I know many women my own age who are salivating with the hope of soon becoming a grandmother. They long for a bundle to snuggle and love, perhaps a 2.0 version of their son or daughter. I, however, wasn’t among those fast-trackers. Both of my children — sons — married during the past 12 months, and two weddings, with their attendant angst (guests lists! budgets! seating charts!) was more than enough emotional gridlock for one year.
So in the afterglow of marriage #1, as bride and groom #2 were mailing out their wedding invitations, they shared the news that she was eight weeks pregnant, I was speechless — though not on account of propriety. Whether couples marry before they have kids strikes me as a nonissue. No, I was gobsmacked because I hadn’t even adjusted to being someone’s mother-in-law when my ticket was being punched for Grannyland.
And what a place and trip that would be, I was assured by every bedazzled Nana and Grammy who crossed my path. “You’re going to love being a grandma!” the choir trilled.
(MORE: Longing for a Grandchild? Me, Too)
Adjusting to a New Status
If you are suspecting a cynic, you would be wrong, because — alakazam! — the prognosticators were right. You can’t help but be abducted by grandparenthood’s honeyed sweetness. It begins when you try to wrap your head around the fact that a pipsqueak on an ultrasound is your flesh and blood.
Immediately upon seeing this image, you feel compelled to sign up for emails from baby websites announcing that this week, for example, the embryo is the size of a cashew, and you hear yourself fielding the obvious questions in yenta patois: “I don’t care, as long as he or she is healthy, knock wood.”
As you watch your own grown child proudly squire his pregnant wife, share in childbirth classes and assemble a crib, you feel a lump in your throat. Then one blurry morning he calls, more agog than when he hit his first home run or got into his favored college: Showtime!
In the hour it takes for you to reach the hospital, your own baby boy, you soon learn, has morphed into a father, someone who instinctively knows to stick his pinky in his seven-pound son’s mouth for a quick suck. How did you raise a child so gifted? You don’t remember yourself as an instant virtuoso of motherhood. You remember boundless love, but also shock, awe and terror.
From then on, if you’re lucky enough to share in the continuing experience, life becomes a series of premieres: news bulletins on the first time the newborn gets a bath, goes out in the world papoose-style, visits the pediatrician, coos, smiles. Especially smiles. I defy anyone to not fall in love with the gummy grin of a brand new human being, especially if he’s a bud on your own family tree.
All of this now suddenly fascinates you, as do other babies, and you begin to rubberneck at every stroller you pass — though your own grandchild is cuter. Way cuter. Cuter, even, than your own children, if that’s possible.
(MORE: Grandparents Can Be More Than Just a Baby-Sitter)
Adventures in Babysitting
Nothing, however, equals the first time you, Grandma-in-Chief, show up to babysit. You’re a bit jumpy about this responsibility, not that you’ll admit it to your kids. After they give you marching orders, you wave them away, and within 20 minutes you are reminded that caring for an infant is as hard and character-building as Outward Bound. One minute your cuddly cub is happily kicking his arms and legs; the next, you’re foraging for ideas on how to calm the miserable creature with the mega-lungs who has replaced him.
Is he hungry? Nope, you just fed him. Wet? You whip out a cloth diaper, find it daunting, liberate a paper diaper and remember to put the cartoon in the front. He quiets, but after minutes cries again. Is he tired? You shake a rattle, do a jig, sing a song, try his activity mat, then the swing. While the baby continues to howl, you scan the room and assess the volume of stuff today’s parents accumulate — far more than in medieval times when your son was young — then harness yourself into a sling so complicated it seems more appropriate for scaling Kilimanjaro than taking Baby for a walk around the block.
Along the way, he passes out, but the minute you get home, he wakes, wailing. You try to rock him. Someone sleeps. First him, then you. His parents return. You relinquish the baby, another part of grandmotherhood you love, although the second you get home, you already miss him.
Giving and Receiving Blessings
Having a grandchild has changed me. My grandson has run away with my heart. As I listen to our presidential candidates, I see a bigger picture than I did even four months ago, before he was born. I am wondering first and foremost about health, education and social justice, wishing there were more I could do to give this child the life he deserves.
“Grandmothers are a blessing” is embroidered on a tea towel a friend gave me, but the towel should have a twin, because grandchildren are the real blessing, as is the opportunity to see what a wise papa and mama my son and daughter-in-law are. Grandchildren take you back to the basics, and force you to put your priorities in place.
Others who have gone before me got it right: There is nothing like being a grandmother. I’ve joined the choir. Tra-la.