“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

GrandParenting: The Case of the Pink Diarrhea


When I became the de facto parent to my then 18-month-old granddaughter and had intimations that it would be permanent, I dreaded, was scared of, one all-too-familiar, inevitable event: having to stay up all night long with a feverish, vomiting, diarrhea-o-rama sick child. I knew – and know now – I am simply too old to stay up all night changing sheets, toweling up the floor, and cloroxing the toilet every thirty minutes.

I would have to clorox the toilet for sure. Our lab Maggie drinks out of the toilets. Some things you can’t change; you pick your battles.

As most parents know, for infants and toddlers it’s all bugs all the time. Some kids, after many episodes, get enough used to the fever, vomiting, and diarrhea that it doesn’t much bother them. Parents never get used to it.

I became paranoid. Every time Joanna Leigh sneezed, I thought, “It’s tonight for sure. What am I going to do???”


A Long Day’s Journey into Diarrhea Night

It never happened. The worst things she ever got were these piddling runny noses, a few coughs here and there, but no fever, vomiting, or diarrhea. On the other hand, those piddling runny nose events turned into a near-pneumonia event or sinus meltdown events on me. I spent nearly two years sick with mega-colds until my aged immunities got a grip.

It just never happened.

So then I became paranoid over her off-the-charts good health. “Could something be wrong with nothing being wrong with her?” I would think.

So at her five-year check-up for shots, weight, height, and all the doo-dah details, I finally got up the nerve to talk with the doctor about her health, her off-the-charts great health.

Haltingly I said, “Doctor, I need to talk with you about something.” Naturally she, the pediatrician, shot her eyes toward me like I was about to tell her something really awful and scary.

“Joanna Leigh is never sick. She has never had a night of fever, vomiting, diarrhea. She’s only run fever, what, twice for about 15 minutes when she picked up strep throat. Do you think that’s normal, or do you think something might be wrong deep underneath all that good health?”

Her reaction to my telling her NOT about something awful and scary, but about some insane and stupid non-issue was to stand in front of me, speechless.

“Are you serious?” she finally said as she closed the door behind her.

A year later, after she turned six, a friend took her to the Birmingham Zoo. As they drove up the driveway when they got back, Joanna Leigh said, “I’m going to throw up.” The only reason she knew what “throw up” meant is because she once ate one of those boutique cupcakes piled high with pink icing, then came home and threw up the pink icing onto the carpet. She never asked for one of those cupcakes with the BIG icing again, to date.

They quickly got out of the car, and sure enough, she threw up in the driveway. I felt her. She was hot. It wasn’t long before she began having diarrhea. She really didn’t even know what she was having until I explained diarrhea to her.

She said, “I don’t like throwing up or having diarrhea.”

I said, “I don’t like it either,” remaining somewhat ambiguous: When I had it or when she had it? I’m not sure I can answer that even today.


The Mystery of the Pink Diarya


A few months later she went back to the Birmingham Zoo on a day-camp field trip. When I went to pick her up, she ran toward me shouting, “Look what I got! A diarrhea! A diarrhea!”

I thought, “Oh no! Not again! What’s in that zoo, anyway?”

She was waving it in the air. Pink. Like the cupcake vomit. It was a “diarya.” A pink diary. A pink diarya with keys and a pen. Diarya is the way she heard “diary.”

So she writes in it, even though she hasn’t really learned how to write. She shows me her diarya writings. I had a flash forward. “That’s what 13-year-olds’ musing are – diarya.”

I’ll bet she doesn’t show me when she’s 13, not that I would want to read it. And peeking into your child’s diary is a huge No-No.

So I won’t read her diarya when she’s 13. Maybe.





Grandparents Parenting: 7 Million and Growing


There’s an old joke, a favorite among grandparents: “We don’t know which is better -- the headlights as the grandchildren come up the driveway to visit, or the taillights as they drive away with mom and dad.” To grandparents, grandchildren are both wonderful and tiring, and it helps if you can send them home to mama or daddy while you take a rest before the next visit.




