Sunday, June 25, 2017

When a Grandparent and His Granddaughter Form an Unbreakable Bond: Malia and Her "Papa"

Mara here. A lot of surprises have come along with being a mom. Honestly, there's no way to fully comprehend the experience of raising a little human being until you find yourself doing it. One thing I’ve been most pleasantly surprised about is the very special bond that my daughter Malia has with my dad (reader's of my mom's books will know him as Tony).

My dad is a great guy and he was a great father...but I didn’t grow up thinking he would end up being my daughter’s best friend. When I was younger, he often felt stressed over normal adult things—work and family. He worked hard at a demanding job, had a wife trying to get through law school, and had two young kids.  And he hadn’t discovered Buddhism. Years of meditating and Buddhist study have mellowed him out a bit. 

And yet, he was always supportive of us. He was involved with our lives and interested in what we were doing at school. And once my mom started law school, he did most of the cooking for the family. 

So I always knew he’d be a terrific grandfather. However, growing up, I always thought that my mom would be the more active grandparent because she’s such a nurturing person. However, she got sick only six months after Malia was born, so she hasn't been able to be as involved with either of her grandkids as I know she wants to be. 

But my dad, or Papa as Malia calls him, has turned out to be a very significant part of my daughter’s life.

It's hard to describe their relationship because I think of them as buddies. But that doesn't accurately describe what they mean to each other. He's been her constant best friend and supporter in a way my husband and I, as her parents, can't be because we have to set the rules, establish routines, and dole out punishments. 

I think my dad and Malia became so close partly because he didn’t have pre-set expectations about her. He has always been very understanding if she's busy and can’t spend a lot of time with him. And he understands that she's growing and changing and often wants to do different things than they used to do together. In other words, he doesn't make her feel guilty about being herself. 

Somehow, he figured out the secret of balancing being an adult role model with being a good friend. 

This isn’t to take away from Malia’s other grandparents. All of her grandparents are great. I'm extremely grateful for this because I didn’t have a close relationship with any of my grandparents. My grandpa (my dad’s dad) died when I was pretty young. My mom's father died she was ten years old, and her mother lived in England so I only saw her a handful of times before she passed away when I was a teenager. And I was not very close to my dad’s mother. I loved her, but I didn’t think of her as a friend. So the fact Malia has four involved and loving grandparents is special. 

But the extra-specialness of her relationship with my dad is because he made a conscious decision when Malia was born that he was going to be a significant part of her life. He didn’t care that we live 400 miles away. From the time she was born, he has regularly taken the 6 hour drive even if he can only spend one day with her. When she was very young, he would make sure he came once a month.

And the truly unique thing about Papa's visits was that he always came up with special things for them to do. When Malia was a toddler, he'd plan eventful outings to museums and art galleries. They'd often go to musicals and movies. Malia loves food, so he'd take her out for special meals at fancy restaurants.

Once she got old enough to have opinions about their activities, he simply let her decide what they were going to do. It didn’t matter to him. He just wanted to spend time with her. They would discuss what they wanted to do for the weekend and he let her make a lot of the decisions, which she loved. He would take her to the mall and walk around, window shopping (and sometimes actual shopping) or play board games with her.

Sometimes, they'd spend hours in the car driving around wherever she told him to go (because she loved being in charge!). This was not something either my husband or I ever had the patience to do with her. 

He had conversations with her about serious life subjects—treating her as an equal. He always made her feel important. 

It was fortunate for us that he retired early so he was always available to come and babysit if we were busy or wanted to take a trip. And that was another unique and important aspect of their relationship—they spent most of their time together being alone—without me or my husband. Even if we were home, they liked to go off on their adventures by themselves. It was always just Papa and Malia time.

When Malia got older, she went through a teenage phase where she didn’t want to spend a lot of time with Papa. I know that was hard for him, but he didn’t get discouraged. He simply kept letting her know that he was there for her. He would come and visit and not be upset if she only spent a couple of hours with him. He accepted that she was growing up and that she would go through different phases.

Now, as she’s maturing, she’s so grateful for him. She’s old enough now to recognize how special and unique their relationship is. When she knows he's coming, we'll discuss things they can do and she often plans things and says, "I think Papa would like doing that." When she’s upset, she often turns to him to get advice and comfort. If I’ve had a fight with her or if she’s had a disappointment, I often hear her in her room Face-timing with her Papa. 

I feel so fortunate to have witnessed the development of their relationship. He will certainly be my grandparent role model when, hopefully, I become a grandmother. There will never be another "Papa" but I at least know what I'm aiming for.

Most important though is that Malia has a bond with Papa that she will have forever. 

Malia and Papa reading Strawberry Shortcake