When Jim Maddox got the news that he was going to be a grandfather, he was bewildered.
Maddox, then 43, sat down for hours and contemplated what the new family addition meant to his life.
“I’m going to be a grandpa,” Maddox, a paramedic, recalls thinking. “I have a demanding job. My wife and I are in the middle of our lives.”
Then, little Cory came into their lives. And the overwhelming love he feels for the boy, now 9, is something Maddox said he wouldn’t give up for the world.
In fact, for Maddox, who is now 53, and his wife, Rhonda, 51, being content as a young grandparent came easy.
They were young when they had their own daughters. And some of Jim’s favorite childhood moments, such as climbing mountains in search of berries, were with his own fortysomething grandfather.
“We wanted to be younger grandparents, so we can be active in the children’s’ lives,” said Jim, who is also grandpa to Abby, 5; Gavin, 4; and Emma, 2.
“I’m still working and making money, so it gives us the ability to do all sorts of things. And we still do the roller coasters with them.”
The Maddoxes and other grandparents around or younger than 50 hear it all the time: “You’re a grandparent? But you’re so young!”
That’s a perk.
But being a modern-day young grandparent is also a lifestyle feat. They have dynamic lives, often juggling careers and relationships with a very active role in the care and rearing of their grandchildren.
Remember the other saying about the ease of being a grandparent? All the joy and none of the responsibility?
It doesn’t apply as much as it once did.
Despite the recession, it’s an excellent time to be a grandparent, particularly if you’re part of the enormous baby boomer generation.
These boomers make up the majority of first-time grandparents.
Parents first become grandparents at the median age of 50 for women and 54 for men. In 1985, the majority of grandparents were 65 and older, according to Susie Owens of Grandparents.com.
In fact, by the end of the year, baby boomers ages 45 to 64 are expected to make up the majority of the grandparent population.
Their income is the highest of any age group. And, because more than half of grandparent-homeowners do not carry a mortgage and continue to work past traditional retirement age, they were in a position to spend $52 billion on their grandchildren in 2009, according to “The Grandparent Economy,” a study commissioned by Grandparents.com.
You may remember having young and relatively active grandparents, but their portfolios didn’t impress in this way.
“These grandparents are shifting the attitude of what it means to be over 50,” Owens said.
“They’re more likely to be playing Nintendo Wii with their grandchildren than sitting in the corner knitting. They may be retired but they’ve taken on a new business. They travel. Or maybe they’re taking care of their grandchildren full-time.”
Rhonda Maddox retired from her job with a national cheerleading company to be a full-time baby-sitting grandma, but she still runs community youth cheer teams, and her granddaughter, Abby, is one of her pupils.
You’d think a cheerleading fiftysomething wouldn’t want to be called the “G” word during practice, but Rhonda loves it.
“I wanted my grandkids to call me grandma because it was such an honor to be theirs,” she said.
Giselle Vieto had a hard time with the moniker.
Vieto, who is 48 with three grandchildren ages 7 and younger, has the kids call her mamagita, a term of endearment in her native Costa Rican Spanish.
Two years ago, she and her husband George knocked down a wall in their five bedroom home to make room for their daughter Janice; son-in-law; Andrew, and the couple’s son, Freddy, who is 2. The Vietos’ twentysomething sons, Joey and Gino, also live with them.
“The economy is so difficult right now that, if they want to save for their future, this was the best way to go,” said Giselle, who works full-time as the program director for Fremont Healthy Start.
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“As soon as I get off work, I pick little Freddy up and take care of him until mommy and daddy get home.”
In some ways, it’s like being a mom again. Particularly with Freddy.
That concept really hit her when she was at a recent barbecue with adults her own age. Giselle was the only one with a toddler in tow.
Still, her original vision of life with grown children wasn’t that far off.
“We come from a country where kids stay with parents until they’re older, so it’s not (unusual),” Giselle says.
“My husband and I like to take motorcycle rides together during the summers, but it might conflict with the commotion at (her home) Grand Central Station.”
Still, she would never trade the commotion and joy that comes with a full house.
“When your youngest child is 20, you forget what kind of faces little kids make for certain foods,” she said. “Those nostalgic memories are awakened.”
Tammy Artis can relate.
Before her first granddaughter was born, there hadn’t been a baby in Artis’ family for 17 years. Today, Artis, a muralist, is a single grandma to five grandchildren and three step-grandchildren ages 8 and younger.
“I’ve compared it to being a rock star with small fans,” said Artis, who is 48 and counts jogging and slumber parties among her favorite things to do with the little ones.
“If I were 20 years older, it would probably be too exhausting.”
Artis has been single for 20 years and is interested in finding love again. However, it’s tough to find time to meet people on the weekends because she’s usually spending that time with her grandchildren — and giving her daughters a break.
“I do feel torn sometimes,” she said. “But then I’ll remember that they’re only this little once, and, in a few years, they’re not going to be that interested in spending time with me.”
Author Adair Lara has written extensively about the guilty streaks of modern grandmothering.
“It’s always a juggle,” said Lara, a writing teacher and author of “The Granny Diaries” (Chronicle Books).
“You find yourself dying for their company and wishing you could check your e-mail.”
Lara, 58, first become a grandmother at 52 and was astonished when she realized her grandmother was the same age when she was born.
“She had a gray braid wrapped around her head and knitted Christmas sweaters,” Lara recalled.
“The ages have stayed the same. But the look changed. Today, women my age are working, and those who aren’t look forward to writing a book or going to Europe. And now they’re called back to watch little kids again.”
They’re called back for more than that.
Right now, Lara is helping one of her children with a down payment on a house. She buys the majority of her grandchildren’s clothes and shoes. And, she carves out Wednesdays for them, driving to another city to pick them up from school and bring them back to her community for homework, gymnastics and maybe a weightlifting class.
As much as she helps out with the grandkids for her daughter, she also does it for herself, Lara said.
“I am more present,” she said
“I have to keep skiing now because of my grandkids. I get in the swimming pool now instead of worrying about who’s going to watch the kids.”
However, even after six years, Lara is not comfortable being called grandma.
“It still gives me the shudders.”