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The Most Important Work

The Most Important Work

Two years ago, the Monday after a job I had loved for more than a decade disappeared on me, I posted a photo of Karen and me at home with our grandchildren Nathan and Emma. The caption read: “First day at new temp job. Seem to be getting along okay with co-workers.” A former colleague left this comment on the post: “Glass half full: they are so lucky to get to spend time with their grandfather. My grandfather had a huge positive impact on the person I became. No more important work!”

July 2019

One thing about living through times like the ones we’re still passing through—intense periods in which the gains and losses seem to be coming so fast it can leave us breathless and dizzy—is that they can also help to sharpen our sense of what really matters.

As a child I never spent more than a few hours every few years with any of my grandparents, all basically faraway strangers, and while my own parents were always sweet and kind to our kids, actual caregiving was never in the cards. The only real example of involved grandparents I had was my in-laws, who were a steady, loving and supportive presence through our kids’ childhoods. When my turn came around, I just tried to listen to my heart and be grateful for the chance to forge the kind of bonds I had never experienced for myself.

For two years and change since the day I posted that image, through the storms all around us, Karen and I have watched Nathan and Emma two and then three full days a week, and sometimes more. Held them, fed them, read to them, taught them hide and seek, built wooden train tracks running half the length of our house, lined up and waved to our smiling garbage truck drivers every Wednesday morning.

Through the heart of the pandemic, for more than a year Karen and I were our grandchildren’s sole outside caregivers, the one constant in-person presence in their lives beyond their parents. I won’t pretend every minute was sunshine and roses—looking after two kids under five is hard work, and not being able to so much as take them to a playground for an entire year didn’t make it easier—but we surely treasured the opportunity to be that constant presence in their young lives at a time when no one else could.

Now things are changing again. Last week Emma made her long-delayed return to preschool, and Nathan, who just turned five, will start kindergarten next week. As a result we’ll be cutting back to two days a week with Emma, and only have Nathan for the afternoon on those two days. It’s another passage, another advance for all of us. The kids will start to spend more time with their peers and other grown-ups, as they should. And Karen and I will gain more time for other pursuits, be it writing and consulting, photography and travel, or the hundred and one projects around the house that we somehow never got around to during lockdown.

The beauty of this moment is that we’re all getting what we need, moving forward on our respective paths as we’re meant to—and yet, it’s still bittersweet. The time we’ve been privileged to spend with Nathan and Emma these past two years—the hundreds of days whiled away reading books, playing games, making art, and wallowing in the simple joy of each other’s presence—has been a gift beyond my wildest imagining. It has also been, without a doubt, and with apologies to several public officials, a couple of CEOs, and a college president, the most important work I’ve ever done.

June 2021

Comment (1)

  • Doris E Pettersen

    As one who was lucky enough to have grandparents live with us for some years and be a significant part of my young life, You and your grandkids were so fortunate to have that opportunity for this chance to get to know each other. Multigeneration households seem to be becoming a thing of the past and it seems to me that it a loss to all the generations involved. Lucky you!

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