When an extraordinary circumstance comes into our lives, wherever we are in the journey, our ordinary world expands and we are changed forever. Becoming a grandparent is one such extraordinary event. Kathleen Helgesen is a new grandparent and a fellow Word Weaver. She’s been published in Splickety Magazine and considers herself a romantic suspense novelist, working on the Donovan trilogy set in Wisconsin. Book one, her work in progress, is entitled “Seeking True North.”
Q) Where were you when you found out grandparenthood was around the corner? How much “prep” time were you given?
A) It was the cutest thing. We were visiting my daughter in Fort Myers for Christmas and her gifts to my husband, myself and our other two daughters visiting with us were infant “onesies” with Grandpa, Grandma and Aunt printed on them with the baby’s due date.
Q) Since your family lives out of state, what were your plans for grandparenting from afar?
A) I felt chaos churning, thinking how we would be the “hands on” grandparents we wanted to be with my daughter living thousands of miles away in Florida. We thought about purchasing a park trailer at a permanent site so I could stay at length when needed. We had always planned on retiring to Florida, so this just pushed up the clock. For the moment, however, we were looking at temporary fixes and would find that retirement home when the time actually came. I had already quit my job at the library and finished the writing certificate for which I’d gone back to school. One of the charms of being a writer is that you can do it anywhere.
The kids changed that idea by moving to Michigan this spring. We don’t see them as much as we want and are coming to terms with the realization that we won’t be able to be as hands-on as we wanted in our grandson’s life. We won’t be retiring to Michigan. Winter is the one thing I’m looking forward to leaving behind.
Q) Who else in your family “shifted” positions, becoming an aunt, grandpa…?
A) Grandpa (my husband) talked endlessly about being a hands-on grandpa. You know, being there for T-ball, the Christmas musical, school sports, etc. He’s not yet retired, so it’s impossible at this point since the drive is about five hours from our home in Wisconsin. We can make some weekend visits while we’re still here. We do talk about flying Noah back for hunting trips in northern Wisconsin, which Grandpa plans to continue even after our retirement move and wonders how long he has to wait to start doing that.
Q) When the baby came, what changed? Was anything different than what you had anticipated?
A) I was thrilled that my daughter asked me to come down for a few weeks while she was on maternity leave to spend time with her and babysit when they went out or when friends visited. It was wonderful, nothing out of the norm. I never got enough of holding the little guy. I suppose that’s why I had four children.
The way we interacted changed, we face timed instead of visiting (not as much fun). We were still doing online searches for places to live in Florida when they dropped the bomb that they would be moving to Michigan. We were planning to take a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale in April and were going to drive down a week earlier to visit and look at communities on our list. Their house sold and they were in Michigan before we even made the trip. We still looked at houses but grieved the fact the kids were no longer in Florida.
I guess the anticipated ‘hands on’ grandparenting is out of the picture for the most part. We’re getting used to the idea of the visiting grandparent and look forward to the times we can either visit or have little Noah visit us. The plus side is that I have more time to spend with Noah. I need to work on discipline in my writing, however. I see a squirrel and I’m distracted.
Q) How did your writing and your grandparenting intersect?
A) I don’t have any special urges to write children’s stories if that’s what you mean. I do like to watch people, however, and having a grandchild in my life is interesting. I forgot what life is like through a child’s eye and look forward to seeing how Noah reacts to life in general. In the second book of my trilogy, Tim Donovan tries helping a young woman with two very young children run from an abusive husband. The third book in the Donovan trilogy (the oldest Donovan child) will be about a young widowed mother. I haven’t decided on the kids’ ages yet, but with Noah around, you can bet I’ll be taking note of how he acts and what he says to make those kids realistic!
Q) Do any of the characters in your mystery novel reflect any of the impact grandparenthood has had on you?
A) It’s funny, the main characters are my children’s age. The Donovan family is close. Jo Donovan (from Seeking True North) has a very special relationship with her grandfather. I mirrored that after my relationship with my grandpa. But I’m not looking at it from the grandparents’ point of view yet. I don’t feel as old as I remember my grandparents being or the ones in my story world. I can certainly feel the aches and pains the Donovan patriarchs feel, and I can relate to the love they have for their grandchildren and what they want for them. I also have a better feel for the role of grandparents; you know a step removed from actual parenting. Grandma Donovan likes to do a little matchmaking, so did my real-life grandma. Maybe I will too, who knows? I write what I’ve seen and felt. All my characters reflect that.
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