Dave Barry

Dave Barry: Being a grandparent has its moments ⁠— perplexing, painful and poignant

You may not be aware of this, but today, September 8, is Grandparents Day. It’s also — really — Literacy Day, Star Trek Day and Iguana Awareness Day.

I don’t know why we need a special day to be aware of iguanas. It’s definitely unnecessary in South Florida, which is IguanaPalooza. Spend an hour walking around my neighborhood and there’s a good chance you’ll encounter a green lizard the size of a small dog, glaring at you with a look that says: “If I were larger, I would swallow you in one gulp, like the Tyrannosaurus Rex that ate the lawyer in ‘Jurassic Park.’ ”

That’s the iguana community’s favorite movie. It’s showing 24/7 down at the LizardPlex.

So we South Floridians don’t need Iguana Awareness Day. What we need is Stop Sign Awareness Day, or Your Car Has Turn Signals For A Reason Awareness Day, or It’s Not A Great Idea To Celebrate Festive Occasions By Shooting Your Gun Into The Air You Moron Awareness Day.

But getting back to Grandparents Day: The question is: Why? We already have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Anybody who’s a grandparent already falls into one of those categories, right? What’s so different about grandparenthood?

I believe I can answer that, as a grandparent. My son, Rob, and his wife, Laura, have two boys:

Dylan, who is 5 years old, and whose career objective, when he grows up, is to be a ninja.

Kyle, who is two months old going on three months old (They grow up so fast!) and who, when he is not sleeping, eating, pooping or spitting up, spends his time staring up at the world with a perpetually startled expression, as if to say: “What the HECK?”

I like being a grandpa. For one thing, it’s educational. Dylan, being 5, has a vast storehouse of knowledge, from which he is constantly dispensing random facts. The other day, for example, Dylan and I were in the swimming pool, drifting around on pool noodles, and we had the following conversation:

DYLAN: Bop-Bop, can I tell you something?

(From the time he could talk, Dylan has called me “Bop-Bop.” Nobody knows why.)

ME: What?

DYLAN: Mommy seahorses don’t born the babies. Daddy seahorses born the babies.

ME: Really?


ME: How do they do that?

DYLAN: I have no idea.

The seahorse method of borning babies is only one of many things I learned from Dylan. He also told me, as we noodled around the pool, that the solar system (Dylan is an expert on the solar system) has a planet named Haumea that is shaped like a potato. I frankly did not believe him. I had never heard of any planet Haumea. I assumed it was imaginary, like Shrek, or Customer Service. But after we got out of the pool I checked Wikipedia, and sure enough, there is a potato-shaped dwarf planet named Haumea, whirling around way out past Neptune. It is uninhabitable and has no cell service.

So I’m learning new things, which is one benefit of grandparenthood. Another one is that I get to play. At my age I don’t play much; if I have idle time, I like to pick out a good book, open it, place it face-down on my stomach, and fall asleep. But Dylan wants to play pretty much all the time, so when we’re hanging out together, we play. That is the good news. The bad news is where he wants to play, namely: the floor.

The floor is not a friendly environment for older people. For us, the floor is like Europe: You do not go there on the spur of the moment. Before visiting the floor, you must carefully weigh such questions as:

How will you get down there?

How long will you stay?

What if, while you are on the floor, an emergency arises, such as the phone rings or God forbid you have to go to the bathroom?

How will you get back up?

The other drawback to playing on the floor with grandchildren is that they usually want to play with Legos. I realize this will be an unpopular position, but: Legos are an evil plague.

When I was young, during the Cretaceous period, we did not have Legos. We had blocks, which were solid wood objects that you could use to make anything you wanted, as long as you wanted to make a blocky structure. This did not take long, as you had, at most, a couple dozen blocks in your inventory. You spent maybe three minutes building your structure, and, bang, you were done, free to knock it down and move on to other educational play activities such as making fart noises with your armpit.

This is not the case with Legos. You are never finished, with Legos. Every Legos kit, even the beginner ones, contains at least 16,000 individual pieces, ranging in size from French fry down to molecule. You can spend several tedious hours, down there on the hard floor, sticking these tiny things together, and you will have nothing to show for your efforts but what looks like a mutant Rubik’s Cube. Oh, sure, the Legos store has spectacular life-size display Legos structures depicting dinosaurs, spaceships, Vice President Pence, etc., but those are not built by children. They are built over the course of weeks, maybe years, by paid Legos employees who go home every night and drink themselves into a stupor.

But aside from having to play Legos on the floor, grandparenthood is pretty great. It’s amazing how your long-ago experience as a parent of young children comes back to you. Like when I’m in charge of two-month-old Kyle, and he poops or spits up or starts wailing, I know exactly what to do: hand Kyle back to one of his parents.

One of the best parts of grandparenthood, I think, is seeing your kids handle the awesome, sometimes terrifying, responsibility of raising their kids. The other night I watched as Rob was getting ready to put his sons to bed. He had Kyle cradled in his left arm, using the classic parent-of-a-newborn grip. In his right hand he held a bottle. He had a diaper draped over his shoulder to catch spitup, although there was also some spitup on his shirt. Clinging to his right leg was Dylan, who was tired and cranky because bedtime came before he finished his 37,000th viewing of “Moana.” Rob was tired, too, his face showing the weariness that comes from a couple of months without more than two consecutive hours of sleep.

“Goodnight, Dad,” he said.

“Goodnight,” I said. I watched him trudge away, carrying one son and towing the other. For him, it was just the end of another day of being a dad, with many more to come; when your kids are young, it feels like these days will go on forever. But for me it was a bittersweet moment — watching the son I used to cradle in one arm, now a man with sons of his own.

That’s what’s different about being a grandparent. You know how fast the days go by.

No, I’m not crying. I just stepped on a Lego.