Grandparenting Is About Hope
It's the 'heard-but-not-said' word to describe the gift of watching our grandchildren grow
What's behind the high-pitched sigh that never fails to emerge from me on my daily walks along Manhattan's Hudson River when I pass a grandparent pushing a baby stroller? I've wanted to write about it before but couldn't seem to put the feelings into words. It was just that sigh.
Then, after a week of caring for our six-month-old grandson while his regular caregivers (Thank you other grandparents!) were away, it came to me. It's the experience of staring HOPE in the face. A New York Times copy editor would slam uppercasing here. But hope is such a small word to have so much meaning.
Yes, that sigh also partly relates to seeing your genes replicated. Recently while on vacation with my daughter and her family, we were waiting for our order at a Starbucks with her twelve-year-old daughter and the barista was gobsmacked at how the three generations of us look so much alike.
There's also pride and relief that my babies made it to adulthood with enough strength, capability and desire to start families of their own.
But besides the incomparable delight and unearned pride of seeing parts of yourself reborn, or at least your hair color or piano fingers, there's also pride and relief that my babies made it to adulthood with enough strength, capability and desire to start families of their own. And it's something to have positive enough memories to want to do it even after having experienced, at age 10 and 13, their parents' divorce.
The Essence of Childhood
Today, as a blended family, it's just as comforting that my three stepkids also have survived the blender and emerged with families of their own and all five kids enjoy very strong, happy marriages. There will be more hopeful sighs when all 19 of us gather this year for our annual family get-together.
So the thrill of the view into the stroller isn't just about those big eyes and that baby smell. From this grandmother's sideline perspective, the essence of childhood and young to mid-adulthood for that matter is hope. They are the hope for the future that adults of a certain age no longer have. It's not a complaint, just a fact.
Excitement for my DH and me is finding our next hole-in-the wall Italian restaurant or finally being able to again enjoy a movie in a real movie theater. That call from a headhunter asking if I'm interested in heading up a new parenting or coastal grandmothers' lifestyle publication isn't coming any time soon either.
Even as I keep my second act editing business going at my stress-less part time pace, it is not going to buy us the country house that I'm constantly flirting with online.
Even as I keep my second act editing business going at my stress-less part time pace, it is not going to buy us the country house that I'm constantly flirting with online. There's actually even a certain comfort or calm in what's lost, but also some sadness.
Mystery and Newness
Enter: Grandchildren who are nothing but hope and possibilities. You look into those infant eyes and you're looking at mystery and newness. Who will he be with his mom's dimples and his dad's dark, spikey head of hair? Will she channel my love of interiors, music and the color turquoise or will she be all about numbers and sports?
One grandson is already, at age six, obsessed with maps like his grandpa and wants a full explanation of what happened to the Soviet Union. Another, like his mom who claimed at age six that she would major in reading in college, is already, at seven, a reading machine.
Those questions define the hope of grandparenting. And that's what keeps us guessing and coming back for more even when it can be challenging playing hours of Candyland with a toddler or memorizing Harry Potter's favorite houses at Hogwarts and his most dreaded enemies.
So, my metaphorical sighs keep coming even when the offspring leave their strollers. Lately I find they're joined by other non-verbal feelings. Chills. Like earlier this year when I viewed my granddaughter's spring choir concert virtually and her middle school's grand finale was Jonathan Larson's "Actions Speak Louder Than Words."
There's something awesome about just sitting back and watching who they will become.
"Thank you" doesn't begin to express the pride I felt recently when an older couple passed our table to compliment our son and our three-year-old grandson on his restaurant behavior.
What Is My Role?
And what's my role in all of this? If I believe that we live on in our children, how exactly does that happen? Is it through those summer reunions, family dinners or holiday meals? Does our home exude some kind of warmth or humanity that they will feel even when we've moved on? I'm always styling things and people and maybe it's because I secretly hope those drawers full of striped T-shirts and silly socks will make them feel connected and extra loved even when they're grown up enough to pick their own tops and toys.
Being parents to young and middle-aged adults can be freeing when you finally realize they are independent and can buy their own damn boxers or make a better Bolognese than you do. But then that need to be needed creeps back and nothing fills that space like a wailing baby, hungry toddler, super-curious grade-schooler or teen who needs to unload about her super-annoying parents.
This is when I like to believe we transfer our own hopes for the future from ourselves to them. It helps with the aches and sometimes aching loneliness that comes along with those of us lucky enough to age. It's not about reliving your life through your grandkids or superimposing your ambitions onto them. There's something awesome about just sitting back and watching who they will become.
Also, I'm probably a pretty aware 74-year old but if there's one thing I don't know, it's what their adulthoods will look like. Between breakthroughs in medicine, A.I. and global warming, their world will be nothing like mine.
So how to translate that inexplicable sigh: I guess it's my wish for them to experience all the love and hope in their future that they've brought me. And to keep those surprises coming!
Freddi Greenberg is the former editor in chief of Child Magazine and Nick Jr. Family among others. Although her career began as a food editor she now specializes in Itsy Bitsy Spider singing, Ninjago genealogy and anything Spider Man. In addition to meatball production, she is also the founder of purplepenessays.com, a college application essay advisory. Read More