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Opinion column: The joys of being a grandfather

Modified: Wednesday, Mar 13th, 2013

For those of you that don’t know, I am a grandfather; I have a grandson. Be warned, I have photos, many, many photos. If I could stack all the photos of my grandson into one pile, I would have a continuous flipbook of him from birth to nine months old. It would probably be more efficient to strap a video camera on him and keep it running 24 hours a day.

You can try to distract me with questions and small talk about the weather, lack of moisture, price of feeder cattle or even hunting, but I will eventually get the discussion back around to the subject of my grandson. And the photo gallery on my Smartphone is loaded, and I know how to use it.

His parents chose to name him Christopher, but I believe that one of the most solemn and sacred duties of a grandfather is to come up with just the right nickname for his grandkids, a nickname that reveals the true essence of the child’s infant and toddler years. A nickname that will haunt the child all through elementary school, junior high and high school.

Popeye. I have taken to calling Christopher Popeye. He has the biggest hands and forearms of any child I have ever seen, just like those hourglass arms of Popeye in the cartoons, back in the day when we had real, manly cartoons. Not these computer generated, uni-gender, conflict-avoiding, pastel-colored, everyone’s-a-winner YouTube productions that pass for cartoons today.

Sorry, I’ve been a little cranky since my morning intake of ESPN’s SportsCenter has been replaced with cartoon surfing. But withdrawal gets better with each passing day, and I’m learning to adjust. One day at a time.

Christopher has also started making growling noises deep down in his diaphragm, like Popeye used to make when he had enough from his archrival, Bluto, “That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands n’more! GRRRR!”

He has become a nightmare for our dogs ever since he learned to crawl. Immobile he was just a smelly, squiggly oddity, something to sniff and ignore. Well, they can’t ignore him now.

My dog, Regen, actually taught him to growl. When he first learned to crawl, Popeye’s mission has been to take over Regen’s dog bed. It was the single most compelling object in the house. He would watch her lying in her bed, calculating the risk/reward factor, and she would growl at him, which just made him laugh and goad him into action.

After the initial stare down, Popeye would start his slow, methodical march towards her dog bed. She growls, he laughs. Fearless, he would continue his march towards certain victory, and she would sit up, trembling, as though the vet has just walked through the door.

She would try one more growl, a last, feeble effort to turn an incontestable force. Then Popeye would growl, a deep baritone growl that mimicked hers exactly, GRRR!, and then she would bolt for any corner of the house that promised just a few moments of relief. Victorious, Popeye would then go in search of one of the other dogs to harass.

All three of our dogs have experienced significant weight loss since Popeye went mobile. Heck, I should’ve lost 10 pounds by now; he crawls faster than I can walk, so I almost have to jog from the living room to the kitchen to catch him before he takes a bath in the dog’s water bowl.

Unfortunately, Popeye seems to have the opposite effect on me, weight-wise, than he has on the dogs. Actually, the strained apricots and peaches are really pretty good. Stay away from the peas, though.

The one thing I didn’t realize, or had forgotten in the 20 years since I was expected to pay attention to such things, is that in the world of babies and toddlers, all discussions eventually lead to poop. The most common question in our house, replacing the once and former champion “What’s for dinner?” is the ever redundant “Is he poopy?”

Discussions of horse apples, cow chips and dog piles have no effect on me, at dinner or any other time, but let the talk turn to baby poop and my stomach starts to roll like a three-day cruise in a hurricane.

The poop conversations seem to be more prevalent at dinnertime, when mom and grandma can sit and exchange their observations about Popeye’s gastrointestinal processes in quite some detail. An iPod and headphones have become as common for me at the dinner table as a knife and fork. When there is a baby in the house, you must adapt as best you can.

Often, during the day you can find my daughter’s nose pressed up against Popeye’s butt trying to determine his poopiness, “No, you don’t smell poopy,” or “Are you poopy?” or “Oh man, are you poopy!!”

My daughter takes great delight in asking me, “Does he smell poopy to you?” and then swings his butt towards my face. He laughs, she laughs and I run for the sink, the toilet or the back door. Children are an infinite source of amusement. Evidently, so are grandfathers.

Personally, I would let him crawl around in just his diaper, but his bowel movements are usually the explosive kind, and my wife just had the carpets cleaned. Better to keep the whole business contained.

I share all of this because I know there are many, many other grandparents in Goshen County who love their grandkids and families as much as I do. Not more, but maybe the same.

The reality, though, is our daughter will finish college and take a job somewhere other than Goshen County, and quite probably, somewhere other than Wyoming. Popeye will just become a frequent, hopefully, visitor to our house, rather than the enjoyable, easygoing fixture that he is now.

And I pray that after he moves away, he will always enjoy coming back to visit. But, I know that as Popeye journeys through elementary school, then junior high and ultimately high school, it will take more than just horseback rides, grandpa’s stories and a movie now and then to get him excited about visiting his grandparents. That is how kids are, that is how they have always been; they want to know what new adventure is waiting for them around the next corner.

I doubt that we will ever have an Xbox, PlayStation or Wii waiting for Popeye to entertain himself with during his visits, but that is just as well, I don’t want to entertain him when he visits, I want to engage him. I want to shoot baskets with him whatever the weather. I want to go swimming with him whether it is summer vacation or Christmas break. I want him to have a place to meet other kids his age and make new friends so that he will always be drawn back to our house.

I want him to want to visit.

And here’s what I am willing to do to help nurture his desire to visit his grandparents. I am willing to add a few cents to my bar, restaurant or meal tab to bring a YMCA to the area. I am willing to spend a few extra cents on my pharmacy, office supply or latte bill to inspire my grandson to visit rather that dreading the experience. I am willing to drive the few extra miles necessary to engage him rather than keep him entertained in front of the TV.

I am willing to look at his needs rather than my own in order to bring diversity to the activities available in Goshen County, not just to get new folks to come to the area, but to ensure that those who have left will someday want to come back.

So, as a grandparent and a parent, I am asking that I, and all the other parents and grandparents in Goshen County, have a say in what is best for our families. Let us decide the fate of a community YMCA.

Though I am not too old to take advantage of the activities offered by a YMCA, I realize that a Y is not about me; it is about the future of my children and my children’s children and hopefully, their children.

Let the fate of a YMCA for Goshen County go to a vote.

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