Growing up, we would regularly pile into the family station wagon and drive to New Jersey to visit my grandmothers. My Mom would pack dinner and snacks to eat along the way. My siblings and I would stretch out in a car bed in the “very back.” Life was radically different in those pre-seatbelt days. 

My favorite part of the ride was driving through New York City. I would beg my Dad to take the route along the Hudson River. We saw luxury liners, including the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and other majestic vessels docked there. It was always a thrill. 

Both of my grandmothers were widows and lived in the same town. I usually stayed with my Mom’s mom, who would have the Jack Paar show on the TV when we arrived late at night. She was pretty, fashionable and always on the go. 

Grandma loved to go shopping and often went to New York City with a friend. On occasion she took me to Radio City Music Hall and Rockefeller Center. I developed a lifelong love of the Big Apple, although that nickname came years later.

My Dad’s mom was 10 years older. She had a slipped disk and used a corrective leg brace. It didn’t stop her from walking to the neighborhood grocery store in preparation for our arrival. She also hosted extended family dinners at the holidays and taught me to bake apple pie and other favorite desserts. Her greatest gift was active listening. I would tell her all about my life, from the time I was a girl until  when I was in my 20s and lived near her for a time. She was deeply interested in whatever I had to say.

The rise of grandparents may have played a pivotal role in the success of our species, according to research about Neandertals and modern human groups, reported in Scientific American. Living to an older age had profound effects on population sizes, social interactions and genetics. It may explain why early modern human groups were more successful than archaic humans, according to the research. 

Grandparents contribute economic and social resources to their descendants, increasing the number of offspring and their survival. Grandparents also reinforce complex social connections. Multigenerational families have more members to pass along important lessons. 

My grandmothers seemed very old to me when I was a girl. I could picture myself becoming a mom someday but not being a grandma even though I loved spending time with my grandmothers. I missed not having grandfathers.

Before I knew it, I was all grown up, married and a mother of three. Paul’s and my parents became grandparents. Our kids were blessed to have had a grandmother and grandfather on both sides. 

Paul’s parents were considerably older than mine and lived in Florida. They were loving and devoted when we saw them, but the distance prevented us from getting together as often as we would have liked. They died many years ago, when our kids were still quite young.

My parents lived at the New Jersey shore before they moved to Connecticut 25 years ago. They were available whenever we needed them. They took each of their grandchildren to Washington D.C. when they were 10 to learn about American government and history. They took them on other trips and were there for birthdays and special occasions. 

Fast forward, the years flashed by like the calendar pages in an old movie. Paul and I are now the grandparents of two school-aged kids and a toddler. 

I don’t feel as old as my grandmothers seemed to me when I was a girl, but I acknowledge I probably look ancient to our grandchildren. It’s hard for the school-age grandkids to understand why I can’t do some of the physical things they can do. 

Such as crossing a rushing brook by stepping across slippery rocks. My balance isn’t what it used to be. Or getting up from the floor after building with blocks or playing games. These situations afford teachable moments about empathy.

I’m not sure if our toddler grandson is as age aware although he seems to understand I’m his mommy’s mommy and Paul is his mommy’s daddy. Paul roughhouses with him a lot, which he loves. My favorite activity is to take him outside, exploring.

Our grandkids all have active parents along with two sets of grandmothers and grandfathers. My parents are still with us also and now in their mid-nineties. They remain interested and engaged in their great grandkids’ lives, even though they don’t travel anymore. Zoom and FaceTime make it possible to connect in ways that weren’t available to previous generations.

Like grandparents everywhere, we adore spending time with our grands but are also relieved when their parents come to take them home and we can resume our quiet and orderly life. When Paul and I were the parents of three and worked outside the home, our life was anything but quiet and orderly. It’s the same for our kids, who are now in that position.

My heart goes out to grandparents, who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are raising their grandkids and must assume the day-to-day care and disciplinary roles that normally fall to parents. We would do it in a heartbeat if we had to and are thankful we don’t. We love things just the way they are.

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By Nancy Doniger

Nancy Doniger worked as a journalist for three decades and was a founding editor of the nonprofit Easton Courier in partnership with the School of Communications, Media & the Arts at Sacred Heart University (SHU). She served two years as executive member and is now a contributing editing of the Easton Courier. She was a former managing editor of Hometown Publications and Hersam Acorn Newspapers covering Connecticut's Fairfield and New Haven counties. She was a correspondent for the Connecticut section of The New York Times from 1995 until the section was discontinued in 2006. Over the years she edited The Easton Courier, The Monroe Courier, The Bridgeport News and other community newspapers. She taught news editing as an adjunct professor at SHU and served as coordinator and member of the Community Assets Network for the Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools. She was a member of the Newtown Community Center Commission, member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), board member of the New England Newspaper and Press Association (NENPA), and past president and board member of the Barnard Club of Connecticut. She has won awards for her writing from SPJ and NENPA.