Big, big exhalation. How long have I been holding my breath? About nine months and three weeks, the exact length of time it took for my grandson to grow large enough to come into the world and for me to get out there to meet him.
Amid all the fun of watching my daughter grow huge with child and seeing she and her husband prepare to be parents, I struggled mightily on the inside with becoming a grandparent. I held an incessant nine month inner dialogue that went something like this:
(Read to self quickly, then repeat. For a more realistic experience, read at 4:00 A.M.)
How can I be a grandmother I don’t know how to be a grandmother all I know is what my mother did which was come over every day for weeks and weeks and wash the clothes and cook and clean and help with the baby and sometimes she brought her sisters for reinforcement and there C. and E. are out there in California with no relatives, well they know some people but not that many why haven’t I retired what if she needs help and I’m not there it’s not like I can just get in a plane and fly over there anytime stop overwhelming yourself and what will I do when I miss the baby that is going to be intolerable it hurts my stomach right now and I don’t even know what to be called all I know is nothing countryfied, like, not Meemaw or Mawmaw or no undignified baby talk words like MooMoo or PooPoo you’ll eventually be called something yes but when I do go out there how can I get all the cleaning and cooking and baby stuff done so they will be all caught up by the time we leave so she won’t need me after we’ve gone and so nothing will upset or depress her the way I always was postpartum oh groan it was so awful that would be unacceptable I’ll just have to get everything done that’s all and what if I’m not good with the baby I never thought I was good with babies and what if I can’t do anything with him that would be a disaster I haven’t taken care of a baby in twenty seven years but they’ll EXPECT me to be good with soothing upset babies because that is what grandmothers know how to do and I am going to be declared one, but how can I be a grandmother?
As with most unknowns, there was nothing to do but wait, and to be sure, one day before his due date Micah was born. Without me. We already had our dates planned to come out, according to the way my daughter and son in law wanted things to be, in case anyone wonders why we didn’t charter the first plane out of Memphis.
Finally we met our baby. When I held him, I felt a deep, peaceful knowing, as if reconnected to an old soul. I know you, I thought, and you are mine. I rushed headlong into baby love.
What about my worries? About soothing the baby, the best news ever was this little invention, the swaddler, which did not exist in my day. The blanket like garment soothes a fractious baby and makes him feel warm, safe and secure. The old fashioned…uh… grandmother in me was skeptical at first but soon I was won over when Micah, bundled, relaxed immediately in my arms.
What about the sleep deprived parents? It turns out that these people know how to take naps, something I was never able to do. When we arrived each morning from our nearby motel we relieved whichever parent was awake to retreat to bed. The parents would say they were tired, but they seemed pretty sane to me. They were wearing clothes, for example, and seemed to be taking showers. I saw them reading sometimes.
What about being helpful? Within the first few minutes of our arrival, my daughter said to me, “Thanks for holding the baby so I can have an adult conversation.” Aaaah, we were already helping! And speaking of helping, Micah’s grandfather turned out to be the most effective baby whisperer in the house. Whenever he wasn’t doing some manual labor for my daughter, such as hanging pictures, he could be found with Micah in his arms.
But what about my daughter’s mood? SHE WAS FINE!!!!!!! Her focus was on baby’s well being, not seeming a bit overwhelmed, just taking things moment by moment. I did have to make some changes in the eating arena. One can only choke down so many dry turkey sandwiches. Though the meals I fixed were often consumed more hurriedly than in the past, hopefully they made the new parents feel nurtured.
And about the cleaning, my daughter did allow me to clean her kitchen floor on my hands and knees. Pregnant ladies can’t see their own feet, let alone a floor. She was very appreciative that I had done it, but the good news was that had I not gotten around to it, it wouldn’t have bothered her a bit. Finally the memories of myself as a new mother, feeling sad and defeated because my house was so cluttered, faded in my mind. Actually, I had been the one in disarray, not the house.Thankfully, my daughter does not have those burdens.
As the days went by we settled into an easy routine of baby care. It came to me that we were all pitching in to take care of the baby, the parents, and their home. Why had I thought all the emotional responsibility was going to fall only on me? I found I could relax and just be a grandmother!
All too soon it was time to leave. I came to Pasadena in hypervigilant mode, ready to do whatever battles were necessary for my people. I anticipated it to be hard. Yes, I did work all day and retire each night to sleep as hard as a brick bat, but it was fun, joyous and fulfilling.
We were all bound by our love for Micah, and enjoyed seeing one another enjoy him. The arrival of this precious little fellow had changed all our previous, familiar configurations. Wife to mother. Husband to father. Mother to grandmother. Father to grandfather. We all revolved, gracefully, I thought, around our new sun.
I marveled at my son in law’s transformation into a Daddy. He has won my heart over and over with his devotion and thoughtfulness.
I beamed at seeing my daughter in action as a Mother.
Families are all more than the sum of their parts, but now we have more parts in the mix, and it’s glorious. More relationships. More ties. More moments to savor now and memories to plan for the future.
I was not ready to leave, but I did so with a heart that was full and peaceful.