Wannabe grandpa tells a cautionary tale

Friday, February 1, 2013

If you have followed these weekly ramblings, you know that my wife and I are grandchild-less. We no longer make pointed comments to our two bachelor sons. Anyone in our situation knows that's pointless.

But being without grandkids can produce certain emotions and behaviors. Here is a story about how a normal grandfather-aged man can find himself in something of a pickle -- and a sour one at that. But, then, there's a happy ending.

First, let me say this. Whenever my wife and I see children these days -- while shopping, at restaurants, in church -- we find certain behavior to be cute and lovable. This is the exact same behavior that might have appalled us as young parents, and we see the same stricken looks on the faces of today's young parents.

For example, we recently had a first-time visitor at the church service we attend. She was a young mother with a baby in one of those newfangled carrier things. The baby was happy but vocal. Throughout the sermon the baby threw in what might have been a few "amens" or "hallelujahs." We weren't the only ones who were smiling. You have no idea how joyful a baby's noises can sound to an ever-aging congregation.

Then there are the two young boys in Sunday school who engage in nonstop motion, chasing each other up and down stairs, stealing each other's shoes and crawling under tables during coffee hour. My mother would have said they make her tired just watching them. Yes, they have seemingly unlimited reserves of the very sort of energy most of us adults wish we could siphon off. We would gladly take one or both on as grandchild projects.

Now let me tell you what can happen if you allow your grandparenting instincts to get the best of you.

My wife makes a list and sends me to Walmart. The list includes a few feminine cosmetics. Any man reading this already knows the kind of looks a white-haired man gets when he paws through a cosmetics display looking for the item carefully described on the list.

After all the list items are found and the purchases are made and everything is in plastic sacks, I push the cart toward the exit, passing the photo salon where two happy toddlers are having their pictures taken.

A young mother is standing off to the side, and the photographer is engaging the toddlers, who look like pros when it comes to cute photos to be cherished by grandparents and adorn keepsake albums.

These kids are enjoying every minute of the photo session. They are hugging each other and laughing and drooling on each other. That's not always the case, of course, so this young mother should be thanking her lucky stars.

I suddenly shift from the kids to the reality of the hustle and bustle around me, and I see one of the store greeters -- guards, I call them -- looking at me sternly, the kind of look that says, "Move on, bud, you're causing a scene."

That's when it hits me that she, the greeter, thinks I'm intrusively nosy at best or, at worst, a pedophile.

Good grief, I think to myself. I can't even have fantasy grandkids without getting into trouble.

So I start to push my cart out the door, but not before one of the toddlers looks away from the camera, sees me, grins a three-tooth smile and waves a chubby hand in my direction.

I melt.

Thank you, kid. You made me feel like a grandparent for a minute. I'll take every second of that feeling I can get.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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