Word of new research hit my desk last week carrying the revelation that living near grandparents could go some way to cutting my odds of being eaten by a lion in the middle of the night.
Turns out that when older folks suddenly find themselves waking before dawn and unable get back to sleep, they might just be getting to know an adaptation that made sure our ancient forebears always had someone around to roust the clan in an emergency. At least that’s what it looked like to the anthropologists who asked a group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania to wear sleep trackers for a couple weeks.
I don’t know about saving me from lions, but my family has gotten pretty good benefits by usually being near one or the other pair of my kids’ grandparents.
There’s sports, for one thing.
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Being one of the clumsier people I know, I like having a father-in-law who’s a bona fide coach nearby to tell the boys how to improve their games. It can backfire, like the time one of them ended up at the hospital with a broken arm from a simple game of catch with Grandpa. But I suppose pain that bad does teach a memorable lesson about making sure your footing is secure when you stretch for the ball.
More important than that is the chance grandparents give kids to taste a little of the “old days” that Mom and Dad grew up in.
I can — and happily do — go on and on about how back in the day, we had to actually leave the house and find our friends in person instead of just clicking their avatar to hang out together on a video game. But it’s so much more fun for my kids to live it themselves when there are no video games and only spotty Wifi at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.
They get shooed outside with their cousins and right away it’s a contest to see who can get more hens into the coop before the sun goes down or which one can set the best trap for the vermin that raid the garden every night.
But the biggest boon my boys get from their grandparents is a regular refuge from the attention my wife and I give to steering them into a disciplined adulthood.
Sure, we have plenty of fun as a family of four, but there are rules. Nothing draconian, it’s just that my wife and I figure by the time they’re going on dates, at least, it’ll be helpful to understand that when you go out to dinner, there’s a lot to be said for everyone eating at the same restaurant.
When my dad’s around, on the other hand, those rules don’t get any use other than maybe as a topic of idle conversation as he drives them from a Chinese restaurant whose dumplings they like, to a Korean place that has great soup, to a Mexican joint for fruit soda and back to his house to nibble at it all whenever they take breaks from chasing each other around the yard.
We adults get something from living with our kids, too, though. The anthropologists hinted at it when they noted that out of more than 220 hours of watching that community, they tallied only 18 minutes when every single adult was out cold.
The old people would be up for the predawn watch, but the younger ones were usually still knocking around as the earth spun their camp toward midnight.
That’s been the situation in my house on many nights since school’s been out this summer: my wife and I deep in slumber while our boys are still up reading and playing games.
There aren’t any lions around here to stand guard against. But there is a dog inside who appreciates that someone’s alert enough open the door when he scratches to go out late at night, and that there’s someone older ready for the job as soon as sun come up.
Richard Espinoza is a former editor of the Johnson County Neighborhood News. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.