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When my daughter and son-in-law announced the imminent arrival of my first grandchild, I have to admit, I was ambivalent. ME -- a grandmother? I was only 52 after all. True, plenty old enough to become a grammy, but I didn’t feel like a grandmother and I'm certainly more active than the grandmothers of my youth. Did a grandchild mean that I’d finally have to act my age – or at least admit it?
But this wasn’t about me, was it? So I got with the program and joined the young couple’s eager anticipation of things to come. I accompanied my daughter to the obstetrician. I heard my grandson’s heartbeat. That’s right. It had been confirmed: we were having a boy. I shopped at Babies R Us. There is so much more stuff to buy than there used to be. A baby swing with an iPod plug-in so he can listen to Mozart? How did my generation ever get along without such high-tech baby trappings? Could it be because a stroller today costs more than my first car?
Still, through it all, I remained detached from the baby to be. My role was to be a support for my daughter as she traversed the exciting and often scary journey to motherhood. The joy in hearing the steady whump, whump, whump of my grandson’s beating heart lay in watching her face as she intently listened. It was the same look of wonder on her face the day she saw her first rainbow.
I was glad for her happiness. But I knew I would never become one of those grandmothers. If your eyes have ever glazed over like a Krispy Kreme Doughnut® while a friend gushed on about a grandchild, you know what I’m talking about. They are almost obnoxious as they splash weekly updated photo collages across the screen of their desktops at work. Once when I was still blissfully grandchildless not so long ago, I found myself seated at a card table with a couple of grandmothers for a game of Bunco. As I grabbed another martini, I experienced shades of yesterday: how did I end up at this lunch table with this particular group? I didn’t belong here because I just didn’t get it.
Of course I was there on the morning of the scheduled C-section. Grandboy was breech and wouldn’t turn. My daughter was calm; my son-in-law pale. Things were good to go. I kissed my baby girl’s sweaty brow goodbye and nervously took up vigil in the waiting lounge, along with other family members. Around small talk with the in-laws, I lost myself in the past. I relived my own pregnancies and personal joys of motherhood and doctor visits and hanging nursery wallpaper with my husband. We stuck with yellow to be safe because we weren't yet able to know the sex of our babies ahead of time. Could it possibly have been 28 years since I first became a mother? Could it really be time for me to cross the threshold into the next generation?
Two hours later, an eternity, we were allowed into the recovery room. I was not prepared for the emotions that flooded my being when I first laid eyes on the little bundle swaddled in blue being cradled so carefully against my precious son-in-law’s chest. Breathe, I had to remind myself. An older friend, a grandmother three times over, had told me that I would love my grandbaby instantly. At the time, I was skeptical. But she was right. As the Frankie Valli hit goes, “My eyes adored you; though I never laid a hand on you, my eyes adored you.”
Yep, I get it now – this grandparent thing. I also get the twice-married man who is a much more involved dad with his second set of children. Or the couple down the street content to sacrifice endless rounds of golf and a time share at the beach in their golden years to cheerfully raise two grandkids. Which leads me to ponder – why? I think it’s because with our second go round, be it grandkids or offspring from a second marriage, we possess a deeper understanding, an appreciation, of how kids will grow and change and not depend on us quite so much anymore -- a phenom that is both thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time. We’ve got the big picture, so to speak. But when we’re in the thick of running car pools, paying the mortgage and working on the career, we’re too bogged down to see the gradual slipping away. Heck, we’re usually ready for the next stage of child development to hurry up and get here already.
How many times did we hear the words of older relatives who said with a wistful shimmer in their eyes, “The time goes fast. Savor it. Enjoy it.” We heard them but we didn’t listen.
I’d be willing to bet that there are not many empty nesters who, on occasion, haven’t wished to go back to an earlier time. If we could compress our children, like computer files, to a smaller size so as to pay more attention, to marvel over each stage of development, I, for one, would jump on the opportunity. I would sit and hold my babies every possible minute I could in an attempt to keep time from slipping away unnoticed.
But of course, we can’t. And neither would I want to redo every bit of those often stress-filled days. But as grandparents we gain a second chance. We get to relish every moment of precious childhood innocence. As I enjoy my grandbaby’s peaceful presence while he sleeps on my shoulder with his head nestled in the crook of my neck, I am content. Content to sit. Content to breathe in the scent of him. My heart swollen with love, my soul at peace with the world, I imagine scenes from the future. We will plant seeds together. We will go down to the creek to look for crawdads. I see the dirt streaking his face when he comes inside for a swig of Gatorade on a hot summer day. (I’ll probably let him drink straight from the bottle standing in front of the opened refrigerator.) I will caress his thin shoulders every chance I get, understanding that the problems of the world will someday weigh them down.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, I am content to sit and hold him - my very special first grandbaby. But should any of my three children present me with more grandchildren in the future, I’ll say, “Bring ‘em on!” Because you see, I get it now.
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