Nurturing the Next Great Generation

Month: March 2023

The Nearly Indescribable Joy and Sadness of Seeing Them Grow Up

Peter Pan protested that he would not grow up. In the island of Neverland, he and Wendy could live a never-ending adventure filled with pirates, fairies and crocodiles, and they…

Peter Pan protested that he would not grow up. In the island of Neverland, he and Wendy could live a never-ending adventure filled with pirates, fairies and crocodiles, and they could fly.

As a grandfather, I’ve rediscovered my inner boy, that eternal Peter Pan that never really left me but was hidden from my vision for a while. I become Peter again when I’m building a cave out of couch cushions with my grandkids. Venomous snakes hunt across the jungle floor (the living room) in search of prey. A pterodactyl (me) swoops down and darkens the sky, talons reaching towards the mouth of the cave as the helpless little ones scream with laughter.

Childhood is indeed a magical place, but as parents and grandparents we know all too well that it doesn’t last forever.

When I was very little, I remember my dad would hold me up and rub my face against the stubble of his early morning beard, the sandpaper-like feel of it making me giggle. Then one day when I was older, he picked me up and was about to do what he’d always done, but I stopped him and said, “I don’t like that anymore.” He looked very sad. At the time I didn’t understand why.

But I do now.

As a grandpa, I’m experiencing time with a sense of increasing acceleration.

My eldest grandson is now 9, and the time between when I held that baby boy and the long-limbed seemingly pre-teen he is today, the one who is able to tackle me to the floor quite effectively, passed in the blink of a crocodile’s eye. And with this rapid passage of time I’ve become more aware than ever of the little changes I see in my grandkids, the moments I see them emerging from Neverland, sometimes in small steps, other times in giant leaps.

There’s great joy in seeing them progress upward in life (and all of them very tall, like me). Yet I feel an almost indescribable sadness when I see them leaving their own childhoods behind. A sadness that the magic I have witnessed—and rediscovered—is fleeting.

It’s one thing to experience this as a parent. As a grandpa, the emotions are all the more poignant because I know this is my last rodeo.

Each step that I see them take into adulthood has an air of personal finality for me because I know I will only see this once. And may not live long enough to see them have children of their own. This is it.

I recently had one of these joy/sadness moments on a Sunday morning. My son came over with his two girls to hang out and eat too many bagels, one of our favorite weekend activities.

Like most grandparents, my wife I read a lot to our grandkids. Whether it’s Goodnight Moon, or searching once again for the elusive rainbow elephant, we’re always reaching for another book. No matter what’s going on, or which grandchild is with us, we’ll ask if they’d like to read a book, and another, and another.

On this particular Sunday, I was in the living room with our youngest granddaughter, not yet 2 years old. She’s a very bright girl, cute and always fearlessly active (rock walls? Yes!) and highly focused on building Magna-Tile structures or whatever toy is before her. I was sitting in my leather chair, enjoying watching her bustle about. The sun was shining through multiple windows, filling the room with a bright, warm feeling. She was snapping Legos together, quietly figuring out what pieces would fit.

Then she looked up at me with her big brown eyes, picked up a book and held it toward me, and asked, “Would you like to read a book?”

I was startled. This very young girl, still in diapers and barely beyond infancy, had just formed a complete sentence, and the look on her face was suddenly so grown-up, so girl versus baby, that the joy/sadness of the moment struck me with full force. The part of me that was in the room then, fully present with my granddaughter, replied, “Yes, I would love to read a book.”

The other part of me, this boy inside who never, ever wanted to grow up, was flying with Wendy hand in hand through the night sky, the wind in my hair, heading home.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

My wife, Nancy, reading to our grand girls.

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Can an ill Grandpa be a Good Grandpa?

  Editors note: Earlier in March, the New York Times ran a story that mentioned the Good Grandpa blog. I really didn’t know what to expect before the story ran….


Editors note: Earlier in March, the New York Times ran a story that mentioned the Good Grandpa blog. I really didn’t know what to expect before the story ran. When you start a blog like this, it’s a lot like talking in an empty room. If you stick with it, eventually more people enter the room and join the conversation. With the Times piece, a lot of people joined the conversation all at once. This has been both wonderful and humbling. After 9 years as a grandpa I discovered how little I really knew about the wide range of different life experiences that other grandfathers live on a daily basis. My own life is one tiny sliver of a vast galaxy that is still unfolding. The guest story I’m posting here, submitted by a grandfather in Pennsylvania, will illuminate this galaxy with a level of persevering love I could only aspire to. I hope that after you read what Dr. Lipes has shared  you will take a minute to post a comment and answer the question he’s asked in the title of his story.

Can an ill Grandpa be a Good Grandpa?

By Jan Lipes, MD

It’s not difficult at all to read stories about the “good” grandfathers. Or hear such stories told at the dinner table, at family gatherings or on the benches in the park. Good grandfathers abound everywhere.

These legions of seasoned warriors think of grandparenting as the best job they ever had; they keep pinching themselves to make sure it’s not all some kind of fantastic dream. They are astounded to see the world through eyes that have only been inspecting it for three or four years.

