracking! But that would eliminate watching the body language as each one responds. I want to see their eyes light up with the passion of their thoughts. I want to watch their heads tilt or turn with excitement or surprise at Grammy Joy’s various, evocative questions. 

Long ago the co-ordinator of our local Hospice organization (coaching us novice volunteers) said, “You will be surprised. You will think you are the ones who are giving, but in reality, you are the ones who are receiving… if you listen.” Of course, “Generation Gab” is hardly a hospice situation, but it allows us to crawl safely into a loved one’s mind without intruding or prying. A common set of questions feels neutral. When we ask and listen, we of the older generation view a glimpse of the world as it may be after we are gone. We become more educated to the ongoing changes, yet more attuned to what may remain the same. Hopefully, the best values that we have tried to teach are perpetuated.  To know more is to love; to love better is to cherish; and to cherish more fully is to spawn hope for the future. 

Amazing how much one octogenarian grandmother can learn from a beautiful, bright 18 year-old during a brief 24 hour visit! After all, isn’t it quality not quantity that counts the most? 

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.

Photos: Bigstock