Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Becoming a Grandparent

I was ready to become a grandmother.

It is a strange thing. You go along through life and at first you are not ready for grandparenthood. For one thing, your kids are not ready to be parents (you think). You look at them and they are barely out of teenagehood, just starting to make their way in the world. Maybe they are finishing a degree, or living the party lifestyle, or just getting started in that first career job - the one that doesn't involve serving for minimum wage pay. In any case, they are way, way too young (in your eyes).

For another thing, you yourself are way too young. You're in the prime of life. You don't have a grandmotherly look about you at all: picture a plump woman in a brown print house dress, cat's eye glasses, and steel grey hair in a bun. That is definitely not you. For gosh sakes, you're still playing soccer with the twenty-somethings!

Then, almost unnoticeably, something starts to change. You drop out of soccer and take up more sedate forms of exercise, like walking. You admit that the middle-aged gut is here to stay, and dress to accommodate a more rotund shape, if not exactly in flowered house dresses. (The fact that you actually can use words like "house dress," "trousers," "slacks," and "rubbers" to describe items of clothing is a serious hint.) You start thinking of winding down your career, and about the possibilities that retirement might hold. You go out and buy a great big house, much too big for just two people, so that there will be lots of room for the grandchildren to come to stay.

Yes, I was ready. I was ecstatic when my daughter announced that she was pregnant. Then our joy was doubled a couple of months later when my step daughter also was expecting.

What I wasn't ready for was reliving the whole birth-giving process over again. As my daughter went through the stages of pregnancy, I participated vicariously, through telephone conversations and digital photos that she sent. I looked at baby stuff online. I wandered through the baby section of the department store, grinning from ear to ear.

However, as the due date neared, my anxiety level rose. *She* was ready for it. My daughter had followed every step to have a healthy normal pregnancy, had read widely, and had found an excellent midwife. But as the date neared, my memories, which had remained mercifully fuzzy since my own birthing experiences, suddenly returned. My daughter went into labour, confident, ready, and wonderfully cared for by her capable husband and midwife. Meanwhile, I was hundreds of miles away, fretting and useless as an old boot. What could I say that would be in any way helpful? My difficult birthing experiences that I now recalled vividly were not her experiences. My advice was not appropriate or needed. I felt so helpless on the the other end of the phone, wanting to be at her side, yet knowing that she was going through this profound experience together with her life partner, the baby's father. This was right. This was good. It just was not a part of grandmotherhood that I had anticipated or prepared for.

I now have had the joy of holding my newborn grandson in my arms. I have had the chance to help out as my daughter recovers from a not so easy birthing experience. It is not the same as being a mother. I am so thrilled to be a grandma, and I am looking forward to each stage in the process.

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