Grandpas are touched, they are invigorated by eyes that regard them as fountains of wisdom. They can’t wait to descend to the floor with their little colleagues, down to the railroad tracks on which little gaily painted locomotives and dining cars circle endlessly in an infinite loop that simultaneously goes nowhere and everywhere. They love the rough and tumble of tossing a little body through space at the swimming pool or at the beach and catching it in a grand gesture.

Grandpas can’t wait to be over-generous in gift giving and consider it one of their main jobs to spoil their grandchildren by granting them every wish under the sun. They positively jump at the chance to babysit. The miraculous opportunity opens up before them in which they themselves have the chance to be children once again, to see the world anew through the eyes of little ones.These stories, told by the able-bodied, the inhabitants of the domain of the well, are inspiring to read.

But what about the stories of those grandfathers who don’t dwell in the “kingdom of the well,” but rather inhabit “the kingdom of the sick,” as Susan Sontag proposed. What of us?

Yes, I am a subject of that latter kingdom. My entrance fee was a pair of legs that won’t walk for me, necessitating a wheelchair for thirty plus years, and a formerly dominant right arm that became non-functional. What of me, and those like me? Unable to indulge in those joyful interactions with my grandchildren that the “well” dwellers do, how can I experience the joy and wonder of my grandchildren?

Well, fellow Grandpas, there’s good news.

If you’re looking for some fun and meaningful things to do with your grandkids and you’re as disabled as I am, remember the Japanese saying; every defect has a hidden treasure. So how do we, the ill, find this hidden treasure? As with most issues in a disabled life, adaptation is the key to the treasure hunt. Adaptation not only ensures the survival of the species, it ensures our survival in the face of daunting challenges.

Jan giving one of his grandkids a ride.

Kids love rides in amusement parks. If you’re living the wheelchair life like me, consider yourself lucky as you needn’t drive all the way to Coney Island for the rides; you are the ride! Kids love it when they can hitch a lift on your lap or hang onto the back of your chair while all of you go speeding down the road shouting some nonsense at the top of your lungs.

Kids love checkers, cards, blocks, silly putty, pick up sticks and all manner of table games. Can’t hold a deck of cards in your hand? Adapt by getting a simple card holder. There are all sorts of simple gadgets like that which enable you to manipulate the baubles that kids love.

Museums of all kinds—from aquariums to art institutions—are great for touring with a kid on your lap. Your little wheelchair cabal offers a great opportunity for intimate chats about the things you encounter. And an added benefit is when your grandchild gets “tired.” You now adapt by becoming an Uber driver!

Dr. Lipes at a railroad museum with family.

Picasso said all children are artistic geniuses until they reach the age of seven. Well, you don’t have to stop there. Art is endlessly varied both in the finished product and the methods by which to create. Can’t use a brush? Adapt. Use your teeth, your palm, your clumsy fingers. The kids don’t care what you use but they care deeply that you are sharing the creative process with them.

Some disabled folks are embarrassed by what other people think about what they are doing or how they’re doing it. Adapt! Lose your ego! Who cares what they think, and besides, for all you know, they are regarding you with admiration!

I like to speak to school kids about disability and show off all the fancy maneuvers I can perform with my chair. The kids will crowd you with their curiosity.

It’s no secret that kids love to be read to. As a disabled grandpa, don’t abandon this oldie but goodie. There are all sorts of book holders that let you read with one hand and some that are hands-free. Seek these out; adapt!

Can’t use that old curveball pitch you used to be so good at in a game of catch or whiffle ball? Adapt to a slow, underhand style. The kids will probably get more hits anyway.

Jan playing with the grandkids.

Our barriers and obstacles are hard to bear, they are exasperating. But they must not rob you of your life with your grandchildren just because you are disabled. Adaptation is the key to unlocking their magical world.

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Two Days in Grandpa Bill’s Brain

Publisher’s Note: This lovely post was written by my daughter, Abigail Moore. As a grandfather, it’s wonderful for me to see that even though my father is no longer with…

Publisher’s Note: This lovely post was written by my daughter, Abigail Moore. As a grandfather, it’s wonderful for me to see that even though my father is no longer with us, his voracious mind is a legacy that continues through the generations. 

When my parents broached the subject of organizing my paternal grandfather’s books I immediately volunteered for the task.

They were preparing for a long-anticipated flooring project, replacing the tired, stained, and occasionally smelly carpet in the primary bedroom. This sanctuary had previously been my grandfather Bill’s office, where he spent countless hours in his retirement puzzling over society’s ills and compulsively stocking his bookshelves with annotated and dog-eared volumes on a wide range of topics.

Grandpa Bill cut a formidable figure, running daily up and down the steep driveway of his house in the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont in a very small pair of shorts. This was the only time I ever saw him out of his customary button down shirt and belted khaki slacks, a formal uniform that he wore around the house, attending to his intellectual pursuits in his upstairs sanctuary.

All the grandchildren spoke in whispers about the day when they would come of age, and be summoned to meet with him in his office.

