I spent my elementary years under the care of my grandparents most of the time because my parents – who were both in the Army – got deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan almost simultaneously. I remembered clinging on to my mother’s leg at the airport, feeling so sad about their departure. But Mom said, “Your father and I are doing this to make sure that you have a safe future, baby. Besides, we will FaceTime every day, so you wouldn’t miss us so much. Grandpa and Grandma will also be there to play with you all the time.”
In the first couple of days after my parents’ deployment, my grandparents allowed me to mope around. They did not force me to talk or eat with them; they even brought food in my room and let me process my emotions independently. I believe it played a pivotal role in my ability to cope whenever my parents’ vacation leave ended, and they had to return to their stations overseas.
On the third day, though, Grandpa went to my room. He said, “Come one, sugar bear, let’s go to the park. My friend Carl is already with his granddaughters, and they are waiting to play with you.”
I wanted to say no, but I had always liked Grandpa’s friend. He was funny and jolly and full of stories about the olden days, just like my real grandfather. Besides, I felt excited to see his granddaughters, Brittany and Ellie, with whom I often played for as long as I could recall. With the three of them in sight, there would be no dull moment.
Our playdates became a weekly thing for years. Sometimes, we would stay all day long at the park, running and jumping around like monkeys. Other times, we would visit each other’s houses and have slumber parties. But what I honestly looked forward to every month was the Jerry and Karl show that our grandpas prepared just for us.
Grandparents In Action
Jerry and Karl show was a concept that the two grandfathers made up to entertain their grandchildren. It was always a hit because they could sing, dance, act, and even play musical instruments.
I knew even at a young age how challenging it must be because they never repeated the same performance twice. When I voiced out my concern to Grandpa, he said, “It’s okay, sugar bear. Karl and I are natural performers; we used to be in a band in our mid-20s, so this is how we relive the good, old days.” At that moment, I was in awe of my grandfather.
I used to think that most people past the age of 60 wanted to do nothing more than sitting in a rocking chair or walking slowly to their destination. Still, here were Grandpa and his best friend – they were well into their 70s, but it did not seem like old age changed anything about them physically or mentally.
If you worry about growing old and having poor mental health, let’s all take a leaf out of Grandpa’s notes and do the following:
Try Different Activities Often
Every morning, Grandpa wakes me up at 6 A.M. so that we could jog around the community with Grandma. It had to be that early because: a) some neighbors would stop us for a chat, and b) we needed to buy fresh foods at the local market. Meanwhile, the oldies would spend the afternoon knitting, gardening, reading, and making music.
Though I am far from being a psychological expert, it is evident that the wide variety of activities has kept their brains from idling away. Thus, nothing gets past my grandparents, and they could take care of themselves well.
Stay Around Loved Ones
Grandpa often credited taking care of me as the primary reason why he was still mentally stable during old age. He would say, “My granddaughter is clever; she can run circles around an old man like me if I do not remain sharp. If it was just my wife and me at home, we might have lost our marbles a long time ago.”
I did not want to believe that at first, but after a field trip at a nursing home, I realized that Grandpa might be correct. Many of the elderly folks I met had not seen their kids or grandkids for months or years, and their mental health deteriorated quicker than others’.
Live Each Day Without Regrets
“Live each day without regrets” – this was a direct quote from Grandpa. He told me this when I went home, sad, and found out that it was because I did not get the role of Wendy in our school production of Peter Pan. After wiping my tears, he uttered, “There is no reason to be upset. What matters is that you tried to get the part. Hence, you wouldn’t have to wonder about what could’ve happened if you auditioned for it.”
Grandpa did not need to say that that’s the same principle he lived by. If the show was not testament enough, he went snorkeling with Dad one time and was the oldest person that the instructor saw doing it. He had also tried snowboarding, swimming with sharks, skydiving, and other extreme activities.
If we remember to do at least one of the things above, our mental health may be the least of our worries when we grow old.