The pros and cons of Grandparents Camp

Last week The Wife and I held our first grandparent’s camp, hosting our two grandsons – ages 2½ and 1 – for three days, two nights.

Grandparents camp, illustrative (photo credit: Courtesy)
Grandparents camp, illustrative
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Like so many new immigrants, The Wife and I dreaded the dog days of summer when the kids were small.
These were the days when there was no school, no summer camp, no daycare. It’s not that we didn’t love our four children; it’s just that to feed and clothe them, we needed to work, and working was tough when all the kids were at home with nothing much to do.
So we cast envious eyes upon our Israeli neighbors who didn’t dread the onslaught of August, but rather looked forward to it. Why? Because they could pack up their little tykes and ship them out for two, three and four days at a time to their parents, a very Israeli concept known as kaytanat Saba v’Savta (Grandma and Grandpa’s camp).
This was a win-win for everyone. The parents would get a break from the kids and go to work carefree; the kids would get a break from their parents and eat a lot of junk food; and the grandparents would get some quantity time with those providing them with a dusting of immortality.
“Won’t it be nice for our kids to be able to do this,” The Wife and I consoled each other back then, romanticizing about being able to give our kids something we never had because our parents lived oceans away.
FAST-FORWARD three decades or so, and here we are. Last week The Wife and I held our first grandparent’s camp, hosting our two grandsons – ages 2½ and 1 – for three days, two nights. The Wife and I both took off three vacation days from work to serve as co-directors of this “camp.”
I don’t remember ever being so tired in my life.
“How did we raise kids?” I asked The Wife, when my son Skippy came to retrieve his offspring.
“We were younger then,” she said.
After three days of servicing the grandkids’ every need, feeding them, running after them, keeping them entertained, bathing them, and getting up with them in the middle of the night, I had a newfound respect for Skippy and his wife.
“How do they do all that, and still have the energy to go to work?” I asked the Wife.
“We did it, too, you just forget,” she replied.
THERE ARE a lot of things I forgot.
For instance, I forgot that with kids this small you really don’t have to go anywhere too far. No need to schlep them to the zoo in the middle of corona on a hot summer day because of some idealized notion that that is what grandparents do. Just go to a neighbor’s backyard, fill up a plastic pool and give them some popsicles and Terra chips. The kids will be just as happy, probably even more so. And you’ll be far less exhausted.
I also forgot how much energy goes just into unfolding baby carriages and getting the kids in and out of the car. Those chores in themselves are mentally and physically taxing.
The baby carriage has buttons to push and handles to pull, and the car seats have hooks to anchor and clasps to clasp. You want to feel inadequate? Stand out on the street with a kid at your knees bawling as you fumble around trying to figure out what lever to pull to get the wheels to pop open so the carriage can finally roll.
But I overstate. Or, as The Wife put it: “Stop kvetching and just appreciate the moment.”
The two, however, aren’t mutually exclusive: I can appreciate the moment and kvetch at the same time. I can thank God for having the opportunity and the health to be able to take care of my grandsons, and still complain that it’s a tad tiring. A big tad tiring. I can walk and – at the same time – complain about the wad of gum I’m chewing.
ANOTHER CHALLENGE is one I remember well from my own child-rearing days: how to communicate. More precisely, in what language to speak to the kids?
The Wife and I were a bit lax when our kids were small about forcing them to speak English in the home. We had a close friend who made this an issue of principle, and constantly battled his children about it. Ours was a different path: we just wanted the kids to speak to us. The language was secondary.
As a result, Skippy’s English, while passable, is not exactly Shakespearean, and with his Israeli-born wife uncomfortable speaking the language, the two don’t ever speak my native tongue to my grandsons (the chutzpah!).
So what should we do? Use the few hours we have with the tots speaking, reading and singing to them in English? Or should we do everything in Hebrew, so they actually understand what we say?
How much are they really going to absorb if we insist on English for the short time they are with us? Let’s say that we teach them how to say “red.” Is that really going to matter much in the long term? I live in fear of them having two sets of grandparents, one set – the native-born Israeli grandparents whom they actually like to visit because they understand what they are saying – and the other odd set of grandparents who speak in gibberish and sing unfamiliar songs.
So we went for the Hebrew, and I think this has already enabled us to make an impression.
How do I know? After the boys were with us last week, Skippy then took them up to visit their great-grandparents in Kiryat Motzkin. Prominent on one of the walls in the house is a picture of a distant relative: Rabbi Israel Abuhatzeira, the venerable Baba Sali.
My oldest grandson took a look at the picture, pointed, and said excitedly, “Saba Herb, Saba Herb (pronounced “Saba Urb, Saba Urb”).
My emotions were mixed when Skippy retold that tale. On the one hand I was a little hurt, because while the Baba Sali was a saintly and holy man, he’s not going to be remembered for a movie star appearance. Yet on the other hand, this showed that – after three days – at least I was still on my grandson’s mind.