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Is it too much of a stretch to compare a dancing snowflake to a child? Recently, after watching the Dance of the Snowflakes in a local production of the Nutcracker, in which two of my grandchildren performed, I found myself thinking about grandchildren and snowflakes.  Children are a little bit like snowflakes. Each one is unique.  Each one is splendid.  Each is exquisite.  There was never one exactly like them in the past and there will never be one exactly like them in the future. Childhood disappears quickly as does a snowflake.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  Remarkable!  It’s been through the blessing of grandchildren that I have truly been able to fully appreciate the miracle of childhood and the full measure of life.

Its wonderful  is to watch our grandchildren grow up. I take great pleasure in being a part of their lives.  I am in awe of the rapidity of change.

It can be challenging to raise a child.  I look back now and wonder how I did it!  Youth helped a lot.  One of the gifts of aging, if you’re lucky, is to have time for yourself.   As a grandparent, there can be an inherent conflict between your love of freedom and your grown children’s desires to have you do “grandparently” things.  Where do you draw the line between self and family obligations or family expectations as time becomes more precious?  I first asked this question as an adolescent.  I guess the balance question follows you through life, in one form or another.  We all need to find our own balance point, I think.

I was the kind of Mom who had to have my own thing going on in my life while my kids were growing up, or I’d be dealing with depression. Non stop parenting became boring and could stifle my sense of self and test my sanity.  I needed and craved an identity beyond being a parent. Interestingly, my needs are not much different now!

Just as parents come in all shapes and sizes, so do grandparents and so do families.  There’s been a lot written about misguided efforts to be “perfect” parents, but nothing I’ve come across talks about a similar drive to be the perfect grandparent.  Personally I don’t think we get to do perfection in relationships in life.  Parenthood is usually lots of trial and error.  Those challenges are lightened by an occasional acknowledgement that our efforts have paid off and we’ve helped raise a child who is a good person and will do her part to make a contribution to the world, be it large or small.  That role is not nearly as intense for grandparents, but it’s easy to feel guilty when our children or grandchildren are looking for more than we’re able or even willing to give, both physically or psychologically.  I’ve heard this from my peers and I’ve experienced it myself.

Many grandparents easily slip  into the role of default babysitter or chauffeur, which I’m sure delights their adult children and their grandchildren as well. Good for them. I knew immediately that role was not for me. I want to grandparent in a way that’s meaningful to me and not in a way that is imposed.  Scratch that sweet image of a patient, smiling cookie baker too. I feel a little badly about my lack of enthusiasm for this, but not badly enough to  get out the cookie cutters or heat up the oven.

I do relish my role as observer and facilitator. From the vantage point of advancing age, I can now see children for the miraculous beings that they are.  They learn so much so quickly.  Their bodies are in a constant state of flux.  They’re hungry for knowledge and experience.  It’s a gift to watch this being played out as they  learn to talk, walk, run, dance, read, write, draw, play a musical instrument, share, learn kindness, etc. They’re constantly seeking the balance between independence and dependence.  I want to be there for as much of it as I can.  I take pleasure in their successes and share concerns about their challenges.  I want to be able to be a meaningful influence in their lives.  I enjoy taking them places, be it travel, museums or performances.

Most of all, I want them to know how much they are loved and appreciated.  I want them to know we, who are of sound mind, want to do the best we can for them.  As parents or grandparents.  I want them to know how grateful I am to be able to see the ongoingness of life through them, to get another opportunity to revisit, with more mature eyes, the brief time that is childhood. I want to continue my own growth as I watch theirs.

Life is growing short. There’s no longer time or energy to do it all, as I could easily pretend when young or middle-aged. I  might miss some of the important moments in the lives of my grandkids while I’m off chasing a rainbow, but, I hope they know I love them with all my heart. Maybe, if we’re lucky, I’ll even be able to share a piece of the rainbow with them someday!

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Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.