Grandparenthood The Peripatetic Preacher

Grandparenthood The Peripatetic Preacher February 2, 2021

And now, as Monty Python used to intone, for something completely different. Rather than explore biblical texts, either from the common lectionary or from my own choosing, and connecting those texts, however obscurely at times, to the modern scene, I today wish to become rather more personal. I have been thinking recently of what it means to me to be a grandparent of two delightful and engaging girls, ages 8 and 5, and to be able, even during this interminable pandemic to interact closely with them every week. How lucky I have been to be in these girls’ lives nearly from their entrée onto the planet!

My wife, Diana, and I moved from Dallas to Los Angeles nearly 4 years ago, precisely to be involved in those girls’ lives, as well as to have much closer contact with our two children who had been living in LA for some time. We were lured here primarily by our son, now 46, a composer for film and TV, by his offer to live on a property with him, his wife, and their children. Not only would we interact daily with all four of them, but we would also have many occasions to have time with our daughter, now 43, and her architect husband, who live some 15 minutes away. We helped our son purchase the property in Culver City that included a large two-story building on the back of the space, a perfect place for his studio on the second floor, while the first floor would be remodeled from a garage into a living space for us. After about a year’s labor, that space was ready for us, and we have loved it from the start. It has about 450 square feet inside the former garage (we call it the Garage Mahal), along with a 100 square foot patio in front of the entrance and a 100 square foot outdoor space on the second level, perched above the carport. Another 50 square feet is usable for our “offices,” two desks, printer, and one well-stocked bookshelf. All in all, it is just about a perfect spot for two aging theologians to live and work, and to be deeply engaged with all of our immediate family.

Unfortunately, and with much pain, our son and his wife divorced not long after we moved from Dallas. Fortunately, the two of them had two properties in addition to the Culver City one, so our son’s wife moved into one of those, some 20 minutes away, and they worked out an equitable arrangement for time with the two girls: they spend two nights with our son and his now girlfriend, during one week, and in the next week they spend four nights. The remainder of the time they stay with their mother. That pattern has proven workable, and the girls seem to have adjusted well to it. Even during this time of pandemic, where all schooling has been on-line since March, 2020, the girls have had the distinct advantage of oversight, both from our son and his girlfriend while they are with us, and from their mother while they are with her. That should provide something of the context in which we, the grandparents, find our roles.

The first thing to be said is that our move from Dallas became much more significant than we ever could have imagined. We knew we would interact with these growing girls in wonderful ways, but after the separation and divorce of their parents, we found ourselves as a significantly stable influence in their lives. Diana and I have been married 51 years now, and thanks to our good health, and relatively sound minds, we have been able to engage these two girls in ways we certainly never imagined.

Saiorse (her name means “freedom” in Irish) Pepper is the 8-year old and in the second grade. We saw her on the day of her birth in New York City, during a terrible storm in 2012 that had rendered her chosen hospital unusable, and had forced her to see the world’s light first in a hospital some distance away from our son’s apartment on the lower east side. We have had the privilege to witness her growth from newborn to emerging girl after her move to LA along with our own. When she was born, our son determined that she would call us, her grandparents, Meemaw and Peepaw. I rebelled! “What would you prefer?” he asked me. I said, “The Rev. Dr. John C Holbert, of course.” I was half-joking, but since that was a mouthful for anyone, Saiorse soon shortened all that to plain “Doc,” which I remain to this day. Meemaw, I need to say, is still Meemaw, which hardly sounds so terrible now as once it did.

Moxie Finn (the first name just for the fun of it and the second for her Irish roots) was born here in LA; we also saw her on her first day and have seen her growth more intimately for nearly all of her 5 1/5 years of life. These two are best friends, a very good thing now since they have been effectively cut off from other connections, save on Zoom. Yet, they are distinctly different people. Saiorse is rather shy, more reticent, more introspective than her sister. She can be bossy in the way of big sisters, but she also is very solicitous of Moxie in large and small ways, caring for her when she falls and tending to her when she hurts emotionally. They love to play a game wherein Saiorse is teacher or teenager or leader of one sort or another, while Moxie is the baby, either a cat or a unicorn or a combination of the two, who is found near the trashcans and is rescued and joins the family, where Diana and I are mother and father. They could play this game for hours! The scenario has a way of morphing into other figures and other permutations and combinations, but the basic setup remains fairly constant: older leader, baby, mother, and father. Diana readily adapts to the “play,” while I admit that it is harder for me to enter in fully. Still, I do play, and enjoy watching the two of them adapt and play. “Pretend” is the word that always signals the changing scene: “pretend we are invisible;” pretend you don’t know who we are;” pretend I have a rainbow-colored horn growing on my head.” And so we all pretend one thing or another.

But what Diana and I do not pretend is that we love these girls to bits! I absolutely loved reading to them as they grew, and now I love when they read to me, Saiorse who reads nearly everything, and even Moxie whose reading gets better all the time. I just adore watching them begin to engage in more serious discussions with us as their minds expand and their memories enlarge and their hearts grow to encompass ever more of the world around them. They are both quite aware of their parents’ divorce, have apparently adapted to it well, and have welcomed their father’s girlfriend into their lives. Fortunately, she is a caring and very stable woman, who loves them and offers her support and care quite freely. All four of them get along famously, it seems. They still enjoy greatly spending time with us old folks. I was already 66 years old when Saiorse was born and freshly retired from my last teaching post. I am hardly a young grandparent. Yet, those two girls have kept me younger than I would have ever been had they never appeared in my life, and they have expanded my loving horizons, as I am blessed to be regularly with them and to witness their changing ways in the world.

I of course heard that old saw that the best thing about being a grandparent was to be able to give them back to their parents whenever a nap was coming on—your nap, that is, not theirs! Well, maybe. But in my case, these girls have made it possible for me once again, after the growing up of my own children, to watch that mysterious process occur once again, with all of its heartaches and triumphs and utter surprises. When Saiorse learned to ride her bike—my, that was a grand day and recalled the day our son learned the same trick, some 40 years before. When Moxie read her first word, not too long ago, I recalled when our daughter read out her first words. My goal now is to live long enough to see both of these girls graduate from high school. If all goes as planned and hoped, that will mean I need to live to be 86 or 87 years old. I am working on it, believe me! I crave watching and witnessing the maturation of Saiorse and Moxie, and count it a privilege to be so deeply connected to their lives, and I thank my God each day for the opportunity to be their Doc.


(images from Wikimedia Commons)

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