hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

July 4, 2013

Choosing among your own grandchildren

Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — I never thought I’d live to see the day when I would have to choose among my grandchildren. With six at hand, ages 11 down to 18 months, the choices are often difficult and sensitive ones to make.

All except the baby are active with school, sports, dance and scouting. There used to be a time when they were readily at my doorstep. Now, we have to check calendar dates and make appointments.

Conflicts do arise. As loyal grandparents, we’d like to be there for everyone’s activity and lend our support. But not if schedules don’t permit.

So what will it be this afternoon, Maya’s recital or Rocco’s baseball game? Perhaps we can catch an inning or two of baseball, then hightail it off to the dance in time to catch an encore.

What makes it more difficult is the distance. We’re an hour away from our grandchildren which often requires some adjustments.

“You attend the dance recital and I’ll go to the game,” I proposed to my wife.

“Come again?” she groans. “You want to take two cars? Are you going crazy in your old age?”

I don’t mind a dance recital, especially with my granddaughter. But truth be told, it’s an entire afternoon for two spot appearances that take about 3 minutes each. You’re there the whole time, then another hour later for pictures, rose presentations, and general chitchat with friends and neighbors.

It’s always my luck that the games I miss are those in which my 7-year-old has a field day at the plate. I can hear it now.

“Papa, you missed my home run. It was my best hit all season.”

Maybe a little exaggeration by the tot. Turns out he rapped a grounder by the pitcher and it rolled through the second-baseman’s legs. On came the outfielder who threw the ball over the third baseman’s head into a crowd of seat-dwellers who ducked for cover, sending my boy around third base and home.

I didn’t see any of it because I was at a pre-school graduation, listening to “Farmer in the Dell.” But Rex did look cute in his white cap and gown, tripping on the hem as he came across stage to accept his diploma. I got so excited, I blew the photo opportunity.

I can remember my own kids going through their different stages. With 13 years separating the two extremes, our timing couldn’t have worked out any better in the hockey rinks. When one graduated high school, the other was just beginning.

All said and done, we spent 25 years inside ice-cold arenas, forever giving pep talks and becoming immersed into a culture that was packed with constant challenges. Dinner together became a rarity. With both of us working, life became one spontaneous gesture.

Fortunately, I covered sports and was usually available to transport the kids to their events, especially if it meant a photo or coverage.

Now, I sit back and let my children handle the responsibility with their own. The pleasure is all mine and maybe I earned it. Win, lose or draw, they get a hug and a smile.

My youngest has blessed me with four children and I can see the day when they each travel in opposite directions, sending me into a tizzy. One day, I drove the hour’s distance to catch a game, only to see the clouds open up. I got there just in time to hear the postponement.

The afternoon was spent at Chuck E Cheese, so it wasn’t a total waste. But even there, you have to watch them like a security guard.

I know a man who left behind 23 grandchildren. He must have had one heck of a time meeting the demands of seven children. The twilight years were probably just as challenging, except that they lived all over the country and distance was his savior.

Here’s what the man did. One week here, another week there. They’d visit him and he would reciprocate. I have a friend in Boston who’s faced with a similar dilemma. Two of his four children are here. The others live in California.

Back and forth he goes, piling up frequent flyer points with haste. One graduation near home, another 3,000 miles away. For his 50th wedding anniversary, he invited the entire family to join him in Armenia and they all reciprocated, 19 in all.

Got rather costly, but it was his gift to his children while he was still alive, not dead. The memories he shared with his loved ones on that golden milestone were indelible.

I don’t mind the games and activities. Actually, they’re quite fun. But babysitting them can become a hassle, especially when they won’t go to bed.

More ice cream and cookies please!

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.