Musings and Amusings

The Other Grandparents

Last week we watched a sweet, humorous 2012 family movie: Parental Guidance.



Bette Midler and Billy Crystal play the unlikely grandparents suddenly called to duty when their daughter accompanies her husband on a business trip and their “go to” sitters – the husband’s parents – have a crisis of their own.

The mishaps begin when Bette and Billy arrive from the airport and their brightly colored toddler gifts indicate their lack of awareness about the grandkids’ ages and interests. It’s a fun movie for all ages – watch it with your kids and your parents!

Here’s what got me musing…

The scene when Bette and Billy first walk into the house and wander through the rooms, pausing to look at shelves laden with family photos. They see many shots of the family beaming while doing activities involving the other set of grandparents. Bette cries out, “Oh no! You know what we are? We’re the OTHER grandparents!”  They awkwardly spend the rest of the visit trying to ingratiate themselves with their grandkids.

Hub and I chuckled because we’ve been humming that phrase (in a mostly good way) for nine years – “the OTHER grandparents”.

Let’s face it: family dynamics aren’t easy. Step families and in-laws add extra layers of complexity. A family with both “steps” and “in-laws” is doubly cursed blessed.

Thankfully, the jealousies and frustrations Hub and I have experienced pale in comparison to the gratitude and admiration I feel towards my respective OTHER grandparents. They bring immeasurable value to our beloved grandchildren, and I can’t imagine trying to fulfill our roles without OTHER grandparents in the picture.

Sparks (9) and Raqi (8) have three sets of grandparents. We have different lifestyles and interests. Rather than judge the differences, we use this as a living example of choice, diversity, balance and consequence. No matter which set of grandparents Sparks and Raqi are with, they are learning perspective. How fortunate they are.

Hub and I are the “every week” grandparents. We are blessed to be warmly embraced in their home and enmeshed in their regular routines.


We’ve shared midnight feedings, scary shots, scarier fevers, the family flu, 3am nebulizer treatments, first words, first steps, first day at daycare, the birthday hokey pokey, incomprehensible homework, fickle crushes, and – just today – first deodorant.

We take them to the dentist, urgent care, football practice, volleyball games, book fairs, dance class and theater rehearsal.


We ride bikes on trails, swim in pools, throw footballs, jump on the trampoline, shoot hoops at the Y, take them golfing, dance in the living room, scratch their backs and hum them to sleep


Hub and I eat (mostly) healthy food. We try to teach them that how they feel is a direct result of what they eat

We live in a small house filled with books, fitness balls, a yoga mat and a mini trampoline. We hang their art on our bathroom mirror; keep a set of toothbrushes and favorite band aids in “their drawer” and cover our refrigerator with photos.

Grandma S and Grandpa J are the “fun house” grandparents. They have a big house with a game room (pinball & electronics), a home movie theater, a one-lane swimming pool and a jacuzzi. They take the grandkids to restaurants and visit shopping malls to buy clothes, gadgets, stuffed animals and video games.


They own an RV and have taken the grandkids camping and to Disneyland. Several times, they have “come to the rescue” when family emergencies meant unexpected weekend visits from the grandkids.



Papa Choo Choo and Grandma S are the “good old days” grandparents. Papa Choo Choo is a “live close to the earth” guy who loves trains; can build, fix or grow anything; and calls bullshit what it is. Grandma S taught school; raised four kids; practically raised two grandkids; and is the best “down home” cook I’ve met.

They live in a rural southeast Colorado town so small even most Coloradans haven’t heard of it. In summer, Papa Choo Choo holds Boot Camp for all the cousins. Sparks is a proud survivor of his first “deployment”, and has the Boot Camp Survivor t-shirt to prove it. This July will be Raqi’s first time. She is excited beyond words.

Boot Camp starts with a daylong visit to Bent’s Old Fort on the banks of the Arkansas River.

bents fort sign

Established in the 1830s, this non-military, well-preserved fort was one of the most significant trading outposts on the Santa Fe Trail because it sits at the crossroads of the north-south Platte River to Santa Fe route and the east-west route that follows the Arkansas River west to the mountains.

Bents fort


After a day at the Fort, Papa Choo Choo will spend a few days putting his recruits through their paces swinging by rope into the swimming hole;

swimming hole


fishing in the “crick” (only city folk say creek); roasting marshmallows over the campfire;



and naming constellations along the Milky Way. In addition to horseshoes and bean bag toss, this year Papa Choo Choo is introducing his pioneer version of A Minute to Win It.

I can only hope it doesn’t involve arrows.

Comments on: "The Other Grandparents" (30)

  1. Haha that last bit made me laugh! Oh my I want all those grandparents for myself let alone grand kids hehe. Your grandchildren are lucky beyond words as are your kids too! To have not only such diversity but grandparents who are involved is precious.

    I have one grandmother for my children from my husbands side she is 83 now and lives up north so we don’t get to see her too much but try as much as we can. I think it’s dreadfully important for children to have the grandparent experience. My father and step mother live in Spain and when my mother died 8 yrs ago he decided he no longer needed to put on face and know me anymore so he ditched all of us inc his grandsons which is galling and makes me very upset at times for my boys but then I try to justify it and say they had a lucky escape if that is how he feels but it’s still sad xx

    • 🙂 thank you, Justine! As I was writing this, I was thinking I want to go to Boot Camp!!

