Oh those glorious golden years! Retirement. Golfing. Fishing. Bocce. Snowbirding in The Villages. Royal Caribbean Cruises. Sleeping in (or just Sleeping). The time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Your career completed, finances secured, and the family raised. Your tour of duty is up. But then, like a blindside ambush, you’re forced to re-up. In increasing role of grandparents, those kindly overindulgent peripheral characters, has morphed into an indispensable mainstay of daily life. For Webster’s Dictionary I would offer “reparenting”: v. the resumption of raising children.
For many reasons, Granny and Pop-pop (whatever!) have been pressed into service to raise the kids. Not that this is a new phenomenon, but it’s more prevalent today than ever before. Unless she “married well”, the stay-at-home Mom has gone the way of the pay phone. Betty in Brick picks her grandchildren up from daycare every afternoon. Haircuts, pediatric visits, swinging at the playground. Now all in a day’s work.
Single parents are swamped by their situation. Diapers are almost a buck apiece and baby food costs more than caviar. It’s impossible to care for even one child and hold down a job. Daycare is an option but the cost can rival a college tuition. Don and Sarah of Manasquan converted their home in an adult community into a full-blown nursery for their granddaughter. High chair, pack-n-play, car seat, two complete aisles of Toys-R-Us have transformed their immaculately arranged house into a hoarder’s den. In Jackson, Carol had the opposite experience. When her grandson was born, her daughter asked if she wouldn’t mind retiring. Her pension shortened, social security lessened, she now spends her days reparenting little Alicia.
Divorcees struggle through their own crippling emotional and financial issues and so often move in with Grandma and/or Grandpa for survival. Lucy in Belmar went back to work (at two jobs) to help support her daughter and grandson. The emergence of the “baby-daddy”, a street term for young men who irresponsibly father a child and disappear into the night, fans the flames of despair.
Pull up to any elementary school at the end of the day and check out who’s waiting in the street, on the playground, in the cars. Lots of gray hairs. Who’s on the sidelines for soccer practice – Grandparents! Mom and Dad make the weekend games but the old folk do the heavy lifting.
Richie and Denise live in Toms River. Their son and daughter-in-law live in Lakewood. They don’t want to send the children to school in Lakewood so the kids live in Toms River during the week and visit with their parents on weekends. They call Richie “Uber” because it’s his job to run everyone around to Karate, dance lessons, and dental appointments.
While substance abuse seems to be running the table these days, as often as not it’s always the old fogies that save the day. Sarah in Freehold went out to dinner one night. Her own daughter, battling a prescription drug problem, fell asleep while her six-year old was in the bathtub. Sarah came home to find a shivering little girl in a cold tub not knowing what to do. She eventually went to court and got custody of the child.
Maria from Jackson went beyond the call of duty. Her son and his family live in Tampa. Their three- month old has Laryngomalacia, a condition that prevents him from swallowing and breathing at the same time. They’re afraid to enroll him in a daycare center where he may not get the one-on-one attention he needs. They hired a nanny. She spent all her time on her cellphone. They hired another one. She stole. So Maria and her husband bought a condo four blocks away from them. They’ll spend the next year taking care of baby.
Like the “Naked City”, there’s a million stories. But my hat goes off to these caregivers, those golden girls (and guys) that sacrifice their own comforts and plans to reparent another generation. Some men get paid millions of dollars to tackle another man while the real heroes in life ask for little or nothing. Maybe Bernie’s right – let’s redistribute the wealth.