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Camp Grandma: Origins » Jolana Malkston
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Sep 162015

Camp Grandma

Last summer, I wrote about a recent Camp Grandma with our younger son’s children. In that post, I touched briefly on an incident with their cousins from the original Camp Grandma. This time around, I’m telling all about it—the complete and unvarnished origins of Camp Grandma on the lake.

Our family’s first Camp Grandma took place at the very end of June in the year our third grandson came into the world. Firstborn and his family were living in Ohio at the time. Macho Guy and I visited them frequently and petitioned a couple of years in a row to have our first two grandsons visit us in summer for a week at the lake.

FB and his wife resisted the idea. They thought their boys were too young to spend that much time and that much distance away from their parents. Sure they did. No doubt they were concerned that we would spoil our grandsons rotten, mess up their daily schedules, let them eat junk food, and make them impossible to live with and retrain. I felt they were judging us unfairly against an age-old stereotype of grandparents being pushovers for their grandchildren. I suppose it was probably true, but how much damage could we do in only seven measly days?

We received a surprising call about four days after our third grandson’s birth. It was FB on the line.

FB: Hey. It’s me.

ME: Hi, Me. [It usually drove him crazy when I said that, but he didn’t react this time.]

FB: Anything going on up there?

ME: Not much. What about you? You sound a little tired.

FB: Yeah, not getting much sleep since we brought the baby home.

ME: How is the family bonding coming along?

FB: Um…not exactly the way we expected.

ME: Oh?

FB: There’s a lot of stuff going on. That’s why I called. Uh…do you and Dad still want the boys to come up for a week this summer?

ME: Yes. Why? Do you want them to?

FB: Yeah, I’m thinking it might be a good idea.

ME: [starting my happy dance] Great! When?

FB: Now.

ME: [I sat in stunned silence for a moment.] When you say now

FB: Tomorrow.

ME: Oh. [I said “oh” but thought “uh-oh.” Something’s up.]

FB: If it’s okay with you, I’ll drive up with them tomorrow, stay the weekend so the boys get used to being at your place, and then I’ll leave the boys with you and drive home on Sunday.

ME: That’s okay, but I’m curious. You didn’t want to leave them with us before. Why the sudden change of heart?

I was almost sorry I asked. What followed was a litany of sibling rivalry / spawn of Satan behaviors on the part of the new baby’s older brothers. The four-year-old, who grudgingly stomached having to share his parents with one sibling, was unwilling to share his parents with two. He pitched tantrum after tantrum demanding undivided attention. When he wasn’t having a hissy fit, he and the two-year-old fought over who would get Mommy and Daddy’s attention when they weren’t busy taking care of the baby. The two-year-old, who was successfully potty-trained only a few months earlier and was the baby of the family before the arrival of the cherubic interloper, began soiling his pants again and cried every time the new baby cried in his attempts to act more like a baby than his new baby brother. O joy.

FB confessed that their attempt at family bonding was a colossal bust. He and his wife were losing their grip on sanity and needed respite from their tormenters, which led them to reevaluate whether their two older boys were mature enough at two and four to spend a week with Grandma and Grandpa—about 250 blessed miles from home. They agreed that the boys were mature enough, and that it was time to call 1-800-GRANDMA.

ME: You will come back for them, right?

FB: [laughs] In a week. [laughs again, harder] Maybe two.

When FB and sons arrived the following afternoon, Schnoodle Dog took one look at the pint-sized invaders and went in search of a hiding place. FB explained that he told his boys that they were going on their very own summer vacation on the lake at Camp Grandma. He said they were so excited and so eager to get here that they shook him awake that morning at 6:00 a.m. He couldn’t believe his eyes. The four-year-old not only dressed himself, he dressed his younger brother too and packed their little backpacks with toys for both of them. Wow. The pressure was on to live up to great expectations.

After their dad left, I laid down the Camp Grandma rules. I summed up by saying they couldn’t do anything at Grandma’s that they weren’t allowed to do at home. That was when the four-year-old ankle biter had the audacity to claim that at home they had no rules. In my estimation, that whopper rated at least five Pinocchios.

