This weekend, my grandkids are coming for a month-long visit. It’s the second year in a row they’ve come in the summer to spend significant time with Older Daughter and me, and we’re as excited as if we were heading for Christmas morning.
When Older Daughter was quite young, and her two oldest cousins were even younger, my parents created a tradition of taking the grandkids for a few weeks every summer. It was just a “thing.” Nobody questioned it. Nobody had to think about it or see if it could be worked into their schedule. It just was. It’s what happened.
The kids knew it would happen every year and looked forward to it eagerly. The older grandkids got a major surprise the first year when my parents took them to Elich Gardens in Denver. Mom and Dad purposely didn’t tell them what the “gardens” really were, and the kids weren’t all that excited about the anticipated botanical experience.
After the first year, however, they knew a trip to the amusement park was on the schedule, as was a trip to their favorite campground just outside Rocky Mountain National Park and horseback riding while they were there and fishing with Grand-dad. There was always a campfire, always hot dogs, always S’Mores. These things were just given. Not discussed. Not questioned. They were as regular and expected as sunrise and sunset. It was never “Can we?” but “When will we?”
No road trip with my dad was ever accomplished without a stop for a milkshake. When I was a kid, we’d stop in some small town along the way and get a shake at the local Tastee Freeze or Dairy King or whatever it was called in that town. Then Dairy Queen began making Blizzards, and that became the treat of choice. My kids could count on at least one Blizzard on the road between Utah and Colorado (and back again) every summer without fail.
I don’t know if my parents consciously set out to create traditions, or whether they chanced into it, but they were great at creating traditions. They were steady and reliable and you could plan your calendar around them. Every year that I remember as a child, we drove from Montana to Utah to visit family. We went through Idaho one way and through Wyoming the other. The Wyoming trip was always my favorite because it always included a stop in Yellowstone National Park, which remains my favorite place on the planet to this day. In later years, you could count that they would travel from Colorado to Utah for Christmas every year.
So it seems a bit odd to me that creating the same sort of tradition for my grandkids didn’t just automatically occur to me. Of course, because I was usually working 2 and 3 jobs, I only went on a few of these yearly excursions–and by “a few” I mean probably two–so they weren’t my thing as much as they were my daughters’ things. My kids are twelve years apart, so Older Daughter was part of the three-kid older group, while Younger Daughter went a few years later with one cousin the same age. Still, after sending kids of for summers with the grandparents for 20 years or so, you’d think it might have occurred to me when my own grandkids came along.
In my defense, from the time the Princess was about 3 and the Pixie was a year old, I lived all of about 5 miles away. I saw them several times a week and made a point of giving their mom a day every week to do her own thing while I took the kids on an adventure. So there was that–“Adventures with Ooma and Auntie Val” have long been a “thing” for my grandkids. The whole summer visit thing wasn’t even an issue until they left Florida and moved to Texas, and then I ended up going to see them rather than them coming to spend time with me.
It wasn’t until last year, when Younger Daughter was working for the first time since the kids were born, and summer daycare became an issue, that the idea of bringing the kids here for a visit became a blip on the radar screen. When it did, though, I knew it had to become a tradition.
And so it has. We’re gearing up for year #2, resuscitating the list the kids made last year of things to do while they were here so we can do the same things this year. Things like:
- Going to the library
- Going to the park
- Getting a Sno-ball at the stand by the park
- Riding bikes
- Play the piano (x2)
- VBS (Vacation Bible School at the church they attended when they lived here.)
- Popsicle parties
The list is much longer than that, of course, but it’s a good list that doesn’t require a great deal of cash outlay. We’ve even created a tradition already of meeting in Memphis, halfway between their home in the Midwest and our home in Florida, on both legs of the trip, and I suspect dinner at my son-in-law’s favorite restaurant may become another tradition, as is a visit to our favorite Elvis souvenir shop.
In most things, I’m a “variety is the spice of life” sort of gal. I like change and I’m easily bored, but I embrace change only as long as I have a solid foundation beneath my feet. And maybe that’s where the value of traditions comes in. My kids’ visits to my parents’ house every year gave them not just something to look forward to, but something they could count on. No matter what else was going on in our lives, (and there were years when life was ugly, overly dramatic and brutal) those visits with Grandmother and Granddad gave them solid ground beneath their feet.
I saw that play out last year with my grandkids, who had suddenly been moved away from the home they knew and loved, and who were struggling to adjust to life in a small mid-western town. It wasn’t just new surroundings they were adjusting to, but almost everything. Dad, who had been in the military their whole lives, suddenly wasn’t any longer. Mom, who had been home with them their whole lives, was suddenly working full-time. They’d gone from attending churches with lots of kids their own ages, to a small church with very few kids, and even though Grandma and Grandpa were there, it was still very different for them.
They needed to land on solid ground for a few weeks, and our house happened to fit the bill. Because we’d lived here when the were very small and they spent so much time here regularly, our house was familiar and exactly the same as it was when they lived nearby. Even their stacks of “clear” (unused) paper and colored pencils were in their spot in the living room, just waiting for them to come over. (What can I say? I needed to think they’d be over any day.)
Coming back “home” allowed them to ground themselves so they could go back to the new home refreshed and able to finish making the transition they’d been struggling to make before their visit. Traditions help us know where we came from and who we are, so we feel safer stepping out into the unknown, trusting that the old and familiar will be there when we look back.
But lest you think I’m some saintly grandmother whose motives for initiating this new summer tradition are all entirely selfless, let me be perfectly honest. They are not.
I need time with the Princess and the Pixie like I need air to breathe. I need time with my daughters the same way. It’s not right or natural for us to be separated by so many miles and so many months. I’m doing the best I can to cope with it and to remain relatively sane and positive since I cab’t change what is, but it isn’t easy. Spending time with my kids and grandkids is vitally important to my mental health and my emotional well-being. Plus, everyone knows that if I go too long without a hug from my grandkids, my arms will fall off … so there’s that, too.
I’m more than grateful that my life is in a place where I can have the grandkids come and visit for an extended period of time. I know how blessed I am to work in a career that gives me freedom over my schedule. It’s a far cry from those days when I was stuck at home working 3 jobs while the rest of the family got together without me. The change is definitely not lost on me.
If you have some summer traditions, please share them. I’d love to hear about them.