I have just spent three solid weeks 'spoiling' my granddaughter. My reason for looking after her was to allow her mother to get on with her job unimpeded by a four year old twining around her legs and saying 'Mummy?, Mummy, Mummy!' all day. (For reasons, see posts below.) Little Stuff is a bright, vocal little girl, but very shy and prey to a severe case of separation anxiety -- although I have looked after her a lot, I am, in her eyes, a poor substitute for her mother. And so, to keep her happy and occupied, we spent a lot of time doing what she wanted to do and we did not do much of anything that she did not want to do. In other words, her dear little dimpled foot was firmly planted on Grama's neck every day from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
My own kids I handled very differently. Born only fifteen months apart, they always had a playmate and by the time they were three and four they could do a lot of things together at a reasonable match of abilities and interests. I was working part time at home and part time out of the home, and so they were often left to play on their own or bundled off to a sitter. When I was at home, I had all the housework tasks to do. I confess to plunking them down in front of the TV to watch Sesame Street or Mr. Roger's Neighbourhood almost daily. Our yard wasn't fenced, but JG built what we called the 'rabbit pen', a movable fenced square that was big enough to take a wading pool or a lot of toys, and they spent a lot of outdoor time in that for several years while I sat beside it marking or worked in the garden. And they were told 'You'll have to wait!' a whole lot.
It has been a challenge for me to change from this pretty stringent parenting style to being the go to grandmother when Little Stuff needs a caregiver. I've been doing backup when she couldn't go to daycare and keeping her while her parents were at conferences and meetings. So I've had a kidlet to manage who didn't feel well or who was missing her parents, and I've always spent a lot of my time with her playing with her. She saw no reason why this pattern should not continue this summer. When I think back, my mother played imaginary people games with me until I outgrew them, probably around nine or ten years old. I was an only child and one that did not fit into the neighbourhood kids' games very well, being both a klutz and very short sighted. I guess I am continuing a two generation pattern.
Her parents don't like her to watch TV and, indeed, there was no TV at the research station. She is allowed the occasional movie but we saved those for times when she was in the lab and needed to be kept amused. And I had no other call on my time. And so, we made cookies. We drew and painted. We made necklaces from shells and beads. We went for exploring walks. We picked wildflowers and raspberries. We went to the beach when the weather permitted. We went to the local playground. We visited the facility's aquaria and displays. And we played endless games. She has a set of miniature farm animals. They went to pasture, got colic and had to go to the vet, acquired a cardboard barn, and (this was not *my* idea, I assure you) made mixed marriages.
Partway through our stay I was trying to keep her amused and away from the cliff edge without any toys available. So I invented 'spider'. My hand became a spider and it ran around the rocks, climbed and was given a rather timid personality. Spider was a great hit (Little Stuff has a terrific imagination) and we played this game a lot. She would draw a happy face or sad face on my hand and we would be off. He was given a grass stem for a fishing rod and he caught everything from seals to crabs. He got a bed made out of leaves and a bottle, ditto. He developed more skills as time went on, trying to learn how to growl like a bear and to dance (with five feet this caused him a lot of problems). He had surgery. He ate clover and needed his diaper changed. In fact, he came home on the plane with us (planes make him very nervous and he needed looking after). Little Stuff's parents snickered a lot.
What was important was that she was happy, occupied and safe. I hope she is old enough to remember some of the exciting things about this trip. She discovered tide pools and was enthralled, especially when her parents set up one of the lab sinks to give her her very own touch tank. She got to go out on boats to lift traps and to see a seal colony. She got brave enough to jump the (very small) waves at the beach. But having an adult at her disposal and getting to choose what she wanted to do every day, all day, is not the best introduction to kindergarten, I am afraid, where she will be part of a bigger group than at her daycare and will have to fit into the school's regimen. She starts tomorrow. Grama is worrying.