All told, the very first Camp Grandma—with Grandpa’s invaluable assistance—was a huge success. We beached it and built sandcastles with moats. We boated. We fished. We went to the playground. We painted. We did crafts. We baked cookies. We ate candy. [Shush! They’re not your grandchildren.] We watered Grandpa’s tomatoes. We played pool with Grandpa. We met Grandpa at his office, and we went out to lunch with him in a real, honest to goodness restaurant that didn’t have a drive up window. We read stories. We played games. We watched Disney movies and ate popcorn. We stayed up late every night. [Yes, I spoiled them rotten. I admit it.] We had naval battles in the bathtub. We made a fort in the family room out of a little playhouse and every sheet and blanket in Grandma’s linen closet. [I did a lot of laundry that week.]

Blanket Fort

There was just one little incident during the week that kept Camp Grandma from being all-out perfect. One night at dinner, the four-year old didn’t want to eat the meal I put in front of him and wanted something else instead. I told him that our mealtime rule was that you had to take at least one bite of your food. You couldn’t say you didn’t like your meal and wouldn’t eat it without tasting it first. He pitched a screaming fit, cried, and said he wanted to go home because his parents didn’t have any stupid rules. Again, no rules at home? Oh, please. When pigs wear lipstick. [No, Miss Piggy doesn’t count.] I gave his empty stomach the task of disciplining him for his outburst. He was more polite and cooperative at mealtime after that.

Their dad, mom, and baby brother arrived at the end of the week. They stayed for the weekend and then took the boys home. After they left, the sound of silence was almost deafening, and Schnoodle Dog came out of hiding at last.

FB called a few days later to touch base. He informed me that my two campers got themselves into trouble again, and when they were punished, they made a surprising demand that involved me.

FB: The boys say they want to leave home and go live with Grandma.

ME: Well, I did sort of spoil them a little.

FB: Must have. They think Mommy and Daddy are way too mean. They want to live with Grandma because, as our number one son puts it, Grandma has no rules.

ME: I have no rules? [laughing and almost dropping the phone] Give me a break. When I wouldn’t let him have his own way, he said he wanted to go back home because you have no rules.

FB: [laughing too] That sneaky little brat, trying to play us against one another.

ME: They sure learn young. Only four years old and he’s channeling Machiavelli.

FB: Yeah, but the one thing he didn’t count on was that we’d talk to each other and compare notes.

ME: Nobody’s perfect. He’s only four. Give him time.

As it turned out, FB and his wife enjoyed the first Camp Grandma every bit as much—if not more—than their sons did, so they asked if I would be willing to schedule another Camp Grandma the next summer…and the next summer…and the next summer…

Understandable. The first Camp Grandma did save their sanity.

Camp Grandma 2

  8 Responses to “Camp Grandma: Origins”

  1. Rules or no rules? Although I do dutifully compare notes with their parents after our camps, we have a not always mentioned but hard and fast rule. What happens at Grandma’s stays at Grandma’s. Sometimes it works, most times not. Isn’t it great how we become more and more valuable the older and older our offspring get?

    • What happens at Grandma’s stays at Grandma’s is the usual rule around here too. The four-year-old broke the rule himself when he played me against his parents, the little devil. If he hadn’t tried that, his parents would never have known he lied to Grandma.

      I think most of us learn to appreciate our parents so much more when we become parents ourselves. I remember apologizing to my mom for my youthful behavior and thanking her for not abandoning me in the forest like Hansel and Gretel.

  2. First Born is going to be a politician!

    • That’s what we all thought at first. As it turned out, Number One grandson is into running his own lawn mowing business after school and is going to be a CEO. Number Two is going to be a design engineer or an actor–he has a flair for the dramatic. Number Three, the new baby in the post, is going to be the politician. His parents and brothers have nicknamed him The Prez. The fourth brother who eventually came along has turned out to be the comedian of the quartet. 🙂

  3. What a wonderful story! I’m so glad you get to spend so much time in your grandchildren’s lives. Too many grandparents don’t! Congrats on a wonderful new tradition.

    • Camp Grandma is fun, quality time with our grandchildren, but after it’s over, MG and I need a few days to recover. It’s a reminder of why we have children while we are young.

  4. While I don’t have any grandchildren (at least not yet) I did spend a lot of time with various nieces and nephews both before and after I had my own kids. Aunt Lucy had them for sleepovers, trips to the movies, trips to get ice cream, trips to the local Haunted House at Halloween, trick or treat, birthday parties, and on and on and on….Maybe that’s why I enjoy having so much alone time now! But I’m sure your grandkids will always remember their trips to Camp Grandma.

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