Reflections of a Conflicted Step-Grandparent

It’s mid-morning on a sunny Saturday, and I am chilling in my bedroom, reading a Sue Grafton murder mystery. The double bedroom doors are wide open and a little voice just piped, “Hi, Miss Kim,” at the doorway as my seven-year-old bonus granddaughter headed to her new room at my house to get something.

Their stepmom, my daughter, has given them strict instructions:

“If Miss Kim and Mr. Travis’s bedroom doors are closed, DO NOT OPEN THOSE DOORS.” The kids are mostly good at minding that directive. Every once-in-a-while the five-year-old, who is a little imp, just cannot resist pulling on the doorknob and peeking in. He never sees anything interesting, as we are typically just walking aimlessly around our room in a daze, folding laundry, or propped up against the pine headboard reading e-books on our iPads.

He loves our iPads. He has his own, but when his needs charging, he plugs it in then comes to find us. “Mr. Travis, I like your iPad.” “Yes, J.J., I know you do. I like it, too.” A pause. “Mr. Travis, I loaded PJ Mask on your iPad. I like playing PJ Mask.” This is when my sweet husband just grins and hands over the iPad.

My husband is a complete sucker. His children say he was born to be the awesome grandpa, and they’re right. He’s jolly, he has a big laugh, he loves to do corny magic tricks, read books, and get on the floor to play. He’s a genius at doing the voices in The Stinky Cheese Man. “Run run run just as fast as you can, you can’t catch me! I’m the Stinky Cheese Man!” rings with some sort of Italian-Yiddish blend that is wholly his own creation.

However, my children do not say that I was born to be an awesome grandma, in part because I still refuse to be called that word. It makes me think of little gray-haired ladies with spectacles perched on the edge of their noses and a lap full of knitting. I am not that woman. She’s a lovely woman, certainly, but she is not me. I struggled to accept this new reality, this new identity. My kids know that I struggle with the grandmothery-ness of it all. When I learned I was to be a grandmother, I struggled. I grieved. And because my daughter’s partner came with two young children, I didn’t have much time to adjust. I was swimming in the deep end of grandparenthood from nearly the beginning of their relationship, gasping for air as the passing years seemed to tug and weigh my ankles from below.
And so I am, rather than Grandma, to be called Lolly. There may come a time when our bonus grands also call us Lolly and Pop, but for now that appellation is just for our biological grandchild. We would be happy for the others to call us that, but at this juncture it seems healthy to keep relationships straight. It’s important to us that we don’t usurp their own grandparents.

It’s not easy navigating this world of step-grandparenting, especially because my daughter, and her family are living with us. We see J.J. and Ally exponentially more than their biological grandparents do. It’s not a love thing, there’s no rift in their family, we just happen to be the ones in a position to let them live here. While the kids are with us, we’ve all had to learn how to bump into each other literally and metaphorically without causing vexation. My house is noisier and more crowded than it’s been in years.

And it turns out that I don’t mind, because truth be told, I’m a sucker for these kids, too.

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