I have a confession: I’ve been cheating. Guilty as charged. A corollary to the old axiom, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” is “Absence makes grandchildren more adorable.” It’s hard to stay away. Bet I’m not the only cheater out there. 

I stayed away because of COVID concerns. The boys have been in school since the beginning of September. Choosing discretion over valor, I pulled back from my weekly gig of watching them while Mom’s at work. It was the right decision, given this latest virus surge, but that doesn’t make it any easier. 

And it certainly didn’t make it easier to explain to two 6-year-olds. Fortunately, they turned 7 in October. The Catholic Church holds (or used to, anyway) that 7 is the “age of reason.” I don’t know if that’s based on hard science, but it means their developing brains have reached a level where they’re capable of reason, which I define as “clear-headed thinking that doesn’t allow wild ebbs and flows of emotional irrationality to undermine it.” Being “capable” of reason, of course, is not the same as “demonstrating” reason. Seventy-two million Trump supporters are “capable” of reason. None were required to demonstrate that before being allowed to vote, which is roughly how I define democracy. My dynamic duo already demonstrate greater capacity for reason than, say, the current President of the United States.

At any rate, their seventh birthday is when I started cheating. I stopped by the day before with a friend while the boys were at school and we spent three hours assembling the trampoline I bought for their present (these boys really like to bounce). The following morning, I came back to spring the surprise, which Mom and the babysitter managed to preserve until I arrived. 

The reaction was gratifying and soon they were bounding with delight. And the trampoline held, in spite of the fact that I put it together (my capacity for reason being greater than my mechanical aptitude). Bryce, who is capable of both simultaneously, asked if we could have a conversation while he bounced. He loves conversations, even though I use too many big words. It stretches his vocabulary — and stretches my ability to communicate in down-to-earth terms. You could call it a trampoline conversation. It has its ups and downs. 

I told them 7 was a great age. 

“What’s so great about it?” asked Tyler, the skeptic. I thought about launching into a Papa Ken Talk about “The Importance of Reason in the Age of Irrationality,” but reasoned I probably shouldn’t, so instead I replied, “It rhymes with heaven. It’s heaven to be seven.” 

Tyler sniffed suspiciously but let it pass. A grandfather has to be careful. Last summer as we toured Brookfield Zoo’s children’s section, we passed the reindeer pen and Bryce excitedly pointed to a sign about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and asked (I think) if Rudolph lived there. I was feeling harried trying to herd them away from all the non-mask-wearing patrons. I said something like, “No, that’s not true.”

Never say anything to kids that you haven’t thought about first. 

The image of Tyler’s crumpled face is still fresh in my mind. “You mean Rudolph isn’t real?” he asked. Oh boy, did I step in reindeer poop on that one. I double- and triple-talked my way around it, using anything but reason. “Nobody’s ever actually seen Rudolph, of course, with the possible exception of Gene Autry and Burl Ives, but Rudolph wouldn’t live here. He lives at the North Pole with Santa.” In a moment of sheer genius, I bought them cups of Dippin’ Dots ice cream, which made my explanation more plausible, or at least palatable.

Tyler is anything but a skeptic when it comes to Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, who holds a higher place in his pantheon than even Santa himself. 

I’ve got to watch my step. The responsibility is immense. But it doesn’t keep me from cheating to see them. I simply had to stop by three weeks later to check out their fox and raccoon Halloween costumes and tagged along for a little trick-or-treating because there’s only one thing more adorably cute than grandsons in their natural state and that’s grandsons dressed up as small forest mammals. 

And two weeks later, I had to stop by again to drop off a birthday present and sing happy birthday to Mom. 

The risk, of course, in cheating is that the boys could pick up the virus at school and even though they may not show symptoms, they could give it to me and I could give it to others. So I try to keep my visits short, which is not entirely reasonable. I was thinking an hour and a half would be safe if we’re outside some of the time. The rest of their lives, or at least their entire childhood, is closer to what they had in mind. 

While this is enormously flattering for someone who was pretty much taken for granted as a human being until I became a grandfather, it’s also an immense responsibility. So applying reason to this Gordian Knot, I sliced it like Alexander the Great did in days of yore. A brilliant maneuver — but also cheating. 

I told them I had to get back home because I’m using this time away from them to work on a book project (which is true). They relented only after making me promise I would write a book about them. 

Which I’m doing — one column at a time.

That’s reasonable, isn’t it?

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