Shakespeare, in his great “Seven Ages of Man” speech from “As You Like It,” leaves out an age, somewhere between the fat, smug fellow of late-middle age and the slippered pensioner of old age.
He left out the Grandparent Age.
I’m not surprised he left it out, because I have come to realize, as a man who has now entered that age, that nobody pays the grandparenting age a lot of attention. For proof, go to the bookstore. You’ll find volume after volume about parenting, but precious few about grandparenting.
So I want to remedy that by giving some free grandparenting advice, based on my vast experience and wisdom, accumulated over not even close to a year:
• Spare no opportunity to praise your grandchild’s utter perfection, specifically, the child’s obvious position at No. 1 among all children on Earth in the categories of intelligence, adorability, talent in crawling, ability to roll over sideways and mastery of every developmental stage, up to and including spitting up.
Do this only in the presence of the child’s parents and other sympathetic family members. Never do this in the presence of any other grandparents, who may believe that there are other qualified candidates for the position of World’s Most Perfect Grandbaby. Here’s one way you know you’ve gone too far: You overhear other grandparents refer to your grandbaby sarcastically as The Chosen One.
• Offer to come over and help the parents take care of the grandchild. The parents will be eternally grateful for your assistance.
Do not come over every day, 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Here’s one way you will realize you have overdone this: You overhear the parents mutter words like “smothered” or “overwhelmed” or even entire sentences such as, “Don’t they have anything else to do, like golf? Or canasta? Or a dogsled trekking expedition to Antarctica?”
• Have photos and videos of your grandchild available for viewing at all times. I cannot emphasize this enough. Many people, including complete strangers next to you on the airplane, will be thrilled to see pictures of The Chosen One, I mean, your grandchild. Everybody loves a smiling, happy baby.
Be sensitive to the following facts: 1. Not everyone shares your endless fascination with the way the sun backlights your grandchild’s peach-fuzz. 2. After the 14th picture in the “Look How Cute He Looks in Different Styles of Onesies” series, even the most patient onlooker might begin to fade. 3. All babies look the same to some people. Hard to believe, but true.
• Expound often on the exquisite emotional high that comes with being a grandparent; i.e., how it is the greatest, happiest emotion that a human being can ever experience and how nobody, until it happens to them, can grasp this profound happiness, etc.
Don’t do this to the exclusion of any other topic. Try to remember that not everyone shares your obsession. For instance, during a discussion of Middle East policy, don’t suddenly say, “Speaking of Netanyahu, did I tell you how fabulous I felt when I dandled my grandbaby on my knee?”
Even more important, try to avoid this subject altogether when you are speaking to people in any of the following categories: 1. People with no children. 2. People with grown children who are not cooperating sufficiently in the grandchild department. 3. People who, from the intensity of their stares, clearly want to strangle you if you tell them one more time how pleased you are with your smug self.
• Shower your grandchild with love, affection and presents. After all, spoiling a grandchild is the grandparent’s prerogative.
Have some perspective. For example, if you feel the overwhelming temptation to bestow a complete set of “Winnie the Pooh” first editions upon the child, ask yourself these questions: Is a 2-month-old ready for this yet? Are the books slobber-proof?
And, yes, every grandchild wants a pony. But shouldn’t you first sit down with the parents and make sure ponies are permitted in their downtown condo?
• And finally, feel free to give the parents plenty of sound, time-tested, unsolicited parenting advice, based on your years of wisdom and experience.
Don’t give it out loud.