Cape Gazette
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Around Town

All grandparents worry about getting back in saddle

By Nancy Katz | Apr 10, 2012

The old songs of the Wild West had a ring of truth and wisdom to them. They often were filled with images of cowboys back in the saddle, as they say, riding the range and totin' that ol' 44. Being prepared was never bad advice.

And so I found myself back in the saddle last week, babysitting a couple of teenage grandchildren. This time I was prepared, though. I was packing my Verizon iPhone; an iPad, with a case that had a likeness of Frank Sinatra on it; an iPod with electric pink earplugs; a case of Extra Strength Advil; a bottle of cranberry juice for urinary tract infections incurred while continuously circling a school for six hours in order to pick up a child; a white lab coat with Dr. Pepper stenciled across the pocket for getting out of speeding tickets; and a passport in case I turned psychotic and had to leave the country in the middle of the night.

In a way, there are similarities pertaining to today and rounding up the herd and marching on a cattle drive, only this time it is one long continuous drive of picking up and dropping off teenagers. In fact, it is so much a part of my identity, the kids have taken to calling me Dispatch. Thank heaven for inner tubes and Preparation H.

When my adult children left the nest, I said goodbye to the undulating twangs of The Grateful Dead. I waved ciao to always finding one lone grape, shriveled on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, next to an orange juice carton containing one microgram of liquid, and I bid farewell to wet towels draped over my best bedroom chair.

But now grandparents have moved into a new era of babysitting. Some would say the care of teenagers could be likened to the movie “The Matrix Reloaded.” No one understood the movie, and no one will understand the mind of a teenager.

Technology has changed things. For one, you can not pass an outlet in the house without some device being plugged into it. Yes, it’s as if the whole place is being charged. Only the two dogs, a golden retriever and a black lab, remain free of any wires. Of course, there all kinds of wrappers from the local bakery covering their feet and paws. Going through the garbage is still exhausting, I guess.

Miles of wires snake through the rooms. Phones are lined up on the counter like suspects in a police lineup. They all look the same to me, small frightening devices with tiny symbols just begging you to try them. They emit small noises, vibrations and bells that send me to the front door every five minutes to find no one is there.

The kids are fine, though. At least from all appearances they seem to be; this assessment consists of an outward appearance of a vacuous stare into a computer monitor, with fingers flying across a keyboard, which is how I detect they are still breathing. So important is their work that a slight nod is the only greeting. It’s as if they are on watch for NORAD or something.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the worry all grandparents have when babysitting their charges. And that is that something will happen on their watch, confirming for their own children what incompetent parents they were in the first place.

You are reluctant to let the kids do anything that you wouldn’t have thought twice about years ago. After all, they still belong to your daughter or son. It’s only when I wait outside the school that I breathe some sense of normalcy. True, as they pour out of the building all the kids seem to be talking into headsets or mouthpieces.

But then I spy someone getting hit over the head with a lacrosse stick; thank heaven that hasn’t changed. And even more importantly, the child I am picking up is never there waiting. Plus, crossing right in front of my car is a child carrying an actual book. Now I feel more comfortable. I’m back in the saddle. It’s probably even safe to take out a crossword puzzle.

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