My eldest grandson lives two hours away from us in Belfast. We don’t see him very often because of the distance between us. When we do get together, it is usually for a family gathering which includes his younger sisters and his parents.
One day, I was struck by the idea that I have seldom had one-to-one time with my grandson. I decided I should invite him to spend some time together – just the two of us. So on our next visit, I asked him, “Do you want to go out for a burger?” I was slightly surprised when he readily agreed. Then my reservations began.
How do you talk one-to-one with a nine-year-old boy? Would it be a short, choppy, dry conversation of the “Yes, Grandpa, No Grandpa,” sort? Who would be more nervous and unsure? What would we talk about? Suppose he asked me some difficult questions? What if he talked about things he should really be talking to his parents about? I felt as if I was about to go for a job interview and was unprepared for it!
However, the die had been cast. We got in the car and drove to the restaurant. The conversation was interesting. First remarks were about the burger. Then came a comment about a school friend, a sentence or two about football, and a remark about being in church. Questions followed, “I prefer mayonnaise to mustard with my burger – what do you prefer Grandad?” and “What is it like to live in heaven?” Finally some seemingly unrelated comments were spoken, “One boy in school regularly misbehaves” and “I’m not really keen on football.”
It wasn’t a linear conversation at all. I did my best to make appropriate short responses – which seemed odd but fine. After all, I am in my late 60s and he was just 9. What did I expect? A discussion on Nicomachean Ethics?
Although some of his questions were quite deep, I realized he wasn’t always looking for answers. He just wanted reassurance that he had been heard. A head nod was often enough! He mainly needed me to be his grandad and to be present, a role few others have in his life.
In the end, I felt like I had just qualified for a job – being a strategic grandparent! It has started me down an important path and I am loving it!
Brendan Lynch lives in Dublin and has eight grandchildren.