Monday, September 22, 2008

The Grandparent Effect



Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my family, and, though you better not tell them and swell their heads, I actually like my in-laws. While most liken their visits to the in-laws to prison stays in Siberia, I look upon it as merely a jaunt to Wisconsin, a pleasant, amiable place where you’d think they’d serve more kielbasa.

And Poohbutt absolutely loves the grandparents. Who wouldn’t? God, they spoil that girl. No longer is it “just you and me, kid” or just her boring, old parents. There are suddenly parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, great-uncles, great-aunts, cousins, neighbors, random passersby, all collected to lavish attention on her—which I’m pretty sure is how it should be in her mind.

I mean, we’re all born narcissists, right? And how wouldn’t we be? As soon as we’re born (if we’re lucky), there are at least two grown people running around like lunatics trying to satisfy our every need. I cry, they feed me. I whimper, they pick me up. I clear my throat, they give me something to drink. These suckers are so into me, they even change my clothes when I soil myself. Heck, I don’t even do that.

Throw the extended fam into the mix, and my li’l girl is in kiddie heaven. All these people are climbing over themselves showing her just how special she is. They cheer her every babble, offer her all kinds of toys, feed and clothe her, hug and kiss all over her. The Grandparent Effect—where every baby is a star!

(Which is how it should be.)

And this past Fourth of July, Poohbutt was in a parade to help her granddad’s run for city council. And all those people came to see her. I mean, what is this “Independence Day” all about, anyway? The girl did not disappoint her adoring public—laughing and smiling and being all coy and cute—giving the people what they want. It’s the least she could do for her loving fans.

But then the weekend ends, and it’s just her and her lame Daddy. She suddenly looks around, nothing, then looks at me, still glowing from all the adulation. She declares, haughtily, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

“Close-up?” I ask. “Wait, you’ve seen Sunset Boulevard?”

“Why, of course, father.”

When did she get a British accent?

“But Poohbutt,” I apologize, “I don’t—well, life isn’t a movie, baby.”

“Hm.” She contemplates. “Well, dearest father, are you familiar with Ice Cube’s oeuvre?”

“You are? God, you mother’s going to kill me. Wait, are we talking about his kids’ movies?”

“Oh, silly man,” she scoffs.

“Yeah, I guess that was foolish of me,” I admit.

“Perhaps, you are familiar with the line, ‘Once again, it’s on.’”

“Yeah, yeah. ‘No Vaseline.’ I love that song. Why?”

She stares at me—waiting for me to get it. I get it.

I gasp. “Oh, shit.”

“WAAAAHHHHH!!!”

“But baby, it was just a visit. We’ll see them again!”

“WAAAAHHHHH!!!”

And then, for the next several hours, yours truly gets a Basic Training workout—doing thousands of jumping jacks, slaloming through countless obstacle courses, climbing ropes, dodging live bullets and barbed wire—trying to calm down my daughter, who suddenly misses all that grandparent attention.

As I said, I love my family and the in-laws. I love that Poohbutt makes them so happy. When you see the joy and love that everyone exudes—one big, happy fam playing together—you realize this is the way life should be. Not this rat-race, “nuclear family” fiction isolated in our single-family dwellings hooked to the cathode-ray babysitter. There’s something whole and natural about the whole experience. Somehow, we’ve gotten it all backwards. Nothing can replace the entire family. Besides, with all those built-in babysitters, maybe Moms and Pops could go see a movie once in awhile.

But there’s a flipside to each visit—no matter which side of the family’s visiting. It’s the Monday morning hangover. The Grandparent Effect is pretty powerful stuff. Sometimes it takes entire days for Poohbutt to get all that affection out of her system. Apparently, it’s a pretty painful withdrawal process ‘cause that little girl can cry and cry for hours on end.

This weekend was cousin Taishan’s first birthday, and Poohbutt hammed it up as usual, showing off her nascent crawling skills, becoming the Queen of Babble-On, cracking jokes, making people laugh, claiming she’s more qualified than Sarah Palin to be V.P. Sure, she had to share the spotlight with her cousin, but I’m sure she feels she stole the show.

This morning, it’s back to Daddy’s meager love. I mean, the old man’s all right, but …

Wish me luck, people.

1 comment:

Grant said...

Chad was on my lap when I read this. When she saw the picture of "Poohbutt" she started smiling and pointing.