pancakes breakfastNo matter what the age, children love their grandparents. This is especially true when they become teenagers and all of a sudden, their parents become enemy #1, aunts and uncles are sometimes annoying, and cousins are only tolerable.

Why is it that the only relatives teenagers like are their grandparents? Some say it is because grandparents are finished being parents themselves, and are now more relaxed and confident. That may be true, but the reason my three love Grandma and Grandpa Wills to distraction is that they spoil them. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing, but when it’s time for us to leave their house, I have to threaten them with a Congressional subpoena.

It starts out the moment we pull out of our driveway to visit the Willses in Ohio.

“Oh Mom, we just love going to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Their house is so much bigger then ours. They have a pool table in the basement. Grandpa just bought a big-screen TV. We each get our own bedroom. They have two sinks in the bathroom. The porch is screened-in. Grandma bought the latest version of Nintendo 64. Grandpa lets us eat on the couch and watch Big Time Wrestling,” and on and on they go. By the time we drive the ten hours to their house, my eyes are glazed-over, and I’ve torn up the atlas to wad pieces of it in my ears to drown out their voices.

When we arrive, the front door swings wide open, and Clark stands on the porch, beaming in front of a mountain of gifts.

“Yoo-hoo. We’ve been waiting for you,” Ruth hollers. “We knew you were coming. The truckers on I-75 told us you’d be here about this time.”

“What truckers?” I whisper to Jeff.

“Honey, didn’t I tell you Dad bought Mom a ham radio so that she could track us.” Jeff takes one look at my flared nostrils and grabs my arm. “Now, Janine. Don’t say anything.”

I grit my teeth and manage to spit out, “Hello, Mom, Dad. How are you?”

Ruth brushes past me like yesterday’s meatloaf, then turns to Clark and demands, “Papa, get over here with the presents, would you?” She proceeds to pass out gifts whose net worth rivals the income of Sheik Rashad of Istanbul. 

“Now Jason, you’re first,” Ruth gleefully says. “Here’s ten dress shirts, five pairs of pants, twenty ties, and see these keys? They go to a brand new red sports car out back.”

“Gee, thanks, Grandma. You’re the best.” And away goes Jason giving us a self-satisfied smirk.

“Uh, Ruth,” I say. “Don’t you think that’s going a tad bit overboard?”

“Nonsense. We only feel bad that the Suzuki motorcycle didn’t get here in time. Now, where is Jennifer? Ah, there’s my little angel. Come see your grandmama.”

I’ll give Jennifer credit. She doesn’t rush right over to the packages. First, she hugs Ruth and then kisses Clark on the cheek. “Hi Grandma,” she says demurely, batting her eyelashes. “I don’t want to appear forward, but did you get me anything?”

“Did I get you anything,” Ruth tsk-tsks. “Why you’re my favorite granddaughter whose name begins with the letter ‘J.’ ”

“Grandma. I’m the only granddaughter you have whose name begins with the letter ‘J’.”

“Oh, quit being silly. You know I got you something. Close your eyes and hold out your arms.” Then Ruth piles so many boxes of clothes into Jennifer’s arms that I wonder how long it took the Limited to restock their inventory.

“Now, where is my little Jared-Snookums?” Ruth asks.

Jared would never allow anyone but his grandmother to call him that. He learned a long time ago the benefits of tolerating a little public humiliation.

“Hey, Grandma,” Jared says pulling out a list the length of his arm. “Did you get me the b-b gun, 10-speed bike, the eight-inch switchblade, the autographed Mark McGwire baseball, a telescope, a home computer, and season passes to the Chicago Bulls?”

Ruth fairly beams. “Oh yes, and guess what else I have for you? A laser pointer, five Nintendo 64 tapes, a new C-D player, and your own cordless phone.” She then triumphantly pulls an envelope out of her apron pocket and with a conspiratorial wink at Clark whispers, “And here’s some money just in case we’ve forgotten something.”

“Hey, Grandma. Thanks,” and Jared gives Jeff and I a look that says, “Why can’t you be more like them?”

After the kids run off to inspect their gifts, there stand Jeff and me with hopeful looks in our eyes. We should know better.

“Jeff. You and Janine run the kids’ suitcases upstairs. You two are sleeping in the basement this time. I thought Jennifer would need the extra space in the spare bedroom for her new clothes.”

I should have known our kids would get preferential treatment from their paternal grandparents. My first clue came when Jason was two years old.

I had tried unsuccessfully for months to potty-train him. I sneaked raisins in his potty-chair to resemble you-know-what, sat his favorite doll on it, then loudly exclaimed, “Jason, come see what your dolly did.”

Jason was totally impressed but wanted nothing to do with that chair. Discouragement settled in. What kind of mother doesn’t have her child potty-trained by two years of age? Panic set in the closer it got to our yearly visit to Jeff’s folks.

“Jeff, what will your mother think when she finds out Jason isn’t potty-trained yet?”

“Janine, you worry too much. Mom isn’t going to say a thing.”

He was right. She didn’t say a thing; she said lots of things. As soon as she hugged Jason and felt his diaper-cushioned bottom, she looked at me in horror.

“He isn’t potty-trained yet? He should have been potty-trained months ago. This is just awful. I’m so glad you brought him here before it was too late.” I was too scared to ask her too late for what.

She marched Jason into the bathroom, set him on the commode and then said, “Jason, you’re too big of a boy to be wearing diapers. Now, you’re going to sit there until you go potty And when you do your business ll give you a one-pound bag of M & Ms” Jason was potty-trained in ten minutes. I’ll never forgive him for that.

But here we were now, and the children were older, I just knew things would be different. Surely they understood that we couldn’t lavish gifts upon them like they could. When will I ever learn

It was another one of our annual visits. We had arrived late that night, and Clark and Ruth were already in bed. They left the porch light on, and the door opened. We fell into our beds, only to awake the next morning to the sights and smells that can only come from Ruth’s kitchen. The dining room table groaned under the weight of waffles, blueberry muffins, pancakes, eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, steaks the size of an automobile door, toast, hash browns, seven kinds of cereal, English muffins, jams Ruth had made from fruit from her trees, and three kinds of freshly squeezed juices.

The kids thought Perkins Pancake House had exploded right there in Grandma’s kitchen. They ate and ate until I was afraid they’d explode.

“Hey Grandma, can we have this for breakfast tomorrow morning too?” they asked.

“Well, of course, my darlings,” Ruth crooned. “Doesn’t your mother fix you a nice, big breakfast?”

I braced myself.

“Oh, no, Grandma. And when she does, her pancakes never turn out like yours ­nice and brown and crispy around the edges. I don’t know why ‘cause she uses the same kind of pancake mix you do.”

Ruth preened like the old NBC peacock. “Well, don’t be too hard on your mother. I fry my pancakes in bacon grease.”

“Bacon grease?” the kids squeal. “Oh, yummy. Mom, you’ve got to try that when we get home.”

“Now, kids,” I say in an attempt to restore my cooking credibility. “Frying food in any kind of grease is not good for you.”

“Oh, pooh,” Ruth said, passing the plate of bacon and eggs around for the fourth time. “A little grease is good for the digestion. Helps everything shoot right through.”

This delighted the kids to no end. Talking about things passing through the digestive tract right there at the breakfast table.

“Grandma,” all three kids chimed in unison. “You are so cool.”

I know. I’m a mom. I’m not hip like Grandma Wills. Gee, I can’t wait until I become a grandmother, so my grandchildren will think I’m cool too.

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