I didn’t meet my grand-daughter until she was fully ten weeks old. Her parents live in a different country and it took a while for them to decide what colour passport would go best with her bootees. But eventually this Mohammad came to our mountain and we gazed with a certain silent astonishment at each other. But there’s no point in making strange with strangers, you just have to wade in and introduce yourself, bring them into the warmth and make them feel comfortable. That’s good manners and that’s foundation of all amicable relationships.
Grand-mothers of my acquaintance, both actual and anticipatory, seem to be wholly engaged with both the idea and the reality of their station but us Seanathreacha play harder to get. Plain incredulity and bemusement about the situation plays a part in this but it’s also driven by the cultural norms whereby Irish men, even new men, don’t really do child rearing. Of course they change nappies now, pour cereal for the breakfast, and stay at home all evening while Herself goes out to her reading circle. But they never really step fully into the responsibilities of managing self, household and dependent children sustainably and all at once. They make the excuse that, as men, they are not equipped for multi-tasking. Looking after a couple of children for a few hours is apparently so all-consuming, that matching the odd socks, washing the dishes, clearing the bedroom floor of lego and feeding the dog have to be put on hold.
But being a grandfather makes allowance for this pathetic blokey inadequacy. You’re no longer expected carry out the heavy-lifting of child-rearing: you get all golden moments and leave the awkward, sordid and difficult to the child’s parents. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway. And we of the previous generation have a duty to provide an alternative view of what’s normal, permissible or desirable. It’s roughly true that recession and boom flop back and forth in time with the generations. So my parents, growing up in the hungry 30s, inculcated in me a recognition of the value of thrift and education. The young parents of today (Hrumph!) never knew that sort of deprivation so can’t grasp why virtue should accrue to a clean plate and think nothing of spending as much on lunch as I got for my first weekly pay-packet.
But here’s the extraordinary thing: when The Child was a couple of months old, my boy took the family’s latest addition to visit his own great-grandmother. This redoubtable old lady powered through the 100 year ribbon a couple of weeks before the meeting: blind for the last ten years and a little drifty at times – especially after a small Friday glass of Bailey’s – but still clearly with us. A hundred years ago, the world was a much simpler and less technological place, where much of what we now take for granted was only admissible in science fiction. Folks a hundred years from now will look back on our nifty technology as crude and makeshift. But in all things that matter - courage, being funny, intolerance, kindness, and deceit – we will be recognisably the same. So youngsters need way-marks on their journey and with five generations simultaneously on the planet there’s lots of possible role models and alternative viewpoints as my grand-daughter sets out on her pilgrimage of grace.
Each generation believes they are creating something anew but each is reacting to the mistakes of their parents. This see-saw effect tends to put alternate generations on the same side of the play-ground. So there’s hope that we’ll be good friends: I’ll push her pram for the next few years and she’ll push my bath-chair later on, and whoever is pushing we’ll be roaring with laughter at the same jokes.