Grandparents are like grandchildren. Sometimes we do things even when we know better.
For example, there I was at Western Feed, a pet shop in Santa Rosa, Calif., on an errand with my mother-in-law (surprising my husband with a canary) when I saw the glass tank marked "female rats."
As it happened, I had bought a colorful animal cage at a garage sale that morning (along with an empty bird cage), and it was sitting right in the trunk of my car.
So I bought a furry black-and-white rat, and the backlash started immediately: As the man at the register put my new pet in a cardboard box, he muttered, "I hate rodents." I had not, let me say, asked his opinion or brought up the merits of rats as pets in any way.
My mother-in law was dubious too: "A rat?"
"For the grandkids."
"Where will it live?" she asked.
It was a fair question. My granddaughters, Maggie, 4 and Ryan, 6, with divorced parents and two sets of grandparents, have bedrooms in four different houses — two in San Francisco; another 25 miles north in Fairfax; and a fourth an hour-and-a-half east in Davis. The rat would have to get a little rodent-size suitcase, lunchbox, and car seat to travel around with them.
But I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about how excited Ryan was about the tadpole in her kindergarten classroom and how much better a rat of her own would be than a tadpole in a school.
So I brought the rat home. Later, my daughter Morgan, Maggie and Ryan's mother, came by with the girls, and I showed her the rat. She gave me that same look she gives the girls when she is trying to be patient. "Okay," she said, "but tell them it's your rat."
My new pet was a big hit! The girls took turns holding the rat, putting it in their pockets (try that with a tadpole) and asking questions about it. Ryan, wearing her new bathing suit although there was no pool in sight, asked me why I bought it. After I explained, she said, "What does impulsive mean?"
They named the rat Sara, because they name everything Sara (we took the precaution of naming my husband's new canary Jack before the girls could call it Sara, too). They particularly liked the black-and-white cloth igloo that had come in the cage I bought at the garage sale. They took off the cage top, stretched out on the floor, and breathed on Sara.
And when Morgan drove off with the girls, there was Sara in her bright plastic cage sitting between Maggie and Ryan in the backseat of the Subaru. What a sport Morgan is to take Sara home, I thought, especially as there is already a cat named Wolfie at her house....
A Short Stay
An hour later, Morgan came to her senses. She called on her cell to ask me to meet her halfway between her house and ours (we live 20 miles apart). "I'm wondering if you would mind keeping Sara at your house," she said.
So I took Sara back. Now, I would keep a pony in my playroom if the girls wanted me to. An elephant. But Sara produced a musty smell in the bathroom in which I hid her from my husband. She ate that little black-and-white fabric igloo in the cage — which, by the way, turned out to have been made for hamsters, and was much too small for a rat. So I had to move her to a larger plastic box. And, of course, the girls only come by here occasionally, while the rat would have to hang her toothbrush next to ours full time.
I gave Sara away a few days later, but was left with the memory of having been an idiot. Again.
I do give my grandkids a lot of stuff. When Ryan was a baby, I met Morgan in the park one day after work. As I pulled toy after toy out of my backpack, a woman who'd been watching drawled, "Let me guess: This is the grandmother, and it's the first grandchild." Recently, I helped Morgan move and found myself having to haul away all the space-swallowing toys I'd given the girls, from a twice-life-size duck, to a drive-in Barbie car, to no fewer than four bikes. I realized then how patient Morgan is with me, as I arrive with bags in hand, and then say, "Oh, and there's something else out in the truck."
I get the hit of delighting the kids with the present, and my daughter? She gets a giant stuffed duck.
Will I stop doing this? I should. I will.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.