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The Grandparent Clause

Our great-grandson Will, now five years old, has recently mastered the concept of “The Grandparent Clause,” a non-legally binding contract that insures that anything they, the grandchildren, do or say during a visit to the grandparents will be accepted and condoned without comment by said caregivers.

“I need five bedtime books tonight, Granddad,” Lauren says, happily choosing favorites from the special bookshelf provided for her reading pleasure. And though Granddad had planned to watch Antiques Road Show, he follows the small literary critic to the guest room for an hour’s dramatic impressions of Strega Nona or Rumpelstiltskin. “We always have chocolate pudding and chocolate chip cookies for dessert,” Matthew asserts. “That’s because we live in Texas,” he adds. Grandmother points out that they are now negotiating in California, but Matthew politely retorts that “Mitch read a whole list of what he can bring us for dessert,” and Grandmother caves.

“We bring Floatees and goggles and water toys to the pool,” Sydney says, depositing a rack of beach equipment from garage shelf to string bag. And Granddad adds the bag to his armload of towels, water shoes and sunscreen. Sydney notes the sunscreen and asserts: “If the pool is inside, we don’t have to use sunscreen, either.”

“I only brush my teeth once a day,” Ali says airily. “And sometimes I don’t brush my hair at night if I’m really sleepy.” Grandmother looks with dismay at the array of dental hygiene products and tanglefree hairspray Ali’s parents have provided. “But you can use the extra toothpaste if you need it,” Ali offers magnanimously. Grandmother thanks her. “We watch Nickelodeon Junior while we’re eating lunch,” Jessica announces, and Charlie Rose is left to interview a favorite pundit of Granddad’s in the Cloud somewhere, while Jessica takes gentle ownership of the remote for Paw Patrol.

“We don’t have to wash our hands before we eat when we’re at the playground,” Catherine explains patiently. “Only if there’s dog-poo in the sandbox,” her twin adds. “Then we use what’s in our water bottles so we don’t have to walk so far to the bathroom.” Grandmother reaches for the Handi-Wipes and the peanut butter sandwiches.

The assertions of grandchildren about their lives not-with-grandparents is accepted in the interest of peace and mutual affection. Grandparents know their grandchildren are not deliberately misleading them; they are simply expanding the limits set by their parents. And the children know where to draw the line concerning health and safety. We do not hear that they weigh enough to discard their booster seats; we do not hear that they have outgrown the Children’s Petting Zoo or the Dumbo ride at Disneyland and are tall enough for the Matterhorn roller coaster.

Perhaps that is why we welcome the scores of small, busy, happy persons who enrich our lives with their loving hugs and excited chatter. And the tacit permission to enjoy two desserts is an added bonus.