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8 Surprising Things About Becoming a Grandparent

From shedding tears to reflecting on the future, life changed for the better

By Marc Silver

There are lots of surprises when you become a grandparent for the first time – starting with how you get the news. The old-fashioned way is when the new dad calls you on the phone. That’s how I spread the news when my wife and I became parents back in the dark ages. The newfangled way is, of course, by text.

Becoming a Grandparent
Credit: Marc Silver

I left my Maryland home on a Friday morning knowing my daughter, living nearly 2,000 miles away in Utah, had been in labor since the night before. I was worried that we hadn’t heard anything but was not about to call. When you’re in labor, probably the last thing you want is a phone call from Dad saying, “Um, what’s up?”

So I biked to work. I went to the locker room to shower but first checked my phone. There was a text from my other daughter: “Abba, you’re a zaydie!”  (Translation: Abba is Hebrew for father and zaydie is Yiddish for grandpa.)

I mean, it makes sense to use texts. Still, I was surprised that texting was the method of delivery. It seemed so … untraditional.

And that isn’t the only surprising thing that occurs when you enter the demographic category of grandparent:

1. Tears are shed.

When I got that text, droplets of moisture welled up in my eyes. Caught up in my own busy life, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to my daughter’s pregnancy. I figured yes, she’s pregnant. So she’ll have a baby. I didn’t expect I'd have such an outpouring of emotion. And those first tears were the harbinger of many tears to come.

When I saw our new granddaughter, Jolene, for the first time a week later, drip drip drop went the teardrops. When I had to say goodbye after our short visit, I sniffled. And now that I use her birthdate as the passcode for my iPhone, I sigh a little (and maybe cry a little) every time I enter the date.

Why all these tears? Because a tiny new human being is really a miracle.  And being a typical self-absorbed boomer, I couldn’t quite realize that until it happened to me.

2. You become a stereotypical grandparent.

Did I tell you that she is the coolest baby ever? She instinctively knows how to look you in the eyes. She is an excellent sleeper. And even though she has no clue who I am, she would happily rest on my chest for hours, which makes me love her even more. Best grandbaby ever!

3. Even if you are a person who can never sit still, you will sit still.

I am always on the go. A vacation means: go for a run, go for a bike ride, take a hike. Then it’s time for brunch. At work, my restless legs take me on a stroll around the office every hour or so.

But there I was, sitting on the couch and holding that baby while she slept. An hour passed and then another and another, and I still wasn’t ready to give her up because that’s how absolutely fascinating and bewitching little babies can be. I didn't even check my phone for messages.

4. You think deep thoughts.

I look into my granddaughter’s lively eyes and wonder: Who will she become? What will she be like? What kind of world will she live in?

Did my wife and I think these thoughts when our children were newborns? I don't believe we did because we were too sleep-deprived and too nervous about getting the parenthood thing right. But as a grandparent, I have the luxury of pondering the unfathomable potential of a new human being — and wonder if she’ll be the one who invents such sorely needed products as a levitating sofa or a Google translator for cat meows.


5. You want to give advice to the new parents … but you don’t.

Because you remember that when you were new parents you wouldn’t have wanted your own parents and in-laws to say: You’re holding her wrong! You’re feeding her wrong! She’s too bundled up! She’s not bundled up enough!

As a grandparent at work told me, “Let me give you some advice. Never give advice.”

Even though I am vowing not to be a backseat baby driver, I know I will sometimes be unable to stop myself. But I do swear to live by the sage words of a grandmother I knew: “You can tell your kids something once. But don’t repeat it. They really did hear you the first time.”

6. You change your mind about where you want to live and also your career options.

In the tiny town in Utah where my Fabulous Granddaughter lives, I saw a help wanted sign for a busboy at the local diner. I’m updating my resumé with an emphasis on dishwashing skills.

7. You kind of feel like you’re a parent again — but with one big difference.

All the memories of those early days of parenthood — the joys, the fears, the chores — come rushing back. Only when the grandchild poops her diaper or gets hungry, you can say to the mom and dad, “Oh, I think the baby needs you now!”

8. You agonize over what the grandchild will call you.

I cannot believe I am old enough to be a Gramps or a Grandpa. So I’m looking for alternatives. The paternal grandfather got dibs on “Pop Pop.” I do like Zaydie, because it connects to my Jewish heritage, but it also sounds to me like a bent-over Eastern European dude with a scruffy beard.

Then someone at work told me she just called her grandparents by their first names and that’s who they were, her Ethel and her Frank. So I realized it doesn’t matter what name I pick — as long as it doesn’t make me feel old.

Marc Silver is a blog editor at NPR and author of the book "Breast Cancer Husband: How To Help Your Wife (And Yourself) Through Diagnosis, Treatment And Beyond." Read More
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