NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN
When I heard the doorbell ring, I quickly turned the oven on before answering. The lasagna was ready to serve an hour ago, now it would have to be reheated.
"Sorry we're late, Marilyn. We stopped at the card shop on our way here." Rose rolled her eyes. "You know how that is."
Ben handed me a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. "You did say lasagna, didn't you? This should go with."
Bob hung their coats in the closet while I took the plastic wrap off the salad.
When we'd settled down to wait for the lasagna to get hot, I asked Rose, "What's the occasion?"
Rose had a puzzled look on her face so I added, "The occasion for the trip to the card shop?"
"Oh it's our grandson's birthday. Usually I have a stash of cards at home, but I let this one get away from me. I hate being late, for birthdays and for dinner parties. I hope we didn't inconvenience you too much."
"No problem. It'll only take about twenty minutes to get the lasagna up to heat."
Bob poured some wine and commented about the hassle of card shopping. "It's so hard to find just the right one. Some people seem to have the knack for it."
Rose and I had had this conversation before. "I don't have the knack or the patience. Most of the cards on the rack are trite and boring. It takes forever to find one that's fitting. And they make the same old cracks about aging." I took a sip of wine. "How old is your grandson, Rose?"
"He's twenty-two, a senior at UWM. I don't try to buy thoughtful gifts anymore, but I do slip a twenty dollar bill in with the card." Rose pointed her nose toward the kitchen and sniffed. "Hmm, smells good." Then she made a face. "I know twenty dollars isn't much these days, but you'd think I'd at least get a 'thank you'. He could pick up the phone, don't you think?"
"Why do you keep sending him cards and money if he doesn't have the manners to say 'thank you'?"
"He always used to say thanks. That was before he moved into his own apartment and away from the nagging voice of his mother."
The lasagna had reached its critical temperature and we gathered at the table. The subject slid into politics and we had a friendly debate.
Later when Rose offered to help with the dishes, I gladly accepted. "I could let them go until morning, but I have an early appointment and I do hate getting up to a messy kitchen."
Rose rinsed the plates and put them in the dishwasher. "You know, I have to admit I'm more than a little hurt that Rodney doesn't acknowledge my small gift to him. My other grandson, Jason, sends a thank you card. There's something about that that bothers me too. 'Dear Grandma and Grandpa, Thank you so much for the very generous gift.' There seems to be an edge of sarcasm in his use of the word 'generous'. What do you think?"
"I don't know. How old is Jason?"
"He's eighteen. Still lives at home with his parents Why do you keep asking how old my grandsons are?"
"I don't send cards, money, or gifts to my grandchildren once they turn eighteen."
"Oh my." Rose put the dishtowel down and looked me straight in the eyes. "How can you be so harsh? No matter how old they are, they'll always be your grandchildren."
"Of course. And, I'll always be their grandmother. I respect them too much to treat them like children once they've reached draft age."
Rose gasped. "Are you suggesting that I'm doing something wrong by sending birthday cards to my grandsons? How could there be anything wrong with that?"
Rose is a good friend. We've known each other for over thirty years. She's accustomed to my sometimes-caustic way of making a point. And, she's usually pretty quick to catch my drift. But this time I must have struck a nerve.
"I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. Please let me explain." I dried my hands and invited her to sit down.
"You see, there comes a time when a grandmother must acknowledge the fact that her grandchildren have grown up. We're not done with our jobs of being grandparents though. We still have something to teach them."
Rose was softening some. "Okay, what do you mean?"
"As each grandchild turns seventeen and a half, we have a little conversation. I make a deal with them. 'From now on,' I say, 'we're going to have a different kind of relationship, one of mutual respect and reciprocity.' I give them the choice to exchange birthday and holiday cards with me or not." I offered Rose some more wine and asked, "Do your grandsons ever send you birthday cards I mean not just sign their names on cards sent by their parents?"
"Hmm." Rose took a sip of wine before answering. "No, actually they don't. I never thought about it before. When they were little they'd sometimes make the cutest cards for me."
"Sure, mine too. That was when they're parents were still pretty much in control of their behaviors. By eighteen, they want all the amenities of being adults, and rightly so. I'm happy to accommodate their need to be treated like adults. I tell my grandchildren, 'I'll send you cards if you want me to, but then I want you to send me cards too. It's okay with me either way. Same goes for gifts.'"
"So, if you both agree to send cards or exchange gifts, that's how it goes?"
"That's the deal. None of them have actually agreed to the exchange though. That's fine, it's their choice. The good news is that I don't have to feel hurt when there is no thank you or no card for me. I don't have to excuse irresponsible behavior either. That's respectful on both sides."
"You don't have to spend hours scouring the card racks either... and arrive late for dinner."
"You got it. But the best part is that I treat them like adults and they don't expect an 'all take and no give' relationship with me. I hold them accountable in a respectful way."