The Trick to Playing the "Middleman” - Better with Age #12

Posted by Jessica Hegg on


One thing I've learned as a grandfather is that nothing good can happen if you get in-between your kids and your grandkids when they're having a little skirmish.  It's best to sit on the sidelines and wait it out, for chances are, you're the one that's gonna be the bad guy if you try to referee.  It's a no-win situation.  I've learned how to bite my tongue when the fight arises and to slowly shuffle off to the next room to watch some TV while the battle plays out.

And it's always just typical parent-kid stuff, too, the usual fights and arguments that blow over pretty quickly without leaving too many hurt feelings.  And to be honest, my kids are pretty smart about handling these situations themselves,  they're patient and tolerant but firm when they have to be.  So nobody really needs to hear the opinions from the old guy who's eating ice cream on the living room couch.

But if I ever do get placed in the crosshairs, though, I've learned to back the establishment: Always take the parents' side, no matter what.  It's just much wiser to support the authorities and show a unified front, even if that means earning some of those betrayed "I thought you were cool!" looks from your persecuted grandkids.

So generally I'll defer to my kids' judgment on most issues, and it's a policy that's served me pretty well in the past.  But every once in a while--not very often, but once in a while--I'll find that I'm just going to have to buck my kids sound advice about the grandkids and make my own call.

Like this:

Before my granddaughter turned 16, I asked my daughter if she had any ideas about what to get her as a present.  "Yes," she said, decisively.  "Gift cards.  It's the only thing she wants.  Sarah's incredibly picky about everything right now and if you try to get her something she'll just take it back.  So get her a gift card and she'll be happy."  She then listed a dozen options of cards that I could choose from, from bookstores and restaurants to computer/technology sites.

Well, this didn't sound too good to me, but my daughter was adamant.  "Trust me, Dad, she won't like anything you get her.  This will be easier.  She doesn't even like the things she gets herself half the time.  Get her some gift cards."  And she hung up, satisfied that we had reached a mutual decision.

Now, my daughter is stubborn, but, well, so am I.  (She gets it from somewhere, after all.)  And the fact is, I hate the idea of giving gift cards.  It seems so impersonal, so thoughtless.  I've always believed that a present doesn't really matter too much, but the effort does, the time you take to consider what the person might actually like.  Getting a gift card is something you do for co-workers or the mailman at Christmas; it's not for your granddaughter on her 16th birthday.

And to be honest, I took it as a personal challenge; when my daughter said I'd never get Sarah anything she liked, it stuck in my craw.  I was determined to prove her wrong.  We'll just see about that present, I thought, defiantly.

And boy, it was hard, trying to come up with the right present for her, but it was kind of fun, too.  I tried to clear my head of any of the obvious choices that you usually think of, and just focused thoughts on my granddaughter and what she's like.  Sarah's smart, she's a reader.  She loves music, but she's not a musician.  Physically, she's tall and athletic, and she loves to wear work-out clothes and hoodies and such.  In fact, previously I've had success buying her sportswear and shoes as presents, but that didn't seem right this year.  I started thinking.  I had noticed that Sarah always seemed just a bit self-conscious about her height, and I wondered if that's why she likes to wear so much athletic gear.  It's easier to kind of slouch around in sweats.  But maybe. . .

So I took a big chance.  I bought her a dress. 

Now I know how that sounds--out of touch grandpa buying his hip granddaughter a dress--but I wasn't as hopeless as all that.  My wife has always had impeccable fashion sense over the years and I think I just channeled her when I started looking.  And I kept thinking that the right dress might just make Sarah feel a little less awkward about her height.  So I found a pretty trendy fashion website and discovered a cute lavender mini-dress, with tiny white cuffs, that seemed to say "Sarah."  I'm not sure why; it just looked right to me.  I asked my wife for only one bit of advice--when ordering, I needed her to pick the right size, and she did.  She didn't say much about the dress, but I think she was pleased that I was taking a chance.

Now, of course, the story should end that the dress was a disaster but my granddaughter was sweet and pretended to like it (and then took it back later), but that's not what happened at all.  The fact is, she loved it.  When she pulled it out of the fashion box, she gasped.  Then she jumped up and immediately ran to try it on.  When she came back, we were amazed.  She didn't look grown up, thank heavens, or like another person, but it seemed like another part of her personality was suddenly present, something we all had never noticed before.  It was wonderful.

Of course, my present was the hit of the birthday party that night, and I couldn't help but enjoy the victory lap that I took  with my family.  I was a little obnoxious, I guess, but my daughter was happy to admit that she was happy I ignored her advice.  She gave me a big hug, as did my granddaughter, and I was beaming.   It doesn't happen a lot, but sometimes it's not a terrible thing when Grandpa decides to think for himself.

Until Next Week,

Christoff's Dad

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