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Becoming a grandfather twice on the same day

Malcolm St. Clair, the writer’s son-in-law, with Agnes and Faye on their first visit to Central Park
Ralph Gardner Jr.
Malcolm St. Clair, the writer’s son-in-law, with Agnes and Faye on their first visit to Central Park

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I passed a playground in Central Park and envied the children occupying its swings; flying back and forth, defying the laws of gravity. Long ago I’d also been a regular on the park’s swings; at first pleading to be pushed to get a little loft and once I got older learning how to use my legs to do so by myself; steadily gaining altitude until I felt I could touch the sky, and somebody would admonish me that I was going to hurt myself and ordered me back to Earth.

Another option was to twist the swing’s chains and let them unfurl, the centrifugal force taking you for a wild, dizzying ride. Once we had children of our own they logically and appropriately displaced me on the park’s swings as well as the one suspended from a tree branch in our backyard upstate.

My daughters and I had a game – though I take full credit for inventing it – where I’d swing them back and forth and fail to get out of the way fast enough, the rebounding swing sending me flying. This required minor performance skills and reliably elicited peals of laughter and pleas to do it again.

But now they’re too old for the park’s swings, too. I’m happy to stipulate that one is really never too old to ride a swing. But Central Park has rules that adults aren’t allowed to enter playgrounds unless accompanied by children. And even once you meet that criteria I doubt the kids, let alone their parents or caregivers, would take kindly to having a grown man hog a swing.

So as I passed that park swing set months ago I felt wistful that not only were my playground days over but so were those of my adult children. But all that changed recently when I discovered I was going to be a grandparent. My family occasionally reminds me that it’s not all about me. But I was pleased that my license to visit the park’s playgrounds and to get kicked in the butt by a ricocheting swing had been reissued.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not planning to employ my identical twin granddaughters Agnes and Faye to regain access to the park’s swings. I don’t expect them to stand there with frowns on their face while I relive my youth. But only that among the myriad other pleasures of having children and now grandchildren there’s this one that I don’t think gets enough attention: it gives you the opportunity to re-experience the unfiltered fun and beauty of the world through their young eyes.

My grandfather, a successful businessman, used to say that children were the investment and grandchildren the dividend. I can understand why. My mother was a difficult child. One of the things that ambushed me when I had children of my own was the daily joy of their existence. It remains to be seen whether the same applies to grandchildren. I don’t see how it can’t. With the double trouble of twins my daughter Lucy and son-in-law Malcolm are going to need all the help they can get.

The girls are only a month old and were several weeks premature. Lucy, on the other hand, was over ten pounds and her younger sister Gracie only slightly more petite when they entered the world, so they arrived ready to party. It will be a while until we can make any grand pronouncements about Faye and Aggie’s personalities. They spend most of their time sleeping.

But their arrival heralds a new stage in the lives of their grandparents, too. One doesn’t really consider the changes until they’re upon you. At least I don’t. My wife, Debbie, has been buying up and knitting a baby clothes storm for months now. Yes, I’m self-centered. But I also prefer to take it one day at a time.

To offer just one example of that altered awareness, the toy store down the street has taken on entirely new meaning. I used to walk by it barely giving a glance to the overpriced toys in the window. But it won’t be long until we can’t pass it without our grandchildren begging to go inside and buy something. Come to think of it, perhaps grandparenthood isn’t without its responsibilities as well as its rewards, its perils in addition to its pleasures.

But there’s so much to look forward to. Walks in the woods – Lucy has promised to imbue her children with her passion for foraging; we’ll see how that works out – sailing on Malcolm’s boat, swimming in ponds and oceans, and a thousand other things.

The plastic swing in our backyard is long gone. So is the branch that it hung from. But there will be new swings and sturdy branches. And a grandfather who does his daily stretching exercises now not just to avoid decrepitude, but so that he can experience his grandchildren’s laughter on the backswing as they kick him in the butt.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found be found on Substack.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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