By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Being a grandfather comes with many important responsibilities, such as making funny faces, engaging in baby talk and otherwise behaving like a child, which is pretty much how I acted even before I was a grandfather.
At the top of the list of grandfatherly duties is baby-sitting. But I never stopped to ask, because I am new at this, who is supposed to be baby-sitting whom?
I recently found out when I read “How to Babysit a Grandpa,” a New York Times best-seller by children’s author Jean Reagan.
The book, which features delightful illustrations by Lee Wildish, is for readers 5 to 8 years old, right in the middle of my intellectual age group.
“It’s also for readers in your physical age group,” Reagan told me when I called her to talk about the 32-page masterpiece. “After all, I couldn’t leave out the grandpas.”
“We appreciate it,” I responded, “especially since we are the ones who have to be baby-sat.”
My granddaughter, who was born in March, is a little too young to understand the lessons in the book (at the rate she’s developing, that won’t happen for another couple of weeks), but I feel better knowing that she will soon be able to look after me.
“She will love taking care of you because you sound like a lot of fun,” said Reagan, who based the grandpa in the book on her father.
“My dad is a very funny guy who has always been attentive to my kids,” Reagan said. “Of course, he did some things that I couldn’t put in the book, like showing my son, who was then 6 or 7, how to make a slingshot. That means every grandpa whose grandchild read the book would be asked to make a slingshot. I can picture a lot of broken windows.”
“I feel your pane,” I offered.
Speaking of which, the book opens with a clear view through the front window of the grandchild hiding when his grandpa rings the doorbell. After he greets his grandpa, and his parents drive away, the kid says, “When your mom and dad leave, pat your grandpa’s hand and say, ‘Don’t worry. They always come back.’ Then, right away, ask him if he’s hungry.”
“Snacks for Grandpa” are: “ice cream topped with cookies,” “olives served on fingertips,” “anything dipped in ketchup” and “cookies topped with ice cream.”
“After snacks,” the kid continues, “it’s time to take your grandpa for a walk. ... Remember to grab his hand when you cross the street and remind him to look both ways.”
Other parts include “What to Do on a Walk” (“If there’s a puddle or a sprinkler, show him what to do”), “How to Entertain a Grandpa” (“Somersault across the room”) and “How to Play With a Grandpa” (“Give him a kazoo”).
“When your grandpa says, ‘Naptime,’ it’s time for his nap,” the grandchild says. “The best way to put him to sleep is to have him read a looooooong book, over and over and over and ... zzzzzzz.”
After the grandpa wakes up, it’s time to clean up the messes he has made. When the parents return, the kid says, “See, Grandpa. They always come back.” Then he asks, “When can I baby-sit you again?”
“I wanted to be a little subversive and put a funny twist on things, but I also wanted to include lessons for kids,” said Reagan. “Most of all, I wanted them to laugh.”
The book is hilarious. And Reagan is working on another one that will be out next year.
“It’s for grandmas,” she said. “I’m not a grandma yet, but when I am, I want to be a fun one, like you’re a fun grandpa.”
“I’m sure my wife will love it,” I said. “But for now, as my granddaughter will soon find out, she has her hands full baby-sitting me.”
Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima