Main | Monday, June 27, 2005

The War Of The Roses And The Daisies.

Two grandmothers. Each doting, each generous, each helpful.

Two grandmothers. Each suspicious, each calculating, each obsessed.

They are always circling, these two. Always looking for an opening, these wary rivals, these two grandmothers. Permanently at High Alert, they vigorously fight each other for the prized position as Favorite Grandma, a never actually awarded, often undescribed, usually undiscussed... but still *real* title - a blessing which the grandchildren bestow and revoke, frequently, randomly, capriciously.

The first shot fired in the war was triggered by an innocent attempt to help the grandkids identify which Grandma had given which gift waiting under the Christmas tree. The parents applied small flowered stickers to each toy or game as it came into the house, a rose sticker on gifts from the paternal grandmother, a daisy sticker for those given by her adversary.

The stickers were supposed to be a clever, simple way to motivate the kids to write the Thank You notes required for each gift, as each grandmother had originally agreed to abide by a per child spending limit, which had been requested by the parents in the hope of stifling the "love is money and I spent more money, therefore I love you more" ethic that they feared the grandmothers were instilling in their grandchildren.

Unforseen, of course, was the flower stickers' usefulness in monitoring suspicious gift build-ups by the opposing forces. On Christmas morning that year, shrill accusations of stickers having been removed were launched within moments of unwrapping the first gift. The suspected secretive sticker stealer was accused of attempting to pull a mafia-worthy numbers scam, intending to hack that grandmothers' authorized gift totals and allow over-limits gifting to occur. The opposing grandmother reacted to this treaty violation by broadening her love buying operation to include previously unregulated gift categories of magazines, baseball cards, theme park tickets, amusement rides, petting zoos...and so on. The sticker stealing granny reciprocated this escalation of tensions, and by New Year's Eve the now unworkable and overburdened sticker bureaucracy collapsed, followed moments later by the parents' control of the situation.

Despite this seeming surrender, as the middle flank of the grandmothers' command group, the parents ostensibly enjoy a marriage that is troubled only by vacation or investment decisions. The parents are well regarded socially, are successful professionals, and (compared to their friends) are living quite large, and yet still manage to live well within their means.

Years earlier, moments after marrying, and acting in accordance with the explicit instructions which demanded the immediate production of high-quality grandchildren, the parents had spawned the traditional 2.4 children (minus the .4). Today, both kids are artistic, musical, athletic, frighteningly precocious, and are beautifully socialized, speaking respectfully to adults and politely to other children. These two kids, these two golden prodigies, the source of whose inherited physical and mental talents are loudly claimed by both grandmothers, are wont to lecture a playground bully on fairness, and once conspired to discreetly return a hotly competed for, but mistakenly awarded, computer game prize to the visibly impressed judge.

The parents, now just entering their 12th year of marriage, are still giddily in love, writing each other mooning mash notes on multi-colored Post-Its, which are then hidden inside purses or suit pockets. Their corny pet names for each other make their children giggle and roll their eyes.

But this family's seemingly Spielbergian life in the big house with the broad porch on the corner lot is merely a false-fronted Hollywood backlot prop, a stucco bit of suburban propaganda concealing an always seething power struggle within, as the ever present grandmothers fight to win Most Favored Nanna status, matching Barbie against Barney, Spongebob against Spiderman, Play-Doh against PlayStation.

This battle is now a decade old, this slow-motion game of emotional chicken and gift giving one-upsmanship. This is a taut, shrewdly strategized trade war that not even a familial NAFTA could ease, as the grandmothers' well-plotted guerilla tactics skillfully undermine the laughable, ignored and unenforced spending rules, still hopelessly issued simply out of sheer routine.

It is worth mentioning that this being The South, the previously described actions misleadingly take place in a falsely gracious theatre of operations, where the opponents regularly share meals and thin lipped smiles, while the Parental Security Council anxiously hovers in an adjoining room, listening to the combatants icily dismiss each other's prep school preferences. The parents mentally ready themselves to shift into arbitration mode, for when these regular minor border skirmishes escalate into open battles, because a well-aimed verbal SCUD might obliterate this year's hope of both sides attending a Thanksgiving dinner sit-down.

The parents sometimes will plead for support from the aunts and uncles, vainly seeking a to create a voting block strong enough to withstand the grandmothers' free market policies. Suffering with their own grandparents issues, these aunts and uncles wiggle away, rather than get involuntarily drafted onto a hopelessly outgunned peacekeeping force. On ocassion, they do grudgingly attempt to referee shouting matches over who gets to take the kids to the water park more often, or who tried to poison their grandchildren against them by telling stories about their mentally ill or imprisoned relatives. It humiliates the parents to beg their brothers and sisters for outside intervention in this way, to send exasperated, exhausted emails of frustration, only to be met with an empty in-box.

The granny wars continue. This week's round of "Texas Grandkid Buy-Em" was easily won by Grandma One:

Grandma One Thinks To Herself: "Oh crap, since granddaughter just gushed about enjoying a wonderful weekend at the beach with Grandma Two, I need to top it...and quick! That calls for ME to install a massive netted ball room with 6000 multi-colored plastic balls, just like they have at Burger King! Granddaughter LOVES those ball rooms! I know, I'll put it in our third garage bay! Then I'll just park the Lex on the street for now. Ooh, and I wonder if grandson would enjoy having his very own Whack-A-Mole game, just like the one he loves at Chuck E. Cheese? Sure he would!"

Will this war ever stop? Do the grandmothers have an exit strategy? Will it stop when the grandkids are in college? So wonder the parents, as they compare their lot to that of Sisyphus. Out in Grandma World, the slow and unending grind of brilliantly conceived "love" attacks still ebb and flow. In the increasingly exhaustedly guarded kiddie Demonetized Zone, the WMD (Weapons of Mommy and Daddy) fire ever more futilely across the bow of the grandmothers' nearly unrestrained favor purchasing.

The golden children now show the signs of morphing into a permanent state of rabid designer label and status-conscious consumerism, which is now fueled by their just delivered, 46" flat screen television, which is hi-def, is satellite connected, has TIVO included, giving them 24/7 access to the day-long kiddie-targeted programercials, now showing in the erstwhile nursery, courtesy of a recent salvo by Grandma Two.

The parents realize that their kids are very fortunate to have loving, healthy, interested, generous, devoted grandparents as a part of their lives. It's a "good problem to have", as the British saying goes. But at what point does this seething nasty rivalry for Favorite Grandma, with its attendant dirty tricks, begin to outweigh other considerations?

These Visa-slinging grannies and their kiddie bling-battle has fractured what was once a large close family. One day, perhaps soon, the golden children will have their inevitable epiphany, and the war will end. But what happens when the children understand that their battlin' grannies' only used them in their private Gold War, making them deliver spy reports about troop movements from behind the Hello Kitty Curtain?


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