The Power Of A Grandparent's Story
It’s time somebody said it. Grandparents matter. We step in and dare to tread where even the bravest of parents won’t. We invite those little people to climb in our lap with their damp bottoms and sticky fingers. We listen to endless jokes that have no punchline. We cram our oversized behinds into itty bitty pink plastic Barbie chairs for princess tea parties that don’t even include tea while wearing a plastic tiara that digs into our scalp. And we like it. We like it because that five-year-old who invited us is the perfect balance of spicy delight and winsome charm.
These are not the activities I would choose to do on my own, mind you. The other day I listened to an endless description of a little boy on the playground that had big ears and a rip in the seat of his shorts who happily shared his candy corn. (That story went nowhere by the way. I think the point was that he had candy corn and candy corn is good.) But as I gaze into the faces of three-year-old Mollie Rose and five-year-old Maggie Claire (both southern girls, hence the double names) who share such stories, something happens. Life gets bigger.
I am captivated by these short people that belong to me even though I didn’t give birth to them. Their faces hold breathtaking glimpses of days long past and delightful promises of days to come. These glimpses remind me that the days are long but the years are short and fly by with lightning speed. It causes me to slow down and consider the implications. Being a “Mimi” (nobody utters the word grandma in my house) is so much bigger than having the joy of saying “yes” to another roll of Smarties before we’ve even had dinner. My husband Geoff and I are the life-giving keepers of their story.
We hold the story of how their daddy came into the world and was the most beautiful creation ever but who also looked a little like Yoda, all arms and spindly legs. We share the wonder of when each of our kids and grandkids came into the world and how it was magical and overwhelming and the most wonderful day EVER all rolled into one. When we share these stories, we’re not just sharing words. We’re giving a peek behind the curtain of our family in ways only we can. As we share the funny (the time their daddy broke eggs on the kitchen floor because he wanted to see their insides), and the frustrating (the time Aunt Boo shared her brilliance by writing the word “FOX” on her wall and carpet and bed with a permanent marker), and their lineage (how their daddy was the first grandchild to my parents and how Maggie Claire was their first great-grandchild.)
With our words, we’re not just passing on a legacy, we’re outliving ourselves. The Surratt name has a rich history of characters who mostly did the best they could, making both good and poor choices, some insignificant and others profound. As we tell the story, both the funny and the hard, the brilliant and the obscure, we paint an imperfect picture; a hot-mess-of-a-crew connected by more than birth. In the very telling of it, it sets the stage. It says “Yes, you will make mistakes too, but you’ll also do great things. Either way, you are one of us, and we will imperfectly share mercy and grace and try to love you like God loves us.”
When we share the story of how their great-great-grandpa started a church in an old storefront and gathered the family for the reading of the Christmas story mispronouncing some of the words with tears rolling down his cheeks, we’re passing along the foundation of who God is and how it shapes who we are today. In the telling and the listening, we are saying it’s okay to be imperfect and messy and broken, but we’re Surratts and that means something. You belong to us and we’re proud as can be.
My role as “Mimi,” and Geoff’s role as “Papa,” matters. When we listen to the grandkids stories that have no point or plot, and as we play games where the rules change with the breeze, our presence screams loudly, “You matter! To me and to our family.”
So grandparents, tell the story. If you don’t live nearby, you’ll need to get creative with Skype or Facetime and tell it in a way that melts the distance into nothingness. Don’t for a moment think that being a grandparent equals irrelevance. You matter. No one else can do what you do.