My mother’s mother had thirteen grandchildren. My own mother had five. I was not sure I would ever be anyone’s mother, honestly. Seven years into my marriage I decided I would give it a shot after all. That worked out pretty darn well.
I really didn’t think I would be anyone’s grandmother, either, but last January a young person was born who shares some of my DNA and a bit of my name.
He was five weeks early and so avoided the pandemic shutdown, escaping the ICU to shelter in place with his parents in their house ten blocks away from me. My spouse and I are both older and have respiratory issues, so we are relatively high risk from COVID-19 and have been diligent about avoiding exposure, but some time after the shut-down Peter’s parents did a modified self-quarantine so that his grandfather and I can babysit him twice a week while they too work from home.
I do not agree with people (such as the midwife, who should not have bothered to even talk to me when Peter was about to be born) who say grandchildren are miraculously more wonderful than your offspring. No, I thought and still think that his parent Jess is astonishing. I find joy in Jess’s very existence, and I went into teaching because of that joy, and built a respectable career around loving young people and helping them learn.
But we are enjoying Peter very much indeed, and though we only have him twice a week with the occasional short visit in between, I am reveling in the changes I see. Someone who was on a CPAP machine to make his little lungs pump, who had a feeding tube, who lay under UV light with tiny goggles on, who looked like an alien, is now a young person who holds his own bottle some of the time, can sit up on his own, laughs like blazes, and has a wonderful smile. He follows people with his eyes, and turns his head. He tries to eat grass, boxwood, his fingers, and his toes. He looks superbly foolish in a hat. His feet are little cushions.
And when he has had his bottle, and has played a little, and has sat in his grandfather’s lap being entertained, and he starts to grumble, I pick him up, carry him around patting his back, and when he falls asleep finally (for he fights sleep), I go back to my computer and write.
That’s because even with the solid identity of being someone’s grandmother, someone else’s mother, and someone else’s wife, I’m also someone who has learned to do a little bit every day of all the other things that also matter to me. That’s because these days I know the point of my life isn’t any big achievements or grand milestones, but just in the small daily details. The point is not to achieve grandmotherhood, though I have done that, but to be Peter’s grandmother right now. Not to have a peaceful, tidy house, though the pandemic has meant it’s supernaturally tidy here, but to put the rest of the dishes in the dishwasher and start it up right now. Not to write and publish books, though I have done that, but to write now, in this moment.
To eat something good when I’m hungry. To meditate a little every day, even if it’s only five minutes and I’m not very good at it. To read something.
Seriously. I have a doctorate. I am a three-time age-group world champion with a boatload of other medals for my sport. I have taught every grade from preschool to college, I’m married for 44 years and sober for 46, and I know how to sew and knit even if I don’t do it very often, but it’s what I’m doing right now that’s the point.
As I joked to a friend (for I text a few friends every day, and it’s one of the things on the checklist of daily tasks I keep), the minister at my funeral could say, “She almost always had a healthy smoothie and a cup of strong coffee in the mornings, she took care of her grandchild sometimes, she showed up for family and friends when she could, and she wrote something most days,” and I think I would like that very much.