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An Enlightened Grandfather on Mothers’ Day

by Daniel O’Rourke

Note. This column originally appeared in May 2006.

After breakfast the phone rang. It was my wife Marie. She had left earlier for a meeting, but after her meeting had a fender bender. No one was injured, but understandably unnerved she was waiting for the police. She had promised Susan my daughter in law to baby-sit three of our grandchildren so she could teach her college class. It was late. Would I alert Susan and go to Silver Creek and baby-sit? I said, “No problem, not to worry. Glad she wasn’t hurt. I’d take care of it.” Little did I know what was ahead.

The first premonition was my unanswered phone call. (I found out later Susan was picking up four-year-old Caitlin from pre-school.) I left messages saying Marie’s o.k. and I’m on my way. I hurried down Route 60 only to find traffic rerouted. So I backtracked, finally got onto Route 20, and headed to Silver Creek. I arrived late but in time for Susan to get to class. She told me Caitlin was not feeling well and was asleep in her bedroom. Jillian was crying, but we put her in a stroller and I pushed her back and forth. Soon she was quiet. It was twenty after twelve. All seemed peaceful.

Jillian fell asleep. I wheeled her into another bedroom; left her in the stroller and sat down with six-year-old Erin who two days before had her tonsils removed. Erin gave me an intelligent, step-by-step description, proudly showing me Peanut, a stuffed animal well loved and threadbare, that she was allowed to take with her into surgery.

We had a mature conversation over lunch. Then we moved to the family room where Erin read “Little House on the Prairie” and I dozed in an armchair. This is easy, I thought. It was almost two o’clock and Susan would be back by three. Then it happened.

Caitlin appeared and threw up all over the kitchen floor. The first word on the tip of my tongue was…. Well, it’s what the French call “merde,” but I did not say it. Good grandfathers do not model such scatological language for grandchildren. I did not say it, but I thought it -- and more than once as things turned out. Before I could get Caitlin into the bathroom she barfed again. This time she grazed some furniture and splashed a comforter. “Erin,” I shouted in panic, “where’s a bucket?”

Before Erin could help her frenetic grandfather, two other things happened simultaneously. The toddler still seat-buckled in the stroller woke up and was bellowing. Caitlin, pale as her underwear was sitting on the toilet crying for new clothes. “My clothes stink,” she said truthfully.

“Erin,” I cried more frenzied by the minute, “where can I get Cait clean clothes?” By this time I had found the paper towels and was more or less mopping up the stink and slop. The “quicker picker upper,” however, did not pick up. Wrong tool for the job. Still no bucket or ammonia. “Erin,” I shouted for the third time in two minutes, “Where’s that bucket -- and push Jill back and forth in the stroller so she’ll stop crying.” By this time Erin has pointed me towards the bucket and had found a change of clothes for her sister. I had deposited the soiled clothes in the laundry sink to soak them, but couldn’t get the sink stopper to work. I gave up and ran back with a bucket of ammonia water to the spreading mess.

Jillian was quiet now. Erin was pushing her back and forth. Looking up, though, I panicked again, “Don’t push the stroller through the vomit!” Erin changed direction but calmly informed me, “Jill needs her diaper changed.”

Although I believe television too passive for children, who’d be better off with educational books and games to develop their minds, I ditched this abstract philosophy and reached for the remote. The remote looked like something that should be part of the dashboard of a 747. I had no idea how to operate it. “That’s the wrong one, grandpa,” said Erin. “It’s the one for the TiVo.” She took the remote. Push, push, click, click and behold Teletubbies filled the TV screen. At that point it could have been “Desperate Housewives” as I was concerned. Peace descended.

With the children electronically sedated, I cleaned up the mess. By this time my knees were aching and I had to grab onto the furniture to stand up – unsteadily. But I shouldered on. I emptied the smelly garbage, discovered how to soak the stinky clothes and turned my attention to Jillian’s diaper. With her sisters she was lost in the Teletubbies’ world. Caitlin now in clean clothes and resting on the couch advised me, “Don’t get the poop on the carpet.”

Susan got back early -- as welcome as the flowers in May. I had rehearsed how to explain it all to her, but Erin beat me to it sparing none of the gory details. She deserved to tell the story. I could not have survived without her.

I drove directly home. Marie still unnerved from her accident, laughed out loud when I reported my baby-sitting tour. “Imagine,” she said, “it took you 70 years to figure out what mothers do!” Pondering that wisdom, I took a long nap.

In my office I have pictures of both my daughter in laws and my daughter with their children. I pray for them daily. I can’t imagine how they do it. They are nurse, program director, referee, maid and cook. And somehow they manage their children’s incessant, important needs. Through the sleepless nights, the sicknesses and diapers, through the soccer practices, doctor visits, squabbles and music classes, they keep on giving. And later despite teenaged disdain and rebellion, they will continue to help their children become decent adults.

Oh I know modern fathers do lots of this too, but it seems to me most of it still falls to moms. They deserve lots of recognition and more than one day a year. But this wiser grandfather wants all you mothers to know that this Mothers’ Day he understands much better.

Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His regular column runs in The Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, “The Living Spirit” is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book visit his website http://www.danielcorourke.com/

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