This ritual entailed discussing the evils of nuclear war, his time in the Navy during WWII, and his ongoing goal of ensuring world peace for future generations. My memory of my own conference centers around trying intently to avoid staring too hard at his eyebrows, which wriggled across his forehead like salt-and-pepper caterpillars, and general tween awkwardness and angst about having to discuss such a serious topic with my distinguished and somewhat aloof grandfather. Additionally, the graphic visuals of nuclear war were not for the faint of heart and needed to be approached with a certain degree of serious intellectualism.

In his twilight years, lost to the fog of dementia secondary to Parkinson’s, the office became an alarming representation of his mental decline.

Towering stacks of books covered every surface, some with hundreds of index cards protruding from pages inked with his favorite quotes and ideas. The room had an odor: unwashed clothes, faint traces of urine, and the musky scent of a neglected used bookstore or library. Piles of ladybug and house fly carcasses littered the windowsills and lazy skeins of cobwebs and dust fluttered in invisible breezes. I generally skirted the space, for fear of being drawn into a conversation in this claustrophobic and messy sanctuary that he refused to let anyone clean.

After his eventual passage from the mortal plain, his office and library remained as a concrete legacy of his obsessive quest for answers and information. When they took ownership of the house, my parents toiled for days to transform the space into a bedroom, but left the majority of his books on the expansive shelves. This was the library of a ghost whose presence continued to loom large over the years.

As a person who finds tremendous satisfaction in bringing order to chaos, likely as a coping mechanism for life-long anxiety, the prospect of systematically organizing the books was exciting to me.

We embarked on the project during the final days of February break, with everyone pitching in throughout a two-day sorting, purging, and cleaning extravaganza. Even my two boys, eight and six, dove into the task with uncharacteristic zeal. Brandishing dust rags and a vacuum they meticulously scrubbed and sorted with me for hours, occasionally finding treasures that they pored over together on the floor, heads touching.


The concrete result of this daunting and dirty experience was a bedroom filled with stacks upon stacks of hundreds of newly dusted books organized by subject.

However, a secondary consequence was a great deal of hilarity, discussion, and ultimately reflection about what these books represented about the passions and personality of someone long deceased. After immersing myself in the books for several hours, patterns emerged. Here was a person who had purchased, and hung on to, no less than five copies of On Death and Dying by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

A preoccupation with long life, health, nutrition, self-diagnosis of illness, and stress was evident from a massive collection of books on these topics (medical texts on Urology: The Complete Series). Poetry, world-religions, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and classic works of fiction were predictable components of his library.

Non-fiction books about WWII and the devastation of nuclear warfare represented his time in the service, and his life-long guilt about his role in the Pacific Theater. A surprising number of tomes centered on gender, feminism, sexuality, and aggression in men (3 heavily dog-eared copies of Demonic Males by Dale Peterson and Richard Wrangham).

Here was a man who read The Joy of Sex (volumes 1 and 2) as well as Masters and Johnson (his one bookmark in the Joy of Sex Volume 2: How to avoid mischief makers in a threesome).

He appeared to be deeply interested in democracy, liberalism, and the emergent role of technology and its changing influence on society and culture. He was similarly passionate about evolution, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

He had a comprehensive collection of works by B.F. Skinner and Maslow. His lifelong friendship with scientist E.O. Wilson was reflected in having multiple copies of his entire collection of published books. One of these featured my grandfather in the dedication, and further digging turned up the original proof of the book that Bill had annotated to share his comments/thoughts with the author himself. At times, I could not fathom how he could have slogged through countless ponderous tomes of economics, government, and comparative philosophy of leadership.

My grandmother, Janet, was evident in aged and crumbling pamphlets with knitting patterns, instructions for metallurgy, and gardening texts.

These were interspersed with books on other crafts that had a more direct impact on my childhood. I had vivid flashbacks to her teaching me how to make baskets one humid summer, and when she presented me with multicultural doll clothes for my American Girl doll (including a burka, which I mistakenly thought for many years was a very sophisticated beekeeping uniform).

There were literary clues to other aspects of their relationship, revealing an unsurprising truth about his reliance on the written word to solve real world, interpersonal challenges (Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montague; Choice Points: Essays on the Emotional Problems of Living with People, by John C. Glidewell).

Ultimately, I could not help but feel that I spent the better part of two days becoming reacquainted with someone who I had not seen in more than ten years (or twenty, if you consider the devastation of his dementia).

Flipping through the pages, and categorizing the collection, was a more intimate experience with my grandfather than I can recall having during his mortal life. As a person who loves books, and voraciously collects them and categorizes them in my own home, I wonder whether these will find permanence after my own death. In an increasingly digital world, there is a certain magic to a physical discovery of lost words, musings written in a margin, obscure and strange index cards tucked between dusty pages (“The leather coat was a strangler”). These forgotten and newly rediscovered remembrances made me laugh, sneeze, and ultimately wonder, “What the hell was Grandpa thinking?”

Abigail with Grandpa Bill (William R. Page) 1986

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