In 2016, I spent four months as a teaching fellow in Vietnam. On the walk to school in my Hanoi neighborhood I would pass by Vietnamese grandparents holding the hands of their toddler grandchildren on their way to preschool. Many were hunched over and gray from years of hard work, but they did not look tired. They often smiled while moving at a casual pace, unlike the harried parents bringing their children to school on their way to work.
A few blocks later, I would walk through the pop-up market that filled the streets before dawn each morning with live animals, fresh fruits and vegetables, women butchering meat, and grandmothers buying their food for the day. They would no doubt return home to cook the family meals before heading out in the late afternoon to pick up the grandkids.
I enjoyed watching the daily rhythm of the lives I passed on my walk to school. I was not a part of that rhythm, but I was comforted by the humanity in the familiar routines that I witnessed each day. Life revolves around family in Vietnam, more so than in many places I’ve been. I sometimes wondered what it would be like to be a retired grandparent in Vietnam. At the same time, I would be grateful for not having so many grandparenting responsibilities – after all, I had a job and no shortage of travel plans.
Seven years later I am a retired grandparent, but I’m not in Vietnam. Although I had planned on doing much more traveling since finishing the school year, I have found myself closer to home and closer to the rhythm of the grandparents I observed in Hanoi. My schedule has revolved more around getting my grandson to and from daycare than where the next cheap flight could take me.
I’m still traveling, just not so far and wide. I travel to playgrounds and meet other grandparents or young moms with their toddlers. I follow the same route to daycare twice a day where two of my grandson’s teachers are former students. I now have a passport to the baby aisle at the grocery store – the one I never had a reason to visit previously – where I search for diapers, wipes, and the perfect sippy cup. And I make regular journeys to the local thrift stores for the always-needed next size and season of clothes for my growing grandson.
Just like international travel, each place leads new adventures, challenges, and plenty of learning opportunities. I’m picking up the language of three-year-olds, both spoken and unspoken. I’ve mastered the art of packing carefully before leaving the house – wipes, diapers, books, snacks, drinks, extra clothes. I’ve begun to slow down and marvel at every passing school bus, trucks of any size, and the purple house on Elm Street.
I’ve also learned to ask for advice. Some of the most difficult challenges I have faced have led me to incredibly profound and caring people who have given me strength and wisdom when I needed it most.
Mostly, I’ve learned to be grateful for this time that I have with my grandson. Sure, I’d love to be riding a long-distance bus through the Andes in search of the next adventure, but that can wait. And there is plenty of adventure to be had right here and now.