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On Being Grandparents

Probably each of us have fond memories of our grandparents.  I may have fewer memories of my grandparents than some people have because I lived in Nigeria most of my life until I was 10.  My Grandpa and Grandma Gay truly loved each of their grandchildren.  Grandpa was the kind of grandpa who played with his grandkids.  He had a model train in the basement complete with mountains, towns, lights, whistles, train stations, trees, etc.  He'd sit us on his lap when he watched TV and showed us how to shoot paper wads with rubber bands at the bad guys on his favorite westerns.  We'd comb what little bit of hair he had and all the grandkids fought over who would sit by Grandpa at the table.  He said he needed a round table with a hole in the middle.  He'd sit in the hole and the kids could sit around the table and everybody would be next to Grandpa.  Grandma Gay was a great cook and spoiled us with all her home-made cooking.  Sadly Grandpa Gay died when I was 10.
My family with Grandma Gay
  I was kind of scared of my Grandpa Hall.  He was very strict and expected children to be seen, not heard.  But as he got older, he got softer and by the time I was an adult I had learned to see a very tender side to him.  My Grandma Margie, who was my dad's stepmother, was so sweet.  
My family with my Grandpa and Grandma Hall.  I must have been taking the picture.  I take no responsibility for the photographic poses of my siblings.
Every time we went to visit she had a little gift for us and sugared cereal that we didn't get at home!  That's the only reason I knew such things as Cap'n Crunch even existed.  As you can see, each of my grandparents had their own grandparenting style in keeping with their personalities.  

The same was true with my parents and John's parents towards our kids.  They each had their own style of grandparenting in keeping with their own personalities.
Grandpa and Grandma DeValve with their grandchildren.  Six more were later added to the number!  Suzanne is being held by Grandma and Daniel is in the green overalls.

One thing that all four of my grandparents and the grandparents of my kids had in common is that they faithfully prayed for their grandchildren.  I have often sat with my parents as they prayed together and named each one of their grandchildren and prayed personal prayers for them.  I know John's parents always did the same and John's mom continues to pray for each one. I also think grandparents frequently have such a special place in the hearts and lives of their grandchildren that they can advise them and speak to them in "heart-to-hearts" in ways that their parents sometimes can't.  They may listen to Grandma and Grandpa when they won't listen to Dad and Mom.

In Niger grandparenting is an extremely important role.  Our friends at church and at the office were more excited to find out we were going to be grandparents than they were when they heard our kids were getting married (though they were very pleased about that, too).  A few days before we left on vacation to come to the US to welcome our grand-daughter, our office co-workers called us into the conference room.  They had planned a little party with meat, bread, and soft drinks and presented us with gifts for Suzanne for the birth of Tera.  
We have an office tradition of collecting money for new babies and then going to visit the new baby and mom at their home and presenting them with the gift.  But I'd never seen them have a party like this and actually give gifts.  I was very touched.  In case I've never mentioned it here, I am VERY blessed to have such great co-workers!

Most Nigeriens are very involved in raising their grandchildren.  There are a lot of traditional taboos regarding 1st borns, though a lot of this is changing in big cities and among more educated Nigeriens.  Traditionally, and I've seen this a lot where we used to live, moms of 1st-borns can't say their babies names, so they call them by a nick-name.  The mom stays with her mom for quite a while after the birth, so the mom will nurse the baby, but the grandmother will do all the other care and the mother will act like she doesn't care about the child (this is definitely changing!).  Often when the 1st born is weaned, the child will go live with her grandparents.    

Nigerien grandparents have special nick-names for their grandchildren.  Now before you jump to the conclusion that these names are weird or incestuous, think about some of the weird pet names we use:  pumpkin, sweetie pie, honey buns, petit choux (used in French....little cabbage), etc.  OK, so a Grandfather calls his grandson "my friend" and his granddaughter "my girlfriend" and a Grandmother calls her grandson "my husband" and her granddaughter "my co-wife".
Bath time with Grandpa and Mommy

Nigeriens also live in community and the young husband brings his wife to live in the same settlement of houses where his parents live, so one set of grandparents is always right there and the second set usually lives not far away.  The grandparents are daily involved in their grandchildrens' lives and are kind of the built-in baby-sitters once the child is weaned.  If mom or dad need to work in their fields, go to the market, etc., grandma will always take care of the children.  It's not unusual to go into a compound and find everybody but Grandma and the kids gone.

I love being a missionary but, honestly, being away from my kids and grandkids and my parents is the hardest part of it.  Sometimes I wish we lived closer, like my Nigerien friends do. When I was younger I never knew what my grandparents and in turn my parents gave up in seeing their children answer the call to go and to take their grandchildren with them.  Now it is us going and leaving them all behind.  Either way, it's pretty hard.  We would love to be near for free babysitting, to see all their firsts, to celebrate birthdays, to go to their games and school programs, and to have Sunday dinners with them.  But, though we will be far away and miss so much of their lives, one thing we can always do will be to pray daily for them.  That's the most important thing my grandparents did for me, my parents did for their grandkids, and now that legacy has been passed on to us.  May God find us faithful.

Find Us Faithful
by Steve Green

We're pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace

Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us

The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives


Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful

After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find

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