      I had two grandmas and one grandpa for my early years, and they are precious memories.

      I am sorry for your sons and for you that your father has chosen to distance himself. As you say, it is his loss.

      As a stepmom, I had a troubled relationship with my second stepson, and consequently have chosen not to be involved with his family because it was so unhealthy for me. But I always encourage Hub to see them, and he does, so we’ve found a “not perfect, but workable” solution.

      Although your sons might be missing the grandparent experience, they are fortunate to have such a supportive, loving, creative Mom.

  2. Ps that was an amazing post

  3. Brilliant post Sammy! I loved reading this slice of life post….xx

  4. Great post. You’re creating memories that will last a lifetime and a relationship that will be forever treasured. Your grandkids are fortunate. 🙂

    • Thanks, elsie. That is my hope – that my legacy is first and foremost the quality of time I spend with my husband and grandchildren.

  5. Loved this! It’s a slice of life that has eluded me. I never new my own grandparents. Well, I knew my mom’s mom, but she was hospitalized all of the time I knew her. And since I do not have children, I am not a grandparent.

    An aside: all this talk of old folks… when I read the part about the National Historic site, the words came across as “Bent’s Old Fart.” I think I’d like to get to know Papa Choo Choo!

    • Thanks, Maggie. I never had children either because I didn’t want them. I must say that being so involved with a few nieces, nephews and these 2 grandkids has broadened my heart – it’s been almost a physical feeling of deeper love, but also having to stretch beyond “me” to putting them first. I still don’t think I would have been a good mother, but I like who I am in this role.

      Papa Choo Choo is going to live your comment (as will the grandkids who love a good fart joke). I wish I was going to Boot Camp!

  6. How fortunate your grandkids are to have THREE sets of grandparents who care and interact with them. Every child should grow up so loved and cherished. And kudos to you for being so involved. Such wonderful memories those kids will have. 🙂

    • Thank you, Carrie. It is something we are all very aware of – how fortunate we are to be part of this family. And I ache for children who don’t have loving parents and extended family. Life can be very hard for many.

  7. A great post Sammy. I think you hit the nail on the head when you say //Step families and in-laws add extra layers of complexity.// I’m fortunate to have 5 grandchildren now, but none live close by. My eldest granddaughter is 16 and lives in Sydney. She now has a little (and I mean little) half-brother who is 2 months old but still only 2 kg! I don’t get over there often, but thankfully my son has brought his daughter to England a few times to see us. I saw my other three weekly when I lived nearby, but having moved further north to support my mother-in-law who is 90, I only see them two – three times a year now. I miss them. Their other grandparents live in South Africa, so we are the only ones, let alone the ‘other ones’. Still at least they all have grandparents. I grew up without after the age of 6 and envied all my friends who complained about having to visit their grandparents on a Sunday for tea.

    Your grand-kids seem to be having a ball – well done you. 🙂

    • Ah, Jude, it does sound like your family is scattered across continents. As glamorous as that sounds, the distance does change the nature of relationships with your grandkids – not better or worse, just different.

      My stepson and his wife do realize how lucky they are to have so many of us in their lives helping with the grandkids. I’m sure at times they’d like to send a grandparent or two to South Africa 🙂 but usually we all manage to give each other space and consideration.

  8. I love this. Grandparents are so amazing. Haven is lucky enough to have grandparents who, like you, get in there and experience the fullness of parenting from every joy to the little daily struggles. Having my parents and my in-laws is priceless for me, my husband, and for our little Haven! I loved hearing your perspective, even in the comments above, on this role in your life and your love for them. What a blessing it is to have family whom you deeply love and care for enough to balance life and other members of the family in the mix.

    • Thank you so much for reading and your lovely comments. I’m so glad Haven and you have the richness of three generations in your family. I am most definitely a better person for having stretched my heart and generosity of my time and “talents” to embrace my grandchildren.

  9. HI Sammy; Your grandkids are lucky to have three sets of grandparents and how wonderful that all are so different. Loved your post and the way you described the personalities. We enjoyed that movie as well. Cheers!

  10. Wow. Your grandkids are blessed to have not one, but three sets of grandparents who are very involved in their grandkids’ lives. It’s the kind of grandparent I want to be someday. 🙂

  11. It sounds like you have a wonderful family – that’s when big families are amazing, everyone pitching in and getting involved. It’s something that we miss out here, we’re so far from our families – although skype etc makes things easier. Who knows what the future will bring but I hope that we get to be back in Europe once kids are in the picture so they get to have their grandparents nearby too.

    • Families are usually farflung these days although I know lots of grandparents who are making cross country moves to be near their grandchildren. You are right that the technology helps.

      • I bet…I always forget just how massive the US is.

        Do you know with face time / skype / email etc, we probably speak to our parents just as much as we did back in Europe. It’s wonderful really!

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