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Going the distance for their grandkids

Published Dec. 2, 2006

A friend of mine has a new roommate in her Bayshore Boulevard condo. The place in New York where her son is living temporarily doesn't allow dogs, so when he moved there from Atlanta, guess who came home for dinner? Jane, his Dalmatian. At least she eats Alpo, or more likely Science Diet, so it's not like my friend has to cook for her, and while she has to be walked, at least she can be left home alone.

That's unlike kids, who are also being babysat by baby-boom grandparents. And our mobile society being what it is, they're doing it long distance.

It even happened to a friend of ours who lives in Largo, a retired lawyer, a guy I had never considered the "grandpa" type. I mean, was "Black Mike" in the hot new book The Real Animal House, based on YOUR grandpa?

I doubt he had ever taken care of his own kids solo for a whole week, but when his son, a lawyer, was working in New York and his daughter-in-law, an advertising exec, was out of state on a shoot and the kids' nanny got stuck in her native South American county and wasn't allowed back into the States, he was called into babysitting service in Pittsburgh.

How'd it go?

Well, the kids lived. The cars, both stick shifts, didn't.

A lot of hills in Pittsburgh, and if you don't know how to drive a stick and use the handbrake followed by a quick push on the gas pedal you can burn out the clutch - but not before he'd had a week of chauffeuring two kids to and from two different schools, ballet, gymnastics and soccer. Dinner was pizza.

Still, he was called back for a replay - but this time they rented him a car.

Other friends (also retired - you kind of have to be) drove from Chicago to Longboat Key two years ago where they had rented a condo for a week in order to babysit their 2-year-old grandson while the "kids" (their son and daughter-in-law) drove to Orlando to cheer on their alma mater in the Citrus Bowl.

These friends have three sons, all of whom live in different states. They're all in two-career marriages and one mom's job involves flying all over the country, so it's grandparents to the rescue.

When called, they're ready, equipped with a Bluetooth phone and a car with a talking electronic navigation system. When one grand-family was transferred to New Orleans two years ago and Katrina temporarily relocated Mom's office, they drove down from Chicago to babysit for a month.

Later that year, the New Orleans parents were competing in a triathlon in Chicago, so mom flew in and dad drove up with their son and the bikes. They stayed a week and left their son with grandma and grandpa - who would drive him home at some point. This year a babysitting stint involved passing the child off in Memphis!

Last summer I got an e-mail from a friend in St. Petersburg. She was flying up to Washington, D. C., while her daughter and son-in-law were on a three-week backpacking trek through China. Her daughter just couldn't bear to leave Sophie in doggie camp for three whole weeks, and, well, it was her only granddog.

Sandra Thompson, a Tampa writer, can be reached at& sthompson125@tampabay.rr. com. City Life appears on Saturday.