My nephew wanted to spend Friday night at bunici: his paternal grandparents, my parents, who live downstairs in the same building block as us. He is 3 and he is funny and self-confident and stubborn. He loves his little cousin Ivy, because she is near his age. He is loyal and self-aware and talks a bit funny still, but growing out of his lisp fast.

I don’t know why, but when he comes over, my parents insist my girls go down too. Kids entertain each other. They play pretty well together. Sometimes Jackie is a bit bossy, and likes to lead the way, but that comes with the 3-4 years difference. This time is fleeting. She still loves imaginative games, and is silly. But seeing my other nephew Luca outgrow the silliness at his ripe age of almost 12, I realize how precious this short time is.

My parents are generous and flexible and overly empathetic. I can’t blame them, nor wish they were otherwise, because their genuine empathy is what shaped me into who I am today. Is just that they protect themselves less when they lead with their heart. Still, them leading with their heart is adaptable and true, and kids are drawn to that. They set boundaries only when the line has been crossed and trampled. And then their heart gets bruised by these kid’s lack of filters in actions and words. They make idle threats like: “I will never spend the weekend here again (because you don’t comply with my whimsical wishes”). But these words hurt.

Then, there is the inevitable cousin quarrels and button pushes. My parents also have never learned how to remain strong on your position when putting kids down for a nap. They make suggestions. And kids smell the lack of determination on the matter and they eat you alive. So my parents had on their hands three very tired kids, easily dis-regulated.

Meanwhile, Ivy found her voice and her strength, having to deal with an older sister, and also going to kindergarten every day. She fights for her rights, and navigates all social dilemmas with her chin up. She adores Jackie and enjoys her company, but would still stay true to her belief, and would not comply, just for the sake of peace.

Ivy tends to get upset easily. Mark expects apologies if he is wronged.

Oh, the joy of taking care of 3 and 4 year olds who feel comfortable and confident enough to show their true colors but who don’t obey the same rules and feel entitled to getting their way.

We’ve had a very smooth week as parents. I think when they cross boundaries with other adults and are corrected, they put our parenting in perspective and appreciate their home life. I am so grateful for these grandparents who are flexible and gracious enough to let the grandkids express themselves, but who also are confident enough and human enough to set ground rules as well. The good rules make parents look normal and good too.

A few weeks ago, when Ivy was super tired, and emotional charged, after a long day of good but intense things going on, she wanted to call her foster family. I let her. She rambled all her thoughts, that didn’t make sense out of context. I realized then, and decided to choose more wisely when I let her call her foster family, and at the same time, give her more undivided attention. It worked really well so far.

I appreciate all the adults who impact in such a constructive way the lives of my children. What a gift is is for them to be loved by so many people. And loved they are: wholeheartedly, joyfully, proud. And they rise to the occasion of such love. I have traveled through the dark woods of not liking my kids very much, when we were stuck together seemingly an endless time. I’m sure they didn’t like us either, with all the boundaries and boredom. Empathizing with them, and taking charge of our circumstances as responsible adults, making time to have fun… and God’s gracious timing of reopening school and kindergarten… it was a slow recovery. It’s still ongoing. But I sense hope and I see the sun shining. Literally.