Robert Torres-Miller, right, helps his grandson Kevin, 5, dig in the Dino Dig exhibit at the Imagine Children’s Museum. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Robert Torres-Miller, right, helps his grandson Kevin, 5, dig in the Dino Dig exhibit at the Imagine Children’s Museum. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Imagine this: Special time for grand families at children’s museum

Grandparents raising grandchildren play for free at the Imagine Children’s Museum on first Sundays.

Even its members admit they’re an unusual group: grandparents raising their grandchildren.

Most assumed their child-rearing days were over. But some unexpected circumstance with their adult child — often drug use or mental illness — caused them to take on the role of parent once again.

“We heard from a lot of adults that they didn’t plan on a kid again, or sometimes even two or three,” said Bonnie Eckley, a manager at the Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett.

As staff saw more of these “grand families” coming to museum events, they decided it was time to dedicate a special once-a-month, off-hours time just for them before the museum opens.

The grand family event is scheduled the first Sunday of the month. The museum’s usual $12 ticket charge is waived.

There are three floors and 42,000 square feet for kids to explore, including the giant waterworks exhibit, an Everett Transit-style bus that allows kids to pretend they’re on a bus ride, and a rooftop play area with the museum’s dinosaur sculpture.

Jeanne Callahan of Edmonds said she’s taken her 5-year-old grandson, Kevin, to the museum during the special Sunday play sessions for the past four months.

Jeanne Callahan, left, and Robert Torres-Miller, right, play with their grandson Kevin, 5, at the trains exhibit at the Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jeanne Callahan, left, and Robert Torres-Miller, right, play with their grandson Kevin, 5, at the trains exhibit at the Imagine Children’s Museum in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“It’s a great program,” she said. “Kevin is always super excited about going to the Imagine Children’s Museum.”

She said it helps her meet other grandparents raising grandchildren. “I don’t find many opportunities to connect with other people in that situation,” she said.

She noticed a big difference when she and Kevin visited the museum for the first time during the special grand family time.

On a typical weekend when the popular museum is most crowded, there’s a sea of children, she said. “When the kids get in there, their energy feeds off each other.”

It’s quiet on the once-a-month Sunday morning visits. Her grandson can make multiple trips to a single exhibit or he can feel free to spend 20 to 30 minutes at one of his favorites, like a plane where he can pretend he is a pilot or co-pilot or loading the cargo.

“It’s so nice for him to do that and play with one or two other kids,” she said, rather than dealing with a swarm of other children.

There’s another benefit, too. Kids don’t have to worry about someone asking,”Where’s your mom or where’s your dad?” Eckley, the museum manager said.

A lot of the kids face even more questions at school she said, such as: “Why is it it’s always your grandma or grandpa that brings you?”

Robert Torres-Miller holds his grandson Kevin after he bumped his head on the play structure at the Imagine Children’s Museum. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Robert Torres-Miller holds his grandson Kevin after he bumped his head on the play structure at the Imagine Children’s Museum. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The museum hopes to add programs for grandparents, such as where to get financial help and resources, and how to deal with schools, computers and the internet, on the monthly Sunday morning grand family days.

Callahan, 56, works full time in a technology job. She and her husband, Robert Torres-Miller, began caring for Kevin when he was 2. They now have custody of their grandson.

In situations where grandparents step in to raise their grandchildren, they often think it will be a temporary thing. “As the days and weeks wear on, you realize it’s not this temporary thing,” she said.

Although grandparents often are involved in the lives of their grandchildren, having full-time responsibility for them is different than regular weekend visits or providing daycare for their grandchildren. “The real difference is stepping back into that parent role,” she said.

Callahan said she’s hopeful that Kevin’s mother someday will again be able to take on her role as a parent. “She’s really working hard on that,” Callahan said, “She’s sincerely making the effort.”

Yet Callahan and her husband don’t know when that might happen. “You’re kind of in this limbo,” she said. ”It’s a funny place to be.”

She and Torres-Miller have been married 10 years. Even though her husband didn’t have kids of his own, she said he didn’t hesitate to take on the responsibility of raising Kevin.

This is in stark contrast to marriages that are crushed from the pressures and responsibilities of suddenly stepping back into parenting.

“It just felt very, very right,” Callahan said of their decision. “I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in this, and how grateful I am that this is my husband.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

If you go

Once each month, the Imagine Children’s Museum, 1502 Wall St., Everett, gives free admission to “grand families,” grandparents raising their grandchildren, an event for kids 12 and younger. The next is scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. April 7. Registration is requested but not required at tinyurl.com/grandfamilyregistration or by calling 425-258-1006.

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