Sometimes when we are visiting, my parents will ask if one thing or another is ok for my kids, and I try really, really hard to say “yes.” There are times, I admit, when I freak out because my mother-in-law is cutting up Pippin’s pizza when I’ve trained him to eat it whole, or my mom salts his fast food. But I try.
I try, because these are not just my son and daughter. They are also my parents’ grandchildren, my sister’s niece and nephew, my in-laws’ grandkids.
Some of my happiest memories of time spent with extended family center around special treats and special treatment. I rode the streets of Sarasota in the front basket of my Gramps’s bicycle. My aunt Amy bought me a beautiful cashmere sweater set much too fancy for a third grader and festooned my ceiling with glow-in-the-dark constellations. My mother’s father taught me to write my letters inside my picture books (appalling my mother, and later serving as an early sign of looming Alzheimer’s). As a teenager, I’d meet my Granny on sticky summer afternoons talk about books and life over junk food. Not all of these were officially sanctioned by my parents (they particularly weren’t keen on the bike basket). But they stood back so it could be just me and that family member. Maybe you remember peppermints your grandpa sneaked to you in church, or staying up too late camping with your cool aunt.
So I let my dad feed Pippin those tiny prepackaged doughnuts and endless gummy snacks, and I know Dad’s hoping someday they’ll both love baseball, like he and his grandpa did. I let my sister-in-law test out the nickname “Ellie” for Scout, and my mother-in-law shower Pippin with the garish cartoon franchise stuff I so dislike. (He loves the Thomas the train blanket she got him inordinately.) My mom loves to give the resident baby baths, and doesn’t like to clip tiny fingernails, so those preferences make up who she is as Mumsey.
These people are helping to raise my children, too, and if I’m the final boss of what flies (NO, YOU MAY NOT LET THE BABY PLAY WITH THAT STRAW!), I hope never to be a dictator. Consistency is important with kids, but so is a deep-seated knowledge they are loved, not just by me, but by a whole tribe.
After all, what’s the risk? We are all going to have to detox after a vacation anyway.
Except for riding in a bike basket. That actually probably is quite a risk.
(But it sure was fun.)