Miranda is at a loss. Her 8-year-old granddaughter Melody has come for a three-week visit so that her mother Terry can save on camp expenses. Four days in and Miranda is wondering if it was a big mistake.
“Melody is so stubborn,” she tells me. “We’ve always had a good time in the past. This visit, she’s a nightmare. She doesn’t do what I ask her to do. She isn’t following rules. She answers back.”
“Have you talked to her mother about it?” I asked.
“Oh yes. Terry says I’m too strict. Too strict? All I want Melody to do is be polite and do a few things like make her bed and help clear the table. I’m not exactly putting her into servitude here! I don’t want conflict with my daughter over this but really! Melody’s attitude and behaviors need to change.”
During further discussion I learn that Miranda is feeling unappreciated and quite uncertain about what she does and doesn’t have a right to ask of an 8-year-old. She only sees Melody once or twice a year since her family lives over 600 miles away. Summer visits have always been a time to reconnect with her and to make special memories. She and Terry thought Mel was ready for a solo visit but she wonders if they were simply wrong. She certainly hadn’t bargained for managing a sullen kid who sees being asked to hang up a wet bathing suit as an unreasonable demand – and who calls her mother constantly to tell her that Grandma is mean.
For many families, summer is a time to visit relatives or a time to send children off to visit grandparents or family friends. For some families, it’s a way for older, retired relatives to help out working adults. Every week at Grandma’s saves on the cost of camps or daycare and is certainly safer than kids being home alone. For other families, like Miranda’s, summer vacations provide a chance for longer visits where relatives really can get to know grandchildren and nieces and nephews who live at a distance.
In nostalgia-ridden movies, such visits are a time for baking cookies, going fishing, and visiting the swimming hole with the local gang. Kids listen adoringly to their wise and loving elders who thoroughly enjoy their mischievous but otherwise perfect grandkids.
Would that art really did mimic life. Though I’m pretty sure there are real-life instances of such scenes — at least for some moments at some time of a visit — most of the time life is far more complicated. Trying to “parent” a child who isn’t our own is one of the most complicated things I can think of.