Hawaii has basically two types of grandparents, long-distance and no-distance.
No-distances see their grandchildren all the time. And I mean all the time. If they are not actually living with them, they might as well be.
Then there are people like me, long-distance grandparents who live so far from their families they hardly see the grandkids at all.
Neal Milner with his granddaughter, Vivienne, during a visit to the mainland.
Courtesy of Neal Milner
For no-distance grandparents, vacations are escapes. They go where they are unreachable.
What’s better than a cruise? Now, that’s isolation. If you die on board, your family won’t even be there for a funeral.
So what? It’s worth it. Because back home, Sean needs a ride to the soccer field in Waipio, Desiree needs someone to catch her ballet rehearsal in Kapolei. Full speed ahead, captain.
Liberation. The chance to dance the jitterbug without shame. Also, to eat and drink junk at all hours, and experience “lifelong learning” listening to some on-board professor lecture on, say, lute making in Kazakhstan.
All a lot better option than closing the door and hoping for the best in your multigenerational household.
So Little Practice
Meanwhile vacation means something different to long-distance grandparents like me: visiting family away from home, schlepping to parks, children’s museums, story hours, school plays, malls and kid-friendly restaurants.
Our no-distance compadres do all that too, but for us it’s not the same because we get so little practice.
Like remembering the difference between grandchild rhythms and my rhythms.
I am physically very active and have plenty of energy, but my energy rhythms follow a predictable pattern that I control.
After a hard workout, I sit and have coffee for an hour. My body, my pace, my schedule. Then I move on to the next thing on my agenda. Spontaneity but only when I want it.
My 6-year-old granddaughter Vivienne is a free form dance, which a Seattle dance group describes as “dancing with no planned steps or moves, no choreography, no memorization, no goals, no expected form or sequence.”
Here’s how it went on a recent visit: Viv starts a puzzle, then a few minutes into it, she wants to read, then a few pages into the story, she says, “let’s finish it later.” Plan an outing, change an outing. Playground: swing, then slide, then swing again even though walking to the lagoon is supposed to be next.
I do an interview about the Mueller Report holding the phone in one hand while pushing Viv on a swing with the other.
These different rhythms are what makes children’s museums the devil’s workshop. They are designed for children to discover and explore. That’s why they are called “discovery centers.” Adults like me get that.
And when we walk into these places, we can’t help thinking like adults: Start here, move from Point A to Point B, spend time in each place, and, badda boom, you’ve discovered!
Good luck, grownups.
A couple of weeks ago, when Viv and I were at a lovely wooded playground on the slopes of Portland’s Mount Tabor, I heard a dad recite to his son two key stanzas from The Anthem of Responsible Adults: “You’ve done that already,” and “OK, but we don’t have much time.”
Those are metronomes for adult rhythms, but totally irrelevant to free-dancers. The man might as well have been speaking Klingon.
When Viv finds something at a kids’ museum she really loves, like playing doctor, driving a bus or vamping on the performance stage, she’ll stay much longer than my segmented, organized body clock wants. And she skips stuff and backtracks to things she has already done. Misses things entirely, makes discoveries with one foot out the door.
Of course, in my head I know that’s fine, but getting used to it takes practice and … “we don’t have much time.”
Walks Of Life
“Grandpa, I want to walk with you tomorrow morning,” Viv says during the Portland visit. “I set my clock for 6:26.”
I get up early every morning to be by myself. But I could not refuse.
So early the next morning we set off to … nowhere really. “Where do you want to go?” I ask.
“That way,” Viv answers. So we walk a short block to the busy street on the corner, then turn left for a block.
“OK,” she says. “Let’s go back.”
Next day we walk in the opposite direction again for no real reason, at least from an adult perspective. I ask if she wants to walk another block to a large cemetery with lots of birds and squirrels. She does.
I have her read a placard that explains the history of the place, but she has no interest in being a victim of that teachable moment. She does begin a conversation about how they get the bodies into coffins and then into graves. It lasts 30 seconds.
Another day she talks so much that we walk right past her house.
Meandering, different rhythms melding, being ourselves in the moment. Lesson learned. My retraining successful for another visit.
And with great pleasure.
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Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.