So, I’m not exactly sure how to start this…I don’t want you to feel any pressure, at all, we’re just gathering options. I feel the need to offer because it might be something you’d be interested in, but please feel free to just write back laughing at me 🙂 This is the beginning of an email I received from my son, Emmet, on January 27, 2014. It was also the beginning of The Great Grandmere Au Pair Experiment!
In early 2014, Emmet accepted a position at The Washington Post. He and his wife, Emily, both left their positions at The Cleveland Plain Dealer, sold their house there, packed up their family and moved to the Washington D.C. area. Emily knew that after getting settled in, she wanted to pursue employment, setting her sights on The Humane Society of the United States. They also knew daycare for their three little munchkins wasn’t going to be cheap but were still a bit taken aback when they found out how brutally expensive the going rate was. They briefly considered a nanny but that didn’t feel right for them. So, they decided to ask me.
Obviously, there was a (huge) part of me that wanted to step up to the challenge. At that point in time, Mr. Smith and I were living close enough to D.C. that commuting home for the weekend wouldn’t be overly atrocious. And there was the always looming possibility that we would be transferred even closer sometime in the near future and I would be leaving my paralegal position anyway. So, we talked. We discussed all the pros and cons. They included an abundance of time with my grandchildren vs. time away from Mr. Smith, daily wrangling of three boys under the age of five vs. nightly cocktails and dining with Mr. Smith. But I think he sensed the heart of the matter when he said, “I’m afraid if you don’t, you’ll look back and regret it.” With Mr. Smith’s blessing, I said yes to the experiment!
Later, I wasn’t oblivious to the looks I received from some people when I told them what we were planning. But those who know and love us weren’t surprised. Emily obtained her coveted position at Humane Society of the United States and it was game on. From the start, the goal was to be a stepping stone, helping out until the twins started kindergarten.
I will say right now, IT WAS HARD! I was almost 60 and corralling three active little boys under the age of five was exhausting. After starting my new D.C. challenge, there were many stressful phone calls to Mr. Smith during the early days, “I’m not sure I can do this!” It was a huge adjustment from my normal lifestyle to constant demands of three small children. Throw in a dog and two cats and I was way out of my comfort zone. I also had concern that my stricter style was different than their parents. Then somewhere along the way I had a lightbulb breakthrough – I’m not supposed to be like their parents, I supposed to be me, their grandmother, here to offer another dimension to their lives.
Luckily, I like challenges. It gives one an opportunity to know what you are capable of. Over time we all settled into a routine. D.C. is HOT in the summer, so after breakfast became our time for a trip to the park. There were two neighborhood parks within easy walking distance. One contained a rarely used old tennis court that was fenced in and provided a great spot for racing cars and keeping kids contained. When the park fun waned, we would head home and into the air conditioned play room. After lunch, Sam napped while the twins, Eli and Henry, enjoyed quiet time, occasionally falling asleep. This would give me an opportunity to throw in a load of laundry, do a bit of cleaning and prep some dinner if needed. Late afternoon (or the witching hour as it came to be known) would often mean a repeat trip to the playground.
The attached carport became our patio where the kids could have al fresco lunch and in the evening the adults could sip wine under the party lights strung from post to post. Thursday night was always our Chinese carryout night, allowing us to share and connect before I was gone for the weekend.
One thing that made this adventure doable was the layout of their house. The basement had been remodeled and I had a great bedroom and the best bathroom in the house! In the evening, the playroom became my living room if I wanted to read or watch TV alone. While the adults spent many a congenial evening together, it was great to have my own fortress of solitude should I need it.
My weekends back home were spent relaxing, catching up on my home work, and dreaming up new projects to delight my three charges. Mr. Smith was sure to always have some bubbly chilling when I arrived and made me scrumptious dinners. Without his support this experiment would not have been successful. It was a challenging 16 months to be sure, but I got to share moments with my grandchildren I never would have otherwise. The adults all grew really close and learned to negotiate two generations living under one roof. Or in the words of Emmet, “Emily lived with her mother-in-law for 16 months, lived to tell the tale, didn’t get divorced, and still speaks to her!” We are lucky people.
C’est la vie.