- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 21, 2000

Maybe the hardest part of being a grandparent is taking the vow of silence. You know, following the mandate never, never, never to interfere, advise, instruct or suggest anything, leaving us with nothing more significant to discuss than which type of bagel is most palatable. Were I to grade myself, I would receive an "outstanding." Unfortunately, it would be on the wrong end of the scale.

For example, I have been guilty of suggesting Cream of Wheat in the morning for my grandson, Matt, after watching him gaze at his blueberry yogurt, stick his index finger into the middle and start to finger-paint on the window next to his highchair. Certainly, it never was my intention to stifle the genius of the child, who could have been demonstrating some recessive creative gene, a gene that has been smothered by several generations of congenitally untalented ancestors.

My intention also never has been to dispute my daughter and son-in-law's conviction that allowing Matt to climb under the table at a restaurant to taste the remains from previous patrons is a totally effective means of boosting his immune system. Occasionally, however, I might say something like, "The food on top of the table looks as good as the food underneath, don't you agree?"

That type of statement, of course, is radically confrontational and usually is followed by a remark such as, "Grandma doesn't think we know how to raise you, does she, Matt?" This is called triangulation two people using a third to communicate.

Matt, who just is beginning to put two words together, usually will point to me and say, "Dere's Gwandma."

My own retort to Matt, of course will be something like, "Mommy doesn't know I'm just commenting on the food."

Matt follows with, "Dere's Mommy." I think he's trying to say: "Talk to each other, will you? I'm trying to taste the nachos the people before you dropped."

I recently really went over the line. Thinking back, I can't imagine how I could have allowed myself to utter such odious words.

My daughter was leaving the house to push Matt in the American Heart Association Walkathon when I said: "It's really cold out this morning. He may need a sweater."

Her brow furrowed. Her green eyes darkened. She bared her teeth made perfect by thousands of dollars of orthodontics and hissed, "Don't you think I know how to dress my child?"

"Not my fault," I quickly responded. "Willy said it was cold outside and told everyone not to forget a hat and gloves." I was speaking about Willard Scott I often familiarize television personalities when trying to make a point. "He was wearing a hat and gloves himself when he did the weather this morning," I added primly.

"I hear hat and gloves. I don't hear sweater," she barked back.

Once again, we had reached a stalemate in the war for independence. She wants to make her own decisions about child rearing. I think it's very important to share all my years of parenting expertise with her. She doesn't want to hear about my years of child rearing, which she believes occurred around the time of the Franco-Prussian War. She knows I raised her before baby monitors and ergonomically correct infant seats, so how could I possibly know whether it's cold outside?

She finally put a sweater on Matt. Not because I suggested it. Not even because she thought it was cold outside. Basically, the solution was a practical one: She needed a sponsor.

"Would you like to make a donation to the heart association?" she puffed, handing me the pledge sheet. There it was, right under my eyes. I was the only sponsor. To enter, she needed at least $20 in pledges. Adopting my most mature demeanor, I began dancing the samba around the room and singing, "We can make a person better, just by putting Matt in a sweater."

"She'll never grow up," my daughter triangulated under her breath to Matt while slipping a sweater over his head. When she was finished, I kissed her goodbye and handed her the check, as in "checkmate."

Ellen Rosenthal is the grandmother of 1-year-old Matthew. Her column appears the first Tuesday of each month. Send any comments and suggestions to her by mail: PO Box 60701, Potomac, Md. 20859; or by e-mail (grandtales@aol.com).

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