Saturday, May 24, 2008

Grandma's here. Get busy!

Some people I know talk about going to the zoo or on other equally adventurous excursions when their parents or in-laws are in town. These visits are a time for fun shared activities across three generations.

For me, Grandma time is all about the babysitting.

Here's what I've done since EJ's mom arrived in town52 hours ago: went to yoga, went running, got a craniosacral therapy appointment, got a facial, went to dinner with my husband, went to couples counseling with my husband, and cleaned the basement (including posting lots of items on Freecycle). I also cooked, cleaned some more, and did laundry. Most times I nursed the boy I spent at the computer so I could read postings and provide feedback to other writers in an online writing workshop I'm taking through MotherVerse magazine. Grandma and my husband played in the park while got groceries at My Organic Market. From my perspective, there is no time to waste.

She claims she doesn't need any entertainment or special events. She's retired and spoils herself and her husband, she assures me. "I can go anywhere to eat when I'm home," she says. "I'm just here to play with E." He loves playing with her, even replying that he wanted to "hang out downstairs with Gramma" when I asked him if he wanted to come upstairs and hang out with me while I got dressed to go out tutoring (oh yes, another thing I did).

Tonight my husband fell asleep putting the boy to bed, so my MIL went to bed early too. I thought we'd all chat once the boy was asleep, but I got bonus solo time and almost felt a little guilty. We did all go out for a nice meal before the grocery store, so there was a little time to chat then. But Grandma also spent the post-meal, pre-dessert lull chasing after our toddler who was making friends with other children and the fountain in the adjoining square, so she wasn't exactly off-duty.

My own mom's health is such that she doesn't get out to visit us at all, and there's no other family closer than my sister four hours up I-95, a drive neither side wants to make more than a few times a year. I do have a sitter who comes for 3+ hours one morning a week while her kids are in school, and my son is in a preschool that gives me 2.5 hours free another morning a week.

But those childcare options will soon both come to an end for the summer, so I'm milking this MIL visit for all it's worth. Any spare second the boy is awake and she is awake is a moment I want to be doing something I can't do with a toddler on the hip or a mind that has to stoop down to 33 inches. Give me jogging time that doesn't come out of my weekend allotment (i.e. the precarious balance of free time for me vs. free time for my spouse)! Give me free reign to prepare food without my son pulling items out of the refrigerator or practicing his "pick up!" mantra! Let me get to an exercise class without having to line up the sitter days ahead or reserve a spot at the gym's childcare!

Part of me feels bad that I can't conceive of family time as family time and am instead counting the minutes I can squeeze out of my mother-in-law. But on the other hand, I think it's great that she and her grandson just enjoy simple play in the living room and the backyard, that she can get to know my neighbors while he climbs on their swingset, that he can enjoy a stroller ride that doesn't come with an agenda and a timetable -- groceries and back home to make dinner -- like it does when he goes with me. If I planned special excursions, she wouldn't get quality time with her grandson one-on-one in his element, and I wouldn't get quality time with myself.

Maybe someday she'll tell us she was lying and really felt like she was under house arrest. But I'm riding this train as far as it will take me. When can we book your next flight, Grandma?

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