Mary Lou Dickerson’s family includes several grandchildren, two of whom she and her husband, Bill, helped raise. Submitted photo
While Cheryl Celentano says that being a parent was a “wonderful experience,” she indicates that being a grandparent is an even better one.
“You get a second chance to actually enjoy them more then you ever could as a parent because you’re a different person when you’re a grandparent. You’re more relaxed” and can just focus on taking care of and spending time with them.
The Clifton Park resident is the grandmother of five: Marisa, Emma, Isabella, Ryder and Owen, who range in age from 2 to 14. Three of the five live close by: her two oldest granddaughters are just a mile away and her youngest grandson lives in Niskayuna. The other two reside on Long Island.
She not only treasures the individual time she gets to spend with each one, but also how those visits help her to unwind.
“It’s just a very fun, relaxing time. It takes you away from the stresses of work … it is calming to be around these wonderful little people. Everything is opening up to them, everything is a whole new world to them. You kind of go through experiences all over again … and watching them experience things makes everything ten times better than you thought it was because they’re enjoying it so much.”
She strongly encourages every grandparent to build relationships with their granddaughters and grandsons and place a high priority on maintaining them.
“If you think you’re too busy to spend time with your grandchildren, take the time to do it because it’s worth a million dollars.”
Celentano admits that she was caught off-guard when her son and daughter-in-law, who had just married three months before, informed her and her husband at Thanksgiving dinner 15 years ago that they were going to be grandparents.
Mary Lou Dickerson, who resides in Colonie with her husband, Bill, had a similar reaction nearly 18 years ago when her oldest daughter called from Seattle to share her big news.
“I was sort of surprised. They’d only been married about three years and I hadn’t given it much thought,” because her son-in-law was still in graduate school. “We were thrilled, of course, and made plans to go out there for the birth, which was definitely a highlight of our lives.” Without hesitating, she added that it was “marvelous” to be at or nearby for the births of all four of her grandchildren.
The Dickersons also had “the privilege” of helping their youngest daughter and her husband, who reside in Watervliet, care for their two children, grandsons Nathan, now 7, and Andrew, 5, during the first couple years of their lives. Even now, she says that “we still try to fill in the gaps for their parents whenever we can.”
Unfortunately, they don’t have as many opportunities to see their two oldest grandchildren, Conor, 17, who just started his freshman year at the University of Michigan, and his sister, Claire, 14, who still lives at home with their parents in Maine. However, they have found other ways to remain in contact, as the two teens have their own Facebook accounts and cell phones.
“Even if they don’t live close together, there’s so many ways you can do it now,” she says, alluding to the increased use of social media as a means of communication. “It’s much easier now to be in touch with them directly than through their parents.”
Mary Lou explains that “she learned about what grandparents should be” based on her own experiences with a pair of “wonderful role models,” her paternal grandparents.
In fact, she says that she spent so much time in their house when she was growing up that she considered it her second home.
“They didn’t spoil me, but it was a place where I always felt comfortable. We truly did a lot of things together” and she believes that she was lucky enough to have them in her life as long as she did, especially since both of her maternal grandparents passed away before she was born.
Latham resident Lisa Robert Lewis says that her paternal grandparents set a “powerful example” for her to follow from birth until her late twenties as well.
“They never missed an important moment in my life. They freely gave me, my siblings, and my cousins their love, their support and lots of wonderful memories.”
She hopes to provide similar experiences and memories for all four of her granddaughters — Mollie, Morgan, Ava and Alyssa — who range in age from 5 to 13 years old and all live nearby.
Like her peers, Lewis not only enjoys spending as much time as possible with “these amazing young people” as they grow up, but also considers them to be “the best stress-relievers in the world,” despite their ability to drive her crazy from time to time.
“Whether it’s going to an event at one of their schools, taking a week’s vacation with the four at the beach, or listening to them talk to each other in the back seat of the car, I am grateful that they so willingly share their lives with me. And when they are melting down, I can always make them take a nap or return them to their mother!”
Lewis says she’s been “blessed” to have these four girls, and proclaims that they’ve given her “a greater appreciation for having love and laughter” in her life.
“Nothing is better than hearing a little voice at the other end of the phone say ‘Love you’ as you go to hang up. Nothing makes me laugh more than to have a little fashionista model her new clothes,” all at the same time.
Judy Decker of Troy, who was “young” (41-years-old) when she first experienced the joy of becoming a grandparent, wholeheartedly agrees.
She believes “it is the ordinary moments that bring me the most joy,” such as listening to a young grandson describe in detail his first Boy Scouts camping experience or “liking” Facebook photographs of the tablescapes created by an adult granddaughter with a successful career in culinary services. They include watching a younger granddaughter become the star of a dance recital regardless of her assigned role or any of the grandchildren laughing uncontrollably in response to a “loud guessing game around the dinner table,” an old photograph or an embarrassing story about one of their parents. It’s looking at a grandchild’s face and finding features or seeing expressions that resemble those of their parents.]
Judy and her husband of 14 years, Bill, have welcomed a host of granddaughters and grandsons to their combined family. To date, the Deckers have a total of 14 grandchildren who range from 4 to 30 years old. Katie, Billy, Heaven and Justin live close by; Thomas and Zak reside in Newburgh, while Courtney, Kathryn, Patrick and Samantha are in New Jersey; Lauren and Christopher in North Carolina. Their youngest, a 4-year-old granddaughter, lives in Pennsylvania, while the oldest, a 30-year-old grandson, currently resides in Panama.
“Each new addition to the family brought a new joy and unique experiences. Whether they came to me at their birth or through marriage to Bill, each one has a special and different place in our hearts,” she said.
About 16 months ago, the Deckers welcomed the first great-grandchild, a great-granddaughter, to the family. Judy, for one, is thrilled to have “another baby to read to, giggle with, hug, and help launch into the future!”
“In some way it’s a re-living of the baby years of your own children; that incredible feel of the babe is familiar and brand new all at once! Watching the joy (and exhaustion) of your own kids as they become wonderful, loving extraordinary parents is hard to measure. It is a gift of immortality in some ways, seeing that the future will reach beyond your life.”
Celentano perfectly summarizes the present experience of being grandparent for herself, Dickerson, Lewis, Decker, and the vast majority of grandparents as such: “I think it’s one of the most important phases of my life.”