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News / Life / Clark County Life

Caring for grandson is child’s play for retired Battle Ground man

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith
Published: June 17, 2018, 6:05am
8 Photos
“It’s fun to see their relationship blossom,” says Andrew Brown, right. His father Rick Brown, left, and son Tabor often come to visit Andrew’s office at Kalama Falls Fish Hatchery when Rick is baby-sitting.
“It’s fun to see their relationship blossom,” says Andrew Brown, right. His father Rick Brown, left, and son Tabor often come to visit Andrew’s office at Kalama Falls Fish Hatchery when Rick is baby-sitting. Photo Gallery

KALAMA — Rick Brown carefully helped his grandson down the front steps as they went outside to play. It was a dawdling, unrushed process for 1 1/2 -year-old Tabor, who’s still getting the hang of stairs.

Tabor gasped and pointed toward the sky; he heard a plane, and that’s magical when you’re a toddler.

It’s that magic that Brown, 55, gets to experience all over again as a regular caregiver for his grandson. Brown takes things slower than he did when he was a first-time father more than three decades ago. He’s learned “you have time for everything.”

A few days each week, Brown leaves his home in Battle Ground just before 7 a.m. and drives to Kalama to take care of Tabor. He spends almost 30 hours a week providing child care, making him a sort of stay-at-home granddad. His adult sons work. His wife works. But Brown started taking care of Tabor after retiring from SEH America last year.

Did You Know?

In 2017, the median annual cost of toddler care at a center was $8,844 in Cowlitz County and $11,184 in Clark County.

• Among couples who have children younger than 6, it’s more common than not that both parents work.

• About three-fourths of grandparents say they occasionally babysit their grandchildren.

• 22 percent of grandparents provide child care regularly.

• 52 percent of people ages 50 to 64 have grandchildren.

Sources: Pew Research, Child Care Aware of Washington

He was a full decade younger than Washington’s average retirement age, according to SmartAsset’s analysis of Census data. It was a goal of his to retire after working 30 years; that’s what his father did and his father before him. He got some interesting reactions from co-workers when he told them about his “retirement project.” Some thought it was fantastic, while others were in disbelief that he wanted to spent his free time baby-sitting his grandchild.

About one in five grandparents surveyed by Pew Research said they provide child care regularly. (The think tank also found through surveys that “having more time to spend with family” is by far the best part of growing old.)

“It’s been a great experience,” Brown said. “The days I’m with him I honestly can’t believe how fast they go.”

Tabor’s mom Heather Brown, 29, went back to work when Rick Brown retired. She said he’s “totally a lifesaver” and isn’t sure what she and husband Andrew would’ve done without his help.

“We’d probably have an in-home nanny,” she said.

“Just the timing of things — it was supposed to happen the way it happened,” said Andrew Brown, 32. “Heather and I are very appreciative.”

The couple looked into day care, but it was costly and their options were limited given their unusual lifestyle. The family lives at Kalama Falls Fish Hatchery, where Andrew Brown is a fish hatchery specialist. Heather Brown works nights as a pediatric nurse at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland. So, Rick Brown generally takes care of Tabor while his mom is sleeping and dad is working down the road.

“I need to go night-night. Can I have a hug?” Heather Brown said to Tabor one Wednesday afternoon before heading upstairs to sleep. “I love you. Have fun.”

Tabor watched his mother at the bottom of the stairs before turning his attention to Grandpa.

New parenting tactics

In some ways, caring for a toddler is muscle memory.

But after taking a class for grandparents with his wife Cindy, Rick Brown learned some things about taking care of babies have changed since they were young parents. Like, you can’t use baby powder anymore, because babies’ lungs aren’t developed enough. And the dangers of third-hand smoke, where the baby comes in contact with smoke and its associated carcinogens through clothing, have come to light.

Brown is also noticing things he didn’t notice the first time around. In his early 20s, he didn’t realize the importance of play in developing a child’s skills. Slowing down has allowed him to appreciate that a baby’s brain is like a sponge, absorbing what he sees and hears.

He once showed Tabor how to retrieve a toy car from under the couch using a stick, and for the rest of the day Tabor used this new technique, unearthing many treasures.

As a new father, Rick Brown had a mortifying experience of a baby baptism gone wrong, with ruined clothes and an excruciatingly long walk up the aisle of a Catholic cathedral carrying his soiled son.

As a grandfather, he feels less inhibited, less prone to embarrassment or caring about what people think. Maybe age has just made him more comfortable.

On outings with Tabor, Rick is used to being the only grandpa. Sometimes people ask questions or mistake him for Tabor’s dad.

They’ve taken a handful of Zumbini classes together (Zumba for children up to 4 years old), which primarily attracts young moms and their babies. Kimberly Burnette teaches the only Zumbini class in Clark County that’s held twice weekly at The Yoga Barre in Washougal.

She said Rick is the first grandpa she’s had take part in the early childhood music and movement program. They dance, blow bubbles, roll playground balls and sing songs that incorporate their names.

Welcome Tabor. How you doing? Happy to see you. It’s good to see your grandpa, too.

Living for legacy

After a recent Zumbini class, Rick and Tabor had a picnic near the playground at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

“Mmm!” Tabor exclaimed as he stuffed fistfuls of cottage cheese into his mouth. Caught up in his enthusiastic eating, he smeared some cheese in his blond hair, which Granddad cleaned off.

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Brown said he and Tabor eat a lot of the same foods. Tabor loves all kinds of foods, saying ‘bore’ when he wants more. He’s overall pretty even keeled and isn’t quick to cry. He picks himself up when he falls down. He finds his surroundings fascinating, whether that means climbing into the cubbies at Zumbini or chucking some playground bark chips just for the joy of it.

“I learn from him as much as he learns from me, I think,” Brown said. “I’ve just felt blessed.”

Blessed to spend his days with his inquisitive grandson. Blessed to retire at 54, thanks to his wife’s support and encouragement. While he could’ve worked longer, building his wealth, he feels confident in his decision.

“Your legacy is your kids and their kids,” Brown said. “If you raise your kids well, then you’re a success.”

He’s proud of the adults his sons, Andrew and Danny, have become. He wants Tabor to grow up to be a productive member of society, too.

After their picnic, Brown followed Tabor up the playground tower and held him on his lap as they went down the short, fast slide. Tabor smiled and rattled off what sounded like gibberish. There’s a lot to say to Grandpa.

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith