Posted on February 16th, 2015
The guest of honor didn’t know what to make of the proceedings.
When a birthday balloon charged with static electricity stuck to his hair, he walked in circles trying to catch it.
When he saw that one of his presents was a pair of shoes, he tried to eat them.
His birthday cake, specially made with ingredients he’s not allergic to, was another story. A couple of exploratory nibbles and he quit eating in favor of rubbing frosting on his shirt.
The guest of honor was my great grandson, Grayson. The occasion was his first birthday party.
Around him, chaos. Empty bags and boxes, shredded wrapping paper, presents, pizza, and, amid the general uproar, the resident dog, Idgy, barking at will. At the height of the festivities, a dog no one had ever seen before and that happened to be passing by took advantage of an open door to join the party and scavenge for leftovers.
At a time when a lot of people our age have joined the snowbird set, my wife and I have become elder statesmen of the day-care set. My home office is home to a play pen. A walker, a toy grocery cart and a Johnny Jump-Up grace the dining room. Kitchen shelves once lined with condiments now hold bottles and formula.
It’s an understatement to say that no one in the family was ready for all this. My wife and I were enjoying our retirement. The younger of our two daughters was dumbfounded at the prospect of becoming a grandmother at 37. And all of us were convinced that Hailey, Grayson’s mother, wasn’t ready to be a parent.
All of which shows just how wrong those of us who think we know everything can be. And … here’s the thing. While all of us – on both sides of his family – have shared the responsibility of caring for Grayson, it’s not so much what we’ve done for him as what he’s done for us.
Aside from Hailey, the one whose life has changed most in the last year is our older daughter, Andie. Single with no children, she was enjoying her immaculate home and independent lifestyle. But Hailey, also single and at the time Grayson was born jobless, couldn’t afford the rent on a suitable place to raise a child. So meticulous Aunt Andie thought hard, swallowed hard and had them move in with her.
“I knew I needed to take a chance,” she said. “Hailey is so smart, and something inside me said that if I didn’t do this she’d be struggling just to survive and would never get an education. That’s more important than having a perfect house.”
So far, it seems to be working. In addition to having a job and taking care of Grayson, Hailey is taking a full load and getting excellent grades at BSU – due in no small part to her new reason for living.
“Having Grayson has made me more responsible,” she said. “A lot of my friends go to concerts and college parties, and now I don’t care about those things. I’d rather stay home with him and sing songs and watch annoying Disney movies. And when school seems overwhelming, I think about how excited I am to give him a good future. It gives me the energy to keep pushing through because he needs me to be the best I can be.”
Now 21, she’s the first to admit that as a teenager she made poor choices. She made mistakes she’s still paying for, but having a child turned her life around. Her mother, our younger daughter Jennifer the new grandmother, was “worried sick about the direction she was going. Now I don’t worry about that. Her whole focus is on being a good mom. It’s brought me so much closer to her. She understands now how much I love her as a mother because of the love she feels for Grayson.”
Brad Peterson, Grayson’s dad, added that for him fatherhood “epitomizes what it’s like to put someone else’s welfare ahead of yourself. I hadn’t experienced that and didn’t know how rewarding it is, or about the love that comes with it.”
One of the biggest reasons for the success story of Grayson’s life so far is Grayson himself. In three generations, we’ve had our share of difficult babies and easy babies, but none quite like him. The kid is almost never cranky. He’s cheerful, easy going and has a smile that could light a small city. He hardly ever fusses, thinks almost everything is funny and unfailingly makes us laugh. He could make John Boehner laugh.
The lad is insatiably curious. The phrase “into everything” was invented for him. He easily undoes the baby locks on kitchen cupboards and takes out everything from spices to mixing bowls. He throws things down the stairs, hid my ball cap in the trash, empties the bathroom wastebasket in the tub, buried the Blu-ray remote in the laundry hamper …
And none of that matters. As daughter Jennifer said, “he could destroy everything in my living room and I wouldn’t care. He’s more important than those things.”
That will change as he learns about boundaries. But for now, we’re content to let him enjoy being a baby and brighten our days. Seeing him never fails to lift my spirits. He makes me laugh even at my grumpiest. Our lives have been enriched just by having him.
A year into his life, it’s hard to believe that we ever saw Hailey’s announcement that she was pregnant as bad news. Grayson is the best news, the best gift, we could have had.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on www.woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at email@example.com.