"Perfect, hon. They were absolutely perfect."
That’s my mom's response when I ask her how the kids had been. Of course, I’m skeptical. On the other hand, based on the evidence in front of me, she seems to be telling the truth. Emma’s sitting quietly at the kitchen table and eating her dinner, a stark contrast to how she takes her meals when I'm in charge. Under my watch, I can no more convince my strong-willed toddler to sit down to eat than I can get her to wear pants. So, more often than not, Emma's "meals" consist of a diaper-clad little creature running around the house while clutching a piece of raisin toast and screaming things like "I'm fru-trated."
Then, there's Jake. Dinnertime is normal the witching hour for the baby. But here he is, sucking down that 5:00 p.m. bottle my wife and I always have trouble with.
"Thank you so much," I say.
"Oh hon," my mom responds. "I should be thanking you. I get such joy out of spending time with my grandchildren."
At this last statement, I feel an old, familiar feeling bubbling up to the surface. Initially, I had trouble identifying the feeling. But I now know it's the green-eyed monster – jealousy. I'm actually jealous my mom is so happy to be around my kids. I'm jealous her default child-watching emotion is joy. It sure as hell isn't my mine.
(Note: it's not just jealousy I feel. There's a ton of love and gratitude I feel toward my mom every single time I see her with my kids, but I don't know how to write about those feelings in a way that's either funny or profound – so let's just stick with the jealousy, okay?)
For me, parenting is a cocktail of anxiety, profound love, exasperation, dread and, in very small increments, joy. Look, I love my kids as much as the next rapidly graying/balding, dad-bod-growing dad, but those little gremlins are exhausting.
The most remarkable thing I've discovered about parenting is this: Even if you have the shittiest, most soul-crushing job on the planet, if you have the privilege of coming home on Friday and spending the entire weekend with your children, by Sunday night you're like, "I can't wait to go to work tomorrow!"
But the grandparent experience seems to be something else altogether. From everyone I've talked to, it's a pretty cush gig.
I used to work with a woman who would tell her own daughter – on a regular basis and in all sincerity – that being a grandmother was so much more enjoyable and rewarding than being a mother.
Of course it's more enjoyable; it's by far the better job. And when you have the better gig, you don't go around rubbing it in to the person in your organization with the shittier job. It's just common courtesy for grandparents not to brag to parents – the ones in the trenches – about how great they have it. That's like a doctor telling their nurses how amazing it is to be a doctor.
"Hey nurse, I gotta tell you. Being a doctor is the BEST. You would not believe how great my job is. I just waltz into the patient's room, spend a few minutes making the sicky feel really important and then leave you guys to do all the hard stuff. Speaking of which, this one smells like he needs a fresh change, nurse. Now if you'll excuse me, I don't want to be late for my tee time."
Now my mom is far from the type of grandparent who hands back the baby every time it makes a peep. She's as hands-on as they come. And I owe her a lot. Every week, she spends her one day off watching my kids. If that isn't enough, the house is always spotless by the time my wife or I return.
And yet there's still the jealousy.
I can't help it. My mom is up at the top of the mountain, enjoying the breathtaking view of what she just scaled and looking down at the fruits of her labor – a couple of children who made it safely into adulthood and a pair of healthy grandkids. Even if she is on the back nine of her life, the top of that mountain looks pretty good to somebody in my spot.
I’m stuck here in the valley, staring up at a mountain that looks as insurmountable as Everest. I haven’t even gotten through the toddler stage, and my beard is nearly half white already. I still have the tweens, the dreaded teenage years, and that indeterminate stage where you wait anxiously to find out if your kid will become a functioning member of society or a basement-dwelling, live-at-home-til-their-late-30s, golden-year-cock-blocking slacker.
This parenting gig is stressful enough under even the most ideal conditions (ideal conditions being a team of nannies and enough money to be impacted by the recent changes to the Estate tax). But when you factor in all the terrifying possibilities beyond your control at each of these stages, it’s no wonder my default is more worry than joy.
If I’m lucky enough to make it to where my mom is right now, you can bet your sweet ass I won’t be showing my kids any common courtesy – I’ll be rubbing it right in their faces how much better I have it as a grandparent.