WAY OUT PARENTING: Spending Spring Break with the Grandparents? Good Luck!

Most families feel obliged to make occasional trips to grandparents who live far away, and in this time of economic uncertainty, vacationing at their home is certainly the frugal alternative to Europe or the Caribbean. And some grandparents really do want you to come. They may even cough up plane tickets to sweeten the pot and go out of their way to deliver a rip-roaring good time for their grandchildren.

But other grandparents only say they want you. They never really expected you to accept an invitation. And the minute you, your partner, and children pull up to the house, their ambivalence kicks in. They’re thinking,Oh, God, how are we going to get through a whole week? Can we just give them the keys and we’ll go to Europe? and you’re thinking, If they lived in California, they would have voted for Prop 8. They are the enemy. Why are we here?”

How do you survive? The cardinal rule is to avoid all topics of conversation you would delve into enthusiastically with anyone else:

Politics:They voted for McCain and thought Sarah Pallin was unfairly vilified.
Religion:Their church regularly excoriates gays to get parishioners juiced up just before they pass the plate.
Sex: They don’t want to think about what you do, and the mere thought of them engaging in intimate acts makes you queasy.
Child rearing:Your goal is to do exactly what they didn’t do.
Books: Ann Coulter’s on their shelf; Stephen Colbert is on yours. You can’t even talk about Goodnight Moon without getting into a debate.
Television: They just love The O’Reilly Factor; you prefer Rachel Madow’s twinkly eyes and intellect.
Healthcare:They’re convinced Obama will socialize the system, and you’d just like to pay for your partner’s insurance with before-tax dollars , like married heterosexuals do.
Retirement:They actually have a pension. You can’t pass yours on.
Marriage:They’re holding their breath you don’t ask them to cough up a $75,000 wedding like your straight sibling got.
Fashion: They never had any fashion sense, and you’re either too flamboyant, too metrosexual, too masculine, too effeminate, or too something for their tastes.

With all these topics off limits, what is left? Isn’t it obvious? The weather. Here are some conversational openers you probably haven’t ever heard yourself utter, but give them a try:

How about that barometric pressure today?

I felt a distinct light breeze on our way to the pancake house. Did you feel it
too, Ma?

I just love these cloudless days. Look at that gorgeous blue sky, Daddy.

Warning: a full week of these conversations may degenerate some of your brain
cells, and despite your best efforts, you won’t be able to shield your children from Grandma and Grandpa’s true nature. They may have begun the vacation with an idyllic view of their grandparents, but they won’t leave with the same view, and you’ll have to deal with their questions and comments, so get ready:

Why are grandma and grandpa republicans? I though you said republicans are evil, hate-filled homophobes.
Many of them are, including Grandpa and Grandma. Aren’t families wonderfully complicated, kids? Even though we don’t agree about anything we can still spend a week together without killing each other.

There’s nothing to do and they don’t have any premium cable channels.
Yes, but check out the arsenal in Grandpa’s closet. There’s enough firepower in there for twenty HBO action movies. Just don’t pull any triggers. They really might be loaded. Grandpa actually thinks black people are planning a revolution now that Obama is president.

Are you going to act the way they do when you get old?
No, gay people refuse to let that happen to them. Your mommy and mama will be checking into a rainbow assisted living community the minute we see any signs of acid reflux, arthritis, or dementia. All we ask is that you promise to visit us every once in a while—you can stay in a hotel—and remind us that once upon a time we used to be really cool people.

Grandpa still holds my hand when we cross a street. I feel like I’m four.
Have we told you about OCD yet? Well, it runs in our family. Grandpa imagines a big Mack truck running you down every time we cross the street in his cul de sac. The good news is that you probably won’t have OCD even though it’s genetic, because we made sure to pick a donor without that particular psychological issues. We’ve diluted the OCD genes in you.

How come grandma hardly ever talks to you, Papa?
Son, do you remember how we explained that you can make a family in many different ways and that you don’t have to be biologically related to someone to be family? Good. Well, Grandma obviously missed that lesson, but we’re giving her a crash course this week. And she’ll never make the same mistake again—or she just won’t see you anymore.

How come the other kids get to go the Europe while we go to grandma and grandpa’s?
They either have more money than us or they went to their grandparents last year and they’ve decided since their net worth has already dropped forty percent another few thousand won’t matter especially if it keeps them away from their grandparents. Don’t worry, after the trip we’re having we’ll probably be in Europe next year whether or not we can afford it, too.

© 2009 by Carrie Smith. All rights reserved.

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