“We’ve all come from different places, but we’re still family,” said Dan’s 14-year-old grandson, Jack. “Godfrey’s adopted, which leads to you. And then you married Grandpa Dan who is my grandpa through my stepfather. So there’s three different factors that go into our connection.”
“I actually like having this wonky connection,” chimed in Godfrey, my 13-year-old Ugandan-born grandson, “because it’s better than the normal story of people I hang out with.”
Last week Dan and I hosted his-and-hers teenage grandsons for three days. And then one grandchild was traded out for another, and more were added to the mix for a total of six grandkids over nine days.
We kayaked at Elk Lake, biked to the Deschutes River to cool off, and tubed at Suttle Lake.
We made picnic lunches and ate in a park, and ate on a shore, and ate on a boat.
We visited an alpaca farm, played Monopoly, and took in a baseball game.
We hiked to the top of Pilot Butte, watched Apple Dumpling Gang and Annie, and had a full day of creativity with scraps of wood and metal from Grandpa Dan’s shop.
And in between all that, we chatted with the kids about our wonky relationship, to borrow Godfrey’s word.
Even eleven-year-old William added to the conversation. “We can laugh at each other when someone says something kind of embarrassing. If we see they’re not liking it, we stop.”
“We all feel comfortable with each other even though we’re not related. We find a way to fit in with each other.” This from Maddie.
Dan’s 12-year-old granddaughter Maddie and my 13-year-old granddaughter Lydia were junior bridesmaids at our wedding last summer. They’ve been inseparable—via FaceTime—ever since.
Lydia and her family moved to Oregon in the middle of a school year and the kids didn’t get a chance to establish close friendships before COVID showed up. “Life would be so different right now without all you guys,” she observed.
“We’re besties,” the girls chime in together.
I like how 14-year-old Eddy, my oldest Ugandan-born grandson, summed it up: “We learned each other’s stories and found a way to connect.”
Learning each other’s stories. And finding a way to be family, to be friends, to show respect and understanding.
Which reminds me of a time—I’m sorry to say—when I’d see homeless men on a street corner with a sign. And I’d think to myself, This is America. Go get a job.
Sometime later, my first husband experienced an extended period of joblessness, which generated financial setbacks. He eventually secured work, but then cancer showed up.
Later, he volunteered at Shepherd’s House, a homeless shelter, three mornings a week. In time, we took some of the residents hiking and snowshoeing, and every few weeks we took one of the men out to dinner.
They all had stories. Interesting, heart-wrenching, painful stories.
We listened. And we built friendships with people we wouldn’t otherwise have known.
That early association with the homeless in our town blended with my new husband’s heart for the homeless. Dan drives the shower truck on a regular basis, we volunteer at Family Kitchen, and we have friends within the homeless community.
What if we could listen to the stories of foster kids, of single moms, of people with a skin color different from ours? Of those caring for loved ones with dementia or cancer or ALS? Of widows, and law enforcement officers, and immigrants, and the hungry, and those living in poverty?
“We need to be open-minded,” 14-year-old Jack said at one point in our conversation about our unusual connection.
What if we could listen open-mindedly and build relationships and, as a result, have better stories than the normal story of people we hang out with?
What if we could take a lesson from the grandkids?