My husband and I had been psyched about the concert for months. Months. The Pixies are one of our favorite bands, and Weezer is up there in my top five. In the month before, my kids and I had become obsessed with their cover of “Africa,” which the boys requested literally every time we got into the car (I had never thought I would memorize all the words to a Toto song, but life is strange). Since pretty much everyone we knew in town was going to the concert — especially all our friends with kids, who grew up listening to “Buddy Holly,” “Surf Wax America,” and “El Scorcho,” — babysitters were nonexistent. Zip. Nada. All booked. Except we were lucky. We had a grandparent in town.
My mom showed up at 5:00, with enough time for us to have a dinner and drinks at a crowded restaurant (along with everyone else going to see Weezer). While I was belting out the lyrics to “My Name is Jonas” and “Can’t Knock the Hustle” — and yes, “Africa” — my mom was baking brownies with my three sons, and giving them a bath, because she’d brought them squirt guns and they’d gotten themselves soaked. She herded them into bed at their normal hour.
We returned after 11 p.m. to find their grandma sitting on the couch, playing on her iPad. “They’re in bed,” she said. She left us the rest of the brownies.
This is what happens when you have a grandparent who shows up.
You get actual date nights. My mother moved into town just this summer, so my husband and I did life with kids for nine years without family nearby. We literally had two dates in that entire span of time. You try finding sitters for three boys with ADHD. I tried sitter-finding services, but was always disappointed for one reason or another. Now that my mom’s here, we can go out regularly. Because we have a grandparent willing to show up and pitch in, my husband and I get time to ourselves. This helps our marriage significantly. Our resident grandparent is an integral part of our village, and we’re so grateful. She helps our marriage stay where it needs to be.
A grandparent also just helps out. Some nights, we’re exhausted and tired and just don’t feel like adulting. And there’s my mom with chicken and dumplings. Oh my god, what a damn relief, to go over to your mom’s house and get fed. My grandmother did this for my mother too. I remember many a night she fed us when my mom was worn out from work. And sometimes it’s not food. Sometimes it means that my mom comes over and cleans out my microwave. We tell her not to. She does it anyway. My grandmother used to fold our clothes. A grandparent who helps is invaluable to a family. You’re suddenly not alone in the world. You’re not adrift. There’s a hand to hold onto.
A grandparent who shows up also shows up for your kids. They make them feel loved. My mother treats my sons like tiny monarchs. She always carries cans of freaking Pringles in her purse for them. Every time they come over, she hands them small presents. Lego minifigs. Tiny notebooks. Pez dispensers. And when dessert rolls around, there are at least three options. My mom’s love languages are presents and food, respectively. But mostly, she’s there to be there. A grandparent who shows up is present. They hug your kids. They ask about their day. They love them. Your kids get one more person in their lives who care about them, and that’s worth more than anything else.
And that grandparent? They freaking care about you, too. They might be the one person who cares that you’re all sick and drops off food. They remember your birthday and make you a cake. They give your spouse (your spouse!) a birthday card and a present. If you need to cry because you have to put your dog to sleep, that grandparent’s right there for you. They can take the kids. They can tell you it’s okay, too. You need that in your life. A grandparent who shows up isn’t just showing up for the kids. They’re showing up for all of you.
That doesn’t mean that grandparent doesn’t have their own life. They do. They have jobs and hobbies and pets and all the things that trail along behind a person. And when they show up for you, you show up for them. When my mom needs camping equipment for her Sisters on the Fly trips, we’re there. When she needed a new fly-fishing reel, my husband, in a gesture that still brings me close to tears for its pure sweetness, bought her a new one from Amazon. When she was sick, I brought her dinner in the middle of a storm. You show up for sickness. You show up to nail on roof tiles. You show up to hang pictures and decorate trees and run errands. You just show the hell up.
You don’t do it because you have to. You do it because you love them.
And sometimes you can’t show up, and it makes you sad. I work a lot, and I miss a lot of family dinners. I’m always upset when I can’t be there. Sometimes your grandparent can’t show up, and it makes them sad, too. It’s not an obligation, this give-and-take. It’s built on love and trust. It’s built on a good family relationship: one that isn’t toxic, one that’s about honesty and integrity and helping one another. One that lifts each other up instead of tearing each other down. One that might celebrate the good parts (like how my husband and my mom are both great teachers) and ignore the bad ones (like how I cuss a lot in my essays: sorry, Mom).
A grandparent who shows up is one of the most amazing things a family can have.
Thanks, Mom, for showing up. — Elizabeth Broadbent