Grand-Père and Grand-Mère have been in town for a whole month! We have asked both sets of grandparents to stay with us for a serious stretch of time every year and they have thankfully been able and willing to do so for the last five years. We get to really live together as a family, as opposed to rush and try to cram everything into one or two mere weeks — and it makes a world of difference.
It matters a lot to us, the parents, but it is even more important for Minette to have her grandparents around in her everyday life. With Thatha and Aachi living in India and Grand-Père and Grand-Mère living in France we are grateful for the technological crutches that allow us to communicate and see each other on a regular basis but they are truly no substitute for spending real time together.
Of course, grandparents living far away are hardly specific to multicultural families. Some monocultural families do have this problem. Some multicultural families don’t have it. But in the case of multicultural families, physical distance certainly adds to the challenge of keeping our children connected with their languages and heritages. Every time Minette’s grandparents stay with us they are feeding this connection by their sheer presence and interactions with her. It happens naturally and it is priceless.
As most of us have fortunately experienced first hand, the relationship between grandchildren and grandparents is a special one. The way I would describe it is unencumbered love. From grandparents’ perspective their love is mostly free from the worries of parenting, a thing to be savored joyfully. Because of where they are in their life, they can be there for and attentive to their grandchildren in a way they simply could not with their own children. From grandchildren’s perspective, the love they receive from and feel for their grandparents is probably the most uncomplicated form of love they’ll ever experience. In my book, love between parents and children always has some layers of complexity, especially as children grow up. Some degree of disappointment or even resentment usually comes into the mix. Not so with grandparents, which is probably why many of us draw strength and comfort from their relationship with their grandparents even long after they have departed this world.
I believe that the time Minette gets to spend with her grandparents will shape her in a significant way. Interestingly, the dynamic is quite different, and nurturing in different ways, whether she is with her maternal or her paternal grandparents. Grand-Père and Grand-Mère are focused on her growing personality and mapping her ongoing discovery of the world, which makes for many delightful conversation pieces. It’s like they have embarked on a journey with her. With Thatha and Aachi things are often less goal-oriented and more fluid — timeless, I think, is the word. They are there for her on her own terms, with no expectations spelt out. I always wonder at how long Aachi can pretend play with Minette, following her lead and showing absolutely no sign of boredom…
Time is something members of my French-Indian family deal with in very different ways but I think we are all in agreement when it comes to the time we spend together and how precious and meaningful it is to us all. Grandparents are acutely aware of the passing of time, of course, but they are also the ones who give time to their grandchildren without counting and, doing so, build the solid foundation that will survive them. They are both obedient subjects to and masters of time — our four cornerstones.