'One thing we want is to be very close to our grandchildren'
Being a "typical" grandparent today isn't too easy -- there is no way to peg Grandma and Grandpa into neat categories. "We are much, much busier than grandparents were when I was a child," says Jeanne Martin, director of the National Federation of Grandmothers Clubs. "My grandmother was always at home taking care of Grampa. Every day after school, the grandchildren would come over. she would be in the kitchen, and it smelled of gingerbread."
Today Mrs. Martin lives in Indiana and works in Chicago. She sees her 26 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren as often as she can, but she is never home long enough to babysit after school.
"I think my grandchildren are proud of my work, but they would be better pleased if I were home being a grandmother," she admits.
The image of close-at-hand grandmothers who are always in a kitchen and grandfathers who sit on porches telling tales of yore is fading as each generation becomes more mobile and busy with its own interests.
But whether grandparents are traveling, settled in an adult community, or living close enough to see their grandchildren regularly, almost all admit that their grandchildren are very important to them. One grandmother who travels frequently meets other grandparents who are just as willing as she to show photographs of their descendents.
"It's almost a game of which one can get out their photos first," she says with a laugh.
Jean Ackerman of St. Petersburg, Fla., says she and her husband John hardly feel like grandparents. They live in an adult condominium complex, and their 11 (soon to be 12) grandchildren are spread from Maine to California.
"It is sad," says Mrs. Ackerman, speaking of the distance. "We miss them. We use the telephone quite a bit, and write a few letters."
In spite of the distance, the Ackermans enjoy good communications with their grandchildren, and they do get to see them on important occasions, such as two college graduations this spring.
"I feel more useful and active than I thought I would," says Mrs. Ackerman, who as a youngster thought grandparents were old people who stayed put. "Outside of missing the grandchildren, our life is perfect."
Polly Weston is another modern grandmother who enjoys her active and independent life. She and husband, Bob, of Seattle have four grandchildren, two nearby and two in Portland, Ore. Mrs. Weston believes grandparents today are interested in "going more," continuing their education, and keeping up with world affairs. And she says that is good.
"My grandmother stayed on the farm and cooked," she says. "She wasn't too interested in international affairs. We have been in Europe several times, the Caribbean, and we are going to go to Mexico this fall."
But even with their diversified interests, the Westons babysit their grandchildren as often as they can.
"One thing we want is to be very close to our grandchildren," says Mrs. Weston. "We will include them on our trips when they are old enough." She feels it is important for grandchildren and grandparents to know each other.
"We can give them insight into their family by telling them stories, helping them to feel a part of the whole family history," she says.
Wallace Clark of Portsmouth, N.H., has 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He also feels he has the opportunity to know his grandchildren better than he got to know his own grandfather.
"We're a pretty close family," he says. "We get together for Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July."
Mr. Clark likes to go camping in Maine with his grandchildren, where he has a log cabin on an island. A talented craftsman, he works on projects with his grandchildren. He made a canoe with one grandson and built houses one summer with the help of another grandson.
Unlike some of the younger generation who are shy about spending time with their elders, Mr. Clark's grandchildren are eager to do things with him. He tells of a fishing vacation in Maine he is about to take with one grandson.
"There doesn't seem to be any generation gap," says Mr. Clark. "I am pretty strict, but my grandchildren like it."
Not all grandparents get to see enough of their grandchildren. Some grandparents who have moved to adult communities in the Southeast and Southwest run into restrictions on the amount of time young people can visit. Mrs. Martin of the Grandmothers Clubs hears a lot of grumbling from grandmothers who live in such communities.
"They have to go visit their grandchildren, rather than the grandchildren coming to them," she says. Some communities will not let children walk unescorted around the properties or use recreation facilities such as swimming pools and tennis courts.
Other grandparents rarlely get to see their grandchildren at all. Mike Goldgar, a grandfather who worked for six years to get National Grandparents Day celebrated the first Sunday after Labor Day, got the idea for establishing a holiday to commemorate grandparents when he visited an aunt in a nursing home. He saw that many of the residents needed cheering up.
"I asked the director whether at least the grandchildren came to visit, but that's not the way it was," he says. "Some grandparents are thrown in nursing homes today, whereas they used to live their whole lives with their family."
He thinks generation togetherness is very important, and hopes Grandparents Day, which will be Sunday, Sept. 7, will spark that idea.
"Grandparents have made a significant contribution, and that should be recognized," Mr. Goldgar says.