Monday, June 16, 2008

Some of the Six Million*

On Father’s Day, I talked with another grandparent/parent couple in a Metro Park in our area. They have three of their grandchildren living with them, ages 9, 5, and 1 ½. The father of the children (or at least one child) may live with them as well as he was at the park with the group. I did not want to ask too many questions, but my reporter’s curiosity and my own self-interest wanted to pry into their lives to glean what I could about how people are dealing in their "nontraditional" family.

The truth is, I probably would not have gotten past “Hello” if they hadn’t spoken first. “You got your hands full,” she said as I plopped S & R into the baby swings and began to push.

“Yeah, I do,” I laughed. People often say this to me. I must look like I’m struggling to handle these two little ones, but I don’t actually feel like I’m overwhelmed. Anyway, it was an opening. We started talking.

They were in the park that morning because their house was being shown. It has been on the market almost a year with only one “bite,” which evidently didn’t work out. They need to sell the house, the woman told me, to pay bills and cut expenses. They plan to move to a trailer on a relative’s property once the house is sold. All of you in a trailer? I wanted to ask. “How big is it?" but I didn’t. There’s evidently a financial strain, but who isn’t feeling that these days? Certainly, I didn’t expect them to start spilling out the details of their financial woes to me, a stranger who had not even given them my name at that point. But the story led me to ask if they knew of any support groups for kinship caregivers in the area.

“For what?” they asked.

“Kin--, you know, relatives, like grandparents, who are raising their grandchildren.”

“Oh,” they said. “No. No. Don’t know of anything like that.”

It’s like they had never thought of such a group. Like they never needed any support group. They were fine. And yet—they hinted they did not get along with their relatives as they had decided, since her mother had recently died, not to attend the family reunion this year, held in this very park. “I don’t need to see those people,” she said. They were evidently not church goers, as she could not name a church in the area, and here they were in the park like me on a Sunday morning. Also, she takes care of the children all day even though she’s on disability and has a plate in her back and fibromyalgia.

“How do you pick up the 1 ½ year old?” I asked the woman.

“Vicodin,” her husband quipped.

We all laughed. They sure seemed fine. The grandkids looked happy and were well behaved. The girls were fascinated with Raine, who was sleepy and content to recline in her stroller while they oohed and aahed over her as if she were some rare museum exhibit. They offered juice and cookies to Sun, who was being anything but sunny. He refused a cookie! (He was sleepy too, but fighting it.)

So, okay, I thought—they don’t need a support group. Why not? I wanted to ask, but didn’t. I have competing urges when I meet people who intrigue me: the curious writer wants all the details, motivations, and innermost thoughts and feelings; the shy person pulls back in the belief that most people just want to be left alone. Indeed, some people in the park that day, even those with children, appeared to want just that. I understand and let people be.

But I want to fight the urge to stay disconnected from strangers, and especially from friends and relatives. I dislike “networking.” But it is a necessity in business today, and even moreso in our social lives. I need to push beyond my barriers and connect with others. This couple complained about “all the Mexicans and Somalians” that are moving to this area, “not speaking English.” I’m sure they or some others in their family had the same disdain for African Americans in the past (maybe still do). I wish we could find a vehicle to connect with each other as neighbors, to push past the barriers of language and culture, nationality and race, native and newcomer—in our wee little cubicle in the universe.

This park, this beautiful park where the woman’s family has its annual reunion, could be a gathering place for people to come and get to know others unlike themselves, instead of sitting alone on a park bench and reading the paper like one woman did, or moving as a group to a secluded area as one family did, or disparaging people based on surface differences as this couple did, or just staying aloof from the lives of others and secluded in our own, as I did.

When we left, I did not ask for their phone number. I did not even say, “Maybe we’ll see you again in the park one day.” I did not make any effort to try to keep in touch. I don’t remember their names, and I doubt they remember mine. This haunts me, this idea that I left it that way. Why am I looking for a support group to connect by proxy and passing on the opportunity to connect in the old-fashioned way--by proximity?


Mom Again

*"In the United States, more than 6 million children are being raised in households headed by grandparents and other relatives. 2.4 million grandparents report they are responsible for their grandchildren living with them: 29% of these grandparents are African American; 17% are Hispanic/Latino; 2% are American Indian or Alaskan native; 3% are Asian; 47% are White."
From "GrandFacts: A State Fact Sheet for Grandparents and other Relatives Raising Children," at

1 comment:

Trena said...

Hey Joycie,

I'm so glad you are writing this blog - I can hear your voice as I read it!!!! I had no idea there was data on gparents raising gchildren. Thanks for putting it out there.