Marilyn Heins

Grandparents with grandchildren living nearby are especially blessed. My definition of “living nearby” is being close enough so you can visit a grandchild without having to get on an airplane.

Faraway grandparents may suffer from grandchild deprivation syndrome. And the grandchildren may exhibit symptoms of the grandparent deprivation syndrome. These conditions can be alleviated by keeping in touch (telephone, email, FaceTime, snail mail) as well as touching in person as often as possible.

When our twin grandchildren were born on Feb. 29, 1996, we were overjoyed. Boy-girl twins born on leap year day who would not have their first birthday until the 21st century. Very special!

My husband and I were determined to get to know, and be known by, these adorable bundles of joy. We flew more than halfway across the country every six to eight weeks. Left on Thursday and returned on Tuesday to accommodate our schedules.

We were able to see the incredible growth and development of infants, one of the best shows on earth. You can almost watch the brains developing new connections!

Alas, even if a beloved twin produced triplets today, such a visit is not for this octogenarian. I confess that I find travel difficult these days. I went to their college graduations and I intend to stay alive so I can watch my granddaughter graduate from medical school three years from now, even if I have to go in a stretcher by air ambulance!

Recognizing that travel is hard on Grandma, the twins fly here to visit me. They bring their significant others and we have a grand time. Between visits we stay as connected as we can.

My daughter, son, daughter-in-law, and 7-year-old grandson just visited for my birthday. There is no better birthday present on earth for an elderly grandparent.

I had time to visit and chat with each grownup alone. A real treat to catch up on their present life and future plans. When we were all together, we dredged up family memories galore!

Seven-year-old Joshua, my youngest grandchild, is a joy to see in person. He raced to the pool first thing after hugging me. He had brought along a huge, inflatable beach ball. Transparent and covered with colorful dots, it still floats in our pool, blown by the wind, and proving that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction as it hits the pool deck and sails off again and again.

We all dined out a couple of times. Grandma was delighted to see how civilized her grandchild was at a very grown-up restaurant where he got his first taste of tiramisu and gave it a thumbs up. Joshua eats well and has some amazingly healthy choices like cucumber sticks or frozen blueberries for snacks. I now keep frozen blueberries in the freezer for those moments when I really want something cold and sweet that is not ice cream. The old and the young can learn from each other, right?

In addition to a hand-drawn birthday card from Joshua, I also was given a lesson in the life of elementary school kids today. I learned a lot.

Schoolchildren today are all taught what to do if there is an armed intruder in the school. When I was in school, we had fire drills. The bell meant we had to quickly (but without running or pushing) take our designated exit route out of the building. These fire drills were always a surprise but were not scary, just a precaution we had to learn. A later generation of school kids was taught to duck and cover in case of a nuclear threat. I’m not sure if this scared them or not, but just thinking of it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

My daughter-in-law said Joshua’s school does all it can to make this a routine drill like a fire drill … something we have to do. I remember feeling very safe in elementary school and I knew the teachers would take care of me if anything happened. I feel awful thinking about second-graders like Joshua worrying about a gunman armed with a military weapon in his school.

I also learned that Lego bricks, the ones that were the same for years, have morphed. Now a Lego set has a theme and comes with tiny Lego figures of all sorts. Joshua showed me what they were and how he played with them.

He also showed me a gadget called Nintendo Switch, a video game you can play alone or take off the sides and play with another person. Very clever. He offered to teach me how to play but I declined. It would have been my first experience with a video game and I was scared. I watched him play alone and with his mom. Just as I could never learn to play, let alone win, a game of poker in Las Vegas, this, too, is beyond me.

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When asked, he assured me that video games were violent sometimes but it wasn’t real, just a game. He has learned to download new games. He wins with glee and loses gracefully, if noisily. He also has a gadget at home that teaches simple computer programming and told me he would bring it next time so he could teach me how to do it.

I have been on the anti-video-games side for a long time. I felt strongly that children should look at and interact with people not screens, games are violent, a waste of time, etc. But these exist in Joshua’s world.

Play in childhood has a vital purpose. It helps children learn not only skills but how the world works. Play is also a child’s downtime and everybody needs a break. My downtime after homework and chores were done was reading … my “drug of choice” was a book.

Joshua has an amazing schedule. School plus a full extracurricular life: karate, piano lessons, swimming (he was just advanced to the next level, came in fourth in his first race and currently wants to be Michael Phelps), and cooking lessons.

He likes the outdoors and nature (has a bug palace), vanilla milkshakes, reading simple books on his own. He can amuse himself and self-regulate. When he is tired or sulky he goes to his room and reads or plays. He does his chores (feeds the dogs and puts water in their bowls.) He followed my directions to keep all his Lego pieces on one end of the table.

Does he have no faults, doting Grandma? Of course he does. He is a noisy (hard on those of us with hearing aids) and pretty messy kid. But he wants to please and tries.

I learned a new trick that I share with other grandparents. If you want to make sure that all the tiny Legos are accounted for, walk barefoot around the house. Your feet will find an amazing number of tiny plastic objects!

Dr. Heins is a pediatrician, parent, grandparent, step great- grandparent, columnist, and the founder and CEO of ParentKidsRight.com. She welcomes your questions about all people throughout the life cycle, from birth to great-grandparenthood. Contact her at marilynheins@gmail.com.