- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

"No" is an intriguing word to a 20-month-old toddler like Matt. Uttered by his mother or father it translates into "Don't do that." From the mouth of his grandmother or grandfather, it means, "We have to say this because your parents told us to, but when you don't listen we'll laugh."

That's why when we took Matt out to dinner two nights ago, he threw peas at his grandfather, even though his grandfather said, "No, Matt," while ducking the projectile of a great future right-handed pitcher. That is also why I have spent the last five days in physical therapy. Even though I said, "No, Matt," I laughed and caught him when he insisted upon jumping off chairs, tables and steps.

Not long ago my daughter confronted me. "You're the kind of grandmother who gives her grandchild candy when his parents say no."

"I'm glad you have that straight," I retorted. "No sense harboring any unnecessary bad feelings, due to misunderstandings."

Apparently I'm not alone. The Internet is full of young mothers and fathers complaining about their parents not respecting their wishes. Well, think about this folks. We baby-sit for free. You get what you pay for.

One of the most outstanding complaints came from a young mother who claimed her parents gave her daughter too many gifts. She added that every day when she picked her daughter up from her parents' house (where she left her every day for free), her daughter came out to the car with a new coloring book, a new box of crayons or a new ball. I think this mother has a very sad story.

In fact, remember "Queen for a Day," the program from the '60s in which women went on television to tell their painful sagas? After they finished, the audience would vote and the one with the most tragic story would get all kinds of assistance. The winner would be "Queen for a Day."

I wrote to the Internet mother suggesting that it was time to resurrect the program especially now that the public really loves those up-close-and-personal sagas like "Survivor." (Incidentally, I thought the winning survivor was the person who could stand watching the program the longest. I kept watching and watching and wondering when everyone else would get sick of it and let me win. Then I found out that wasn't how it worked.)

But "Queen for a Day" would probably be a real hit with today's voyeuristic population. Television cameras could follow a woman with seven children, no health insurance and no job to her ex-husband's home, where he's hiding because he skipped bail after being cited for nonpayment of child support. Then they could follow the woman carrying too many coloring books out of her sport-utility vehicle. I know she would win.

Another parent who picked up his child at his parents' home every day (meaning he left his child with his parents every day) complained they were not feeding the child enough antioxidants. This transgressed-upon man does not understand the best thing about growing up in the '50s and '60s was there were no antioxidants.

"Antioxidant" is just a term the food industry invented to give merit to a class of vegetables that tastes as detestable as broccoli and leaves its digestant with flatulence and little green nubs between his teeth. Cauliflower is another pro-flatulent, antioxidant. Only about three grandparents in the entire world would make cauliflower for their grandchildren. The rest of us keep cookie jars filled with Oreos, french fries and whipped cream. When our grandchildren ask for some, we say "no," then give them the entire jar.

I shared my thoughts with my daughter last week after she admonished me for laughing when Matt dipped his chicken nuggets in honey, sucked the honey off, then gave the chicken to the dog.

I told her we watch him when they ask us to. We love him without any qualifications. We give him what he wants. And we look forward to the day he forges their signatures on an excuse from school, just like she did when we thought saying "no" meant "no."

I then added that it was her job to raise him and discipline him. We had already completed that cycle of life, and now our job is to provide a warm and fuzzy place for him to visit. I delivered that diatribe grandly. I actually felt smug. Then she spoke.

"Good, because we're going on vacation for 10 days and want to leave Matt with you. We need to know he's with someone who loves him and gives him a place to feel warm and fuzzy."

I panicked. Ten days with a self-propelled automaton that runs into doors and eats only cookies and ice dipped in ketchup. Ten days with 32 inches of energy connected to a permanently activated remote source. Ten days during which even the smallest scratch will be testament to our blaring incompetence. Doesn't she understand that even when I say "no," he doesn't listen?

Ellen Rosenthal is the grandmother of 20-month-old Matthew. Her column will appear 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 ([email protected]).

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