Traditionally, grandparenting is a love relationship that carries certain luxuries, like not having the responsibility of sculpting a well-adjusted, morally upright, educated, and competent human and citizen. Grandparents can give their grandchildren wide latitude in their behavior and demands, which the parents can erase later. There’s even a Grandparents Day, the first Sunday after Labor Day. This year, national Grandparents Day is September 8, thanks to President Jimmy Carter, who signed the bill into law in 1978. In his Proclamation he said:

Our grandparents bore the hardships and made the sacrifices that produced much of the progress and comfort we enjoy today [1978]. It is appropriate, therefore, that as individuals and as a nation, that we salute our grandparents for their contribution to our lives.

Being a parenting grandparent, however, is quite a different story. We don’t have a day set aside for us to rest in a hammock after enjoying the grandchildren’s visit.



Maybe a day should be set aside for the growing number of grandparents who are parenting their grandchildren. I would call it National Parenting Grandparent’s Day and nominate every day for that celebration, because parenting grandparents live in a kind of undefined, mysterious land in between being a parent and being a grandparent. In this strange state, headlights already came and we won’t see any taillights.

For us, the days of “cute misbehavior” are over; now the relationship demands consistent discipline. Discontent, temper tantrums, hunger, whining and throwing themselves to the floor now demand constant attention. The pleasure of reading a bedtime story instead of watching the evening news now becomes a long-term teaching tool. We will go through all the “been there, done that” activities like potty training, time out, staying up and waiting for them to get in on time, worrying about the company they keep, wondering if they are experimenting with risky behavior – “déjà vu all over again,” even at our ages.

Looking at Parenting Grandparents

We look and feel quite different from the other parents, and the other kids are aware of that strange difference. You look like a grandparent but don’t act like the grandparents they know. Pre-schoolers usually refer to their little friends’ parents as “Jack’s mom” or “Susie’s dad”; they will say “Hi, Jack’s mom” in the mornings. When my granddaughter was in pre-school, the other children intuited the difference and did not know what to call me.

If you are among this special group of people, the first thing to know about parenting grandchildren and/or being the grandchildren’s primary caregiver is that you are not alone. The numbers surge every year, but becoming aware of this new reality of American families was slow in coming. Academics, the media, policy makers, and the government barely began to notice these rising numbers as a trend until someone discovered in 1992 that 3.3 million kids under 18 were living in homes maintained by their grandparents. Today there may be as many as 7 million.


By 1997 the biggest demographic jump was the numbers of kids under 18 who lived with their grandparent(s) with no parent in the household.

Next, someone got the idea to include the proper questions in the 2000 Census that would reveal homes where children under 18 lived with grandparents who maintained the home or were the primary caregivers. The report distinguished between the number of households with grandparent(s) as primary caregiver(s) and the number of people who were grandparents as caregivers of kids under 18: households, 4.1 million; parenting grandparents, 5.8 million. In 59 percent of the households, there was only one caregiving grandparent. All those households with caregiving grandparents represented nearly 4 percent of ALL the households counted in the 2000 Census.

In 2007, there were 6.2 million grandparents whose grandchildren younger than 18 were living with them; almost half of those grandparents were solely responsible for the kids’ most basic needs. In 2011, the figure role to 7 million.

In 2008, 6.6 million children under 18 were living with a grandparent. In 2009, that figure rose to 7 million. In 2010, the figure advanced to 7.5, but dropped in 2011 to 5.5, for some reason, even though the number of co-resident grandparents rose.

The point is, we and the children we raise and care for represent a large and growing segment of the population; we know the difficulties and needs, even though we are too quiet about them. Maybe it is time for our voices to become louder to match the numbers we represent.


Note: This article will appear in Prime Lifestyle Magazine of Tuscaloosa, a local magazine for mature consumers: 3046 Dewberry Lane, Tuscaloosa, AL 35405; (205) 344-9258


Some resources:




http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/consumer/10241.html (has a list of Internet resources)




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