Parents, let’s see a show of hands. How many of you would agree that being the mother or father of a teen often involves pulling one’s hair out, screaming into a pillow several times a day, and taking a stiff drink now and then to calm the nerves? I thought so (I can envision a lot of hands in the air). Years ago I actually invested in a punching bag to help work out some of my parental frustrations. I’d head down to the basement, daily, and work up a good sweat before climbing the stairs feeling ready to assume again my role as a patient, understanding father. I highly recommend it.
As any parent knows, when children hit their teen years they often begin to drift, caught up in a newfound independence that borders on narcissism. A certain day comes along and our lovable little tots suddenly seem to forget us. We become invisible to them. Tender moments and family bonds instantly erase themselves from their memories. Their friends become more important, as well as the big double-D: driving and dating. We hope and pray that this is a normal stage and that it will pass. Meanwhile, we scrape and claw and do whatever it takes to stay connected. Recognizing that this is a relatively common event is good for retaining one’s sanity and not losing heart, but it does not always make the experience less painful. And this experience can also involve grandparents and their grandchildren.
I was sent the following poem by a grandmother who expresses her pain about “losing” her grandson. I have agreed to print it here, anonymously, since she clearly would prefer this. She included a note that she wanted this poem to be dedicated to all grandparents who have “lost” grandchildren. I would add that I hope the poem finds its way into her grandson’s hands and that he recognizes himself. I also hope, despite the universality of this experience with maturation, that he understands there are no totally free passes when it comes to showing our love and respect to those who have given so much to us. I hope this poem might serve as a wake-up call to him, and to any other grandchild who has drifted.
In summer, we used to run through the lush, green grass, my grandson and I,
playing tag and hide and seek.
We bounced on the trampoline and climbed up into the play fort to eat
our peanut butter sandwiches.
When we played wiffle ball and baseball, I pitched while “Chipper Jones”
stepped up to the plate.
I waved the checkered flag when “Jeff Gordon” crossed the finish line
in his tricycle “Nascar” races around our cul-de-sac.
Always, our days ended with my telling—and retelling—favorite bedtime stories.
Sometimes his out-of-town cousin would join him for some summertime fun—
to play dodgeball, film an “epic” movie, or cool off on the Slip-n-Slide,
pausing only to come in to eat their favorite meals of baked steak or chicken casserole—
or to check the “junk box” to see if a new toy or a special treat had magically appeared.
Often, we went to Dick’s Pizza to eat, watch the boats on the Ohio, and explore the river bank.
Other times we would head for Wild Kingdom to play the arcade games.
When cold or rain drove us indoors, we played cowboys and Indians, pick-up-sticks,
bingo; or hung a hoop over a door to play a cut-throat game of Nerf basketball.
Exasperated, his papaw would put down his paper and come to referee.
His papaw drove him to ball practice, to his orthodontist, to get Happy Meals,
or to buy chocolate-iced donuts for breakfast next morning.
Now…now he is a teenager and, like most teens, is uncommunicative and inscrutable
to us, consumed with texting friends and playing sports.
We go to his games—to yell, clap, or give a thumbs-up when he makes a spectacular play.
He doesn’t notice.
Afterward, we wait to congratulate him on a game well played.
He doesn’t wait.
He doesn’t even look our way to acknowledge our presence, but runs quickly
to a waiting car or school bus.
Each time, we are crushed.
We still welcome him warmly to our home.
We still have his favorite foods.
We still drive him wherever he needs to go.
We still hope he sometimes remembers the happy days.
Address poem submissions and correspondence to: firstname.lastname@example.org or Neil Carpathios, Shawnee State University, Dept. of English & Humanities, 940 Second Street, Portsmouth, OH 45662. 740-351-3478.