We Are Not Normal!

Another excellent post by blogger Kathie Campbell Greer. Look for her book, Sliding for Home, coming soon. It is written for readers in grades 4-7 and will be published by Yellow City Publishing.

My husband and I divorced when our daughters were preschoolers, so when Z came to live with me I was familiar with the challenges of being a single parent. But that experience didn’t fully translate to being a single custodial grandparent.

Divorced parents were common among my daughters’ friends and mine. I developed a network with other single mothers to share babysitting and play dates. We built solid, supportive friendships and our shared experiences sustained us through the tough times.

According to Elder Options of Texas, more than six million children – approximately 1 in 12 – are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. I knew I was not alone.

My friends provided ample support.

But Z didn’t have that. One other boy at his school lived with his grandparents. He and Z played sports together and became close friends. On weekends they would spend the night together at our house or his friend’s. I became acquainted with the grandparents, and we communicated often about the boys and the challenges their circumstances presented.

But they were a couple, and the grandfather was actively involved. There was also a younger sister and two dogs. From a distance, they looked like a normal family. We didn’t. And it bothered Z a lot.

“We aren’t normal,” he said one evening during dinner.

“What does normal look like?” I asked him.

He gave it some thought before answering. “It looks like a regular family.”

“Okay, what does a regular family look like?” I held my breath, fully expecting for him to jump on an endless merry-go-round by telling me “normal.”

He didn’t, but his reply was almost worse. “It’s a family with two parents.”

My heart sank, because between my professional life and my devotion to Z, there was no time for dating. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in another full-time relationship. At the same time, though, I wanted Z to see his life as normal. I felt like a fish trapped in an inescapable net.

Z and I talked a lot about “normal” over the following days and weeks. How do you explain to a child that it’s not a blanket term? How do you help them relate to being outside the box in the most positive way possible?

Superheroes became my unlikely allies. Batman was in orphan, essentially raised by a grandfatherly butler. He didn’t have a normal family, but he became a hero.

I made a significant investment in superhero action figures to supplement our discussions, but it paid off. Z finally became convinced that, although it didn’t look normal, we were a solid family unit. More importantly he discovered that he had the power in his own hands to create an amazing future for himself.




Just What Is a Real Grandma

Mary Ellen’s parents have told her I’m not her “real grandma.” So I’ve been thinking about that. I sure feel like a grandma. She and I love each other. I was at the hospital as she was being born and held her before she was an hour old. When she was five, we—my husband, the “real grandpa” and I—were asked if we would accept custody of her. We both said yes with no hesitation.

I had two terrific grandmothers. They were alike only in that they were women true to themselves who loved their families and expected the best from all of us.

Edna Melin, my dad’s mother, taught piano in rural Missouri. She kept a meticulously clean house and was an excellent cook, making everything from dill pickles to potato chips, French bread, and tomato juice. She quilted with perfect, tiny stitches and crocheted bedspreads and tablecloths. If relationships are identified through inherited traits, she’s not my real grandmother.

Myra Cooper, my maternal grandmother, was active in community projects, Democratic politics, and worked in the family business. She loved music but didn’t play an instrument. She was on the cusp of the women’s lib movement before it was named. A live-in cook prepared her meals and cleaned her house. I’m the live-in cook in my house, but except for that, my life comes closer to mirroring hers.

When I was with either of my grandmothers, I felt protected and happy. They rarely had to set rules or enforce discipline. My parents did that. They gave me gifts twice a year, but my parents supported me, although we were far from wealthy.

But custodial grandparents feel like every day is what Mary Ellen calls “opposite day”. We set the rules, enforce them, encourage positive behavior and splendid dreams. We set high expectations and work to be examples for reaching them. We pay for the food and gasoline, for clothes and soccer fees. We chauffeur to school, parties, doctor appointments, and Brownies. We get to know her friends, their parents, and often their grandparents. We host overnights and play dates. We attend teacher conferences. We make sure that teeth are brushed and bedtime is kept. This litany isn’t intended as a complaint–just the facts, ma’am.

That’s not what my grandparents did, so maybe I’m not a “real grandma” after all. But, like I said in the beginning, it sure feels like I am—and that makes me happy.