The Lovely Mrs. Smith and I had a houseguest this week: the littlest of the Little Princesses came to spend a few days with us while her parents were out of town.
Now I'm not quite of the opinion that the only reason I had children was grandchildren. I mean, there was a brief period where I got some yard maintenance and errand-running out of my kids, so, yeah, I guess there was additional value.
But the beauty of your children having children, beyond the fact that my grandchildren are wonderful and perfect and all things good and I just don't want to hear anything different, is that you typically get to pick and choose your level of engagement. To whit, for the most part, you only have to do the fun stuff.
To paraphrase the comedian Robin Williams, the best thing about having kids is you get to play with all the stuff at the toy store and no one looks at you funny. With grandkids you get to do that, and you can both take a nap.
You get to be the one who gives them ice cream and "reverse cheats" to let them win at Crazy 8's so you can see them do the Victory Dance. Their parents have the task of explaining that, no, we don't eat dessert before or instead of meals, and if you're going to play the game, sometimes you will lose.
This all changes, of course, when you're actually responsible for their care and feeding and you have to live with the consequences of not exactly knocking that out of the park. Keep them up too late or give them something that upsets their stomachs and that amazing, wonderful bundle of joy becomes a tiny terrorist who can't be negotiated with.
One minute everything is fine, the next you're both staring at a baby monitor, going, "What do you think we ought to do?"
"I don't know, what do YOU think we ought to do?"
Now it is important to remember that the Lovely Mrs. Smith and I are hardened combat veterans when it comes to child-rearing, so while I may acknowledge I'm a little rusty, I've been there and done that. Getting to work and discovering spit-up on your pants leg or realizing the only time you'll use geometry is when you have to try to help your kids with geometry homework is not unplowed ground for me.
It's just that, well, it's been a bit. And the high dive looks even higher when you haven't been up there in a while.
I mention all this not to brag that we did manage to successfully care for our youngest grandchild and hand her off to her other grandparents who will round out the week with her. OK, I'm bragging a little, but since all this was mostly accomplished by the Lovely Mrs. Smith, it rings a little hollow for me.
I mention it because, well, in an few short days, I was reminded that being a parent (even a fill-in) is hard work and not for the faint of heart.
And I had to stop and think just how hard it must be, right now, at this point in the world, to do that. To raise kids. To battle through the typical stuff like teething and late nights and bad dreams and all the rest of what comes with taking care of a small human being and preparing it for the world. And then to have to do it now.
It wasn't easy for my wife and me. But we could send them to school. And to the playground or baseball practice or to a birthday party without worrying. We didn't have to try to be tech support or a substitute math teacher or the all-knowing, all-seeing teller of the future with regard to public health, such that we could make decisions about in-person versus "remote" learning.
We just had to worry about things that go bump in the night. We didn't have to worry about whether that cough was just a cough or something much, much worse.
So I feel for parents – all the parents, but particularly the ones having to do the hard work and make the hard choices now. I'd like to think I'd be able to handle it as well as most of them have. And I'm really, really glad I don't have to find out.