Today as my grandson stepped on the bus which would take him to all day kindergarten a journey that lasted a little more than seven years ended for me;  and a long journey of discovery began for him. His older sister had started the same journey two years ago. The beginnings of their journeys marked the end of the most rewarding journey of my life.

Almost eight years ago my wife and I received news that my daughter was pregnant and would be having a baby girl in March of 2004. My wife and I were ecstatic and eagerly looked forward to the arrival of our granddaughter. At that time my son-in-law was a teacher and my daughter had a good job as a product manager for a local manufacturing company. Considering the high cost of providing for children they both wanted to keep working and they began looking for daycare facilities for the new baby. A few months before the birth of my granddaughter they had pretty much made up their minds to place the baby in daycare at a center located in a church on the other side of the city. I am sure that it was a good daycare center and it was run by a friend of my daughter whom she trusted. But it got me to thinking. The center was a good 20-30 minute drive across town. The firm where my daughter worked was located 45 minutes away from the center and this meant that the baby would have to be taken from her crib at maybe 6:00 AM; driven clear to the other side of town where she would spend the day with strangers. This played on my mind for some time and I couldn‘t stop thinking that their must be a better option for my soon to be granddaughter. At that time I was working at a part-time job that only supplied me with a minimal income and certainly no sense of accomplishing anything of import. With those things in mind I decided to offer to provide daycare for the new baby. That way my granddaughter would be able to sleep in, in the comfort of her own crib and wake up to the smiling face of someone who loved her. The way I saw it, it was a no-brainer.

My offer was accepted and my duties started about two months after my granddaughter was born. Things went pretty much as I expected. My days were filled with bottles, dirty diapers and watching Brainy Baby and Little Einsteins video tapes. It wasn’t hard work. I enjoyed it immensely and I even had time for a nap between diaper changes and scheduled feedings. I thought this is going to be a snap; a few years of fun and games with a beautiful little girl and then I could go back to being semi-retired. But – surprise, surprise: sixteen and one-half months later my daughter gave birth to a bouncing, and I do mean bouncing baby boy. That is when I gained a greater respect for all mothers who raise more than one child on their own. Taking care of one little child is a joy – taking care of two, especially two who are close in age is work. Having two kids who both need their diapers changed, want fed at the same time and work together to entertain you with stereophonic fits can drive a grandpa to drink. But, at the same time it was double the fun. Taking them both to story time at the library or to the park was time well spent. Days flew by singing the ABC’s, scribbling with crayons, and reading books to them were moments that will remain with me forever.

Many people have asked me if I got paid for the years I took care of the kids. I did, but not in the monetary sense and the paydays were frequent and very welcome. Some paydays were small such as joyful giggles from the kids while playing This Little Piggy; some paydays were large which included bonuses of hugs and kisses. While I didn’t get paid in dollars I can guarantee that Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Donald Trump combined have never had paydays greater than mine. Such as the one a few months ago when my grandson and I were watching the Disney channel: he was watching his favorite show, Phineas and Ferb when he turned to me and said matter-of-factly “grandpa, I love you” then turned back to his show just as though it was the most common place and natural of events. I got paid that day and it was a paycheck that I would not trade for any amount of money. Moments such as that are the moments that make life worth living. It reminded me of my biggest payday ever when a little three year old girl squeezed my neck so hard that I actually couldn’t breathe and said “Daddy I love you.” Eat your heart out Bill Gates.

Caring for my grandchildren the past seven years has been a great learning experience. I have learned a lot about children and a lot about myself. As I watched the children grow I could sense growth in myself. As I filled the needs of two infants I also filled needs of my own. As I was faced with the demands of toddlers in their “terrible twos” I found myself more giving. I learned things that I had forgotten as I tried to teach such simple things as counting and the ABC’s to the kids. Most of all I reconnected with the child in myself and I think that has made all the difference. Most people look at me with the kids and see a foolish old man acting childish. But inside I know that it is those who would call me foolish that are missing out. The joy and wonder that is inherent with being a little child is lost all too soon; especially in today’s result oriented society where children are faced with more and more challenges to excel.

I learned a lot of other things watching the kids for the past seven years. I learned the names of all four Wiggles. I learned that Pete on Mickey’s Clubhouse is really a cat. I also learned that Barney was actually a lot of fun to watch. I learned the third position in ballet even though doing it would send me to the chiropractor. I got reconnected with the library which had nurtured me as a little boy in a one room library in northeast Canton. I also learned several skills. I learned how to make balloon animals to entertain the kids. One of the highlights of my stint of providing daycare was making balloon animals for the 245 kindergarteners of the Plain Local Kindergarten Center. I also learned to do origami; a somewhat impractical skill. Just what do you do with one thousand peace cranes?

Watching the kids for seven years has also kept me in shape. If you want real exercise try pushing a double stroller up a hill with two feuding siblings inside while towing a dog on a leash. Both kids have been dancing in the Plain Local Schools Saturday Enrichment program since they were two and I do my best to dance with them every chance I get thereby getting my aerobic exercise. My cholesterol went down for the first 4-5 years I was watching the kids as a result of having a bowl of Cheerios for breakfast with the kids and sharing my cereal milk with them.

All in all the last seven years have been a blur and have gone by way too fast. But as with all living things, the river of life keeps flowing steadily. It flows relentlessly to the same destination for all living things;  human and animal, old and young. Its waters show no preference for the passengers it carries along. Eventually all will arrive at the same ocean of eternity. At 67 I can hear the waters cascading into the never ending confluence where the raging waters meet the peaceful ocean of eternity. Sometimes in the evening as I sit pondering my mortality I can feel the mist of the river’s waters as it rushes to my final destination. For some, our trips on the river of life are long: some are short. Some find their journey a pleasant and enjoyable trip while others are buffeted about relentlessly by raging rapids going over rocky shoals. My trip down the river has been mixed. Sometimes I was battered by the relentless waters, not able to steer any sort of course on my own. But once in awhile such as in the past seven years the journey has been languid, peaceful and filled with much joy. As my grandchildren go forward with their journeys upon the river I hope that their trips will be long, filled with joy and self-fulfillment. My physical presence won’t be with them for all of their trip but they can rest assured that grandpa will be with them. I am a part of them. Wherever they go; I will go. Bon voyage kids, grandpa loves you.

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