I trod carefully on the ‘X-trail’ balancing, teetering, on each footstep, following the line of ‘X’s.’ Deeper and deeper into the tangled forest I go, where beastly monsters lurk, thick brush disguised as the underside of the slide at the playground. Anything is possible in this forest of make-believe!
Then – Ow! I clunk my head on the metal. I never pictured myself stooping down to match the size of a small granddaughter, nor did I ever think I’d have one, though it would’ve made perfect sense, both girls married.
Free as a winged butterfly, I was enjoying my empty nest. Days filled with the gym, writing class, or spur-of-the-moment dinner with friends. On a good day with a spring in my step, I was Jack Benny’s proverbial ’39.’
One sunny Tuesday, ‘life-as-I-knew-it’ changed. My daughter and son-in-law say, “sit,” then hand me the package. The unwrapped bib in my hand verifies what I’m hearing. “The baby is due in May.” Their words jolt me out of my youth.
At that moment my mind prefers the reverie of young me, the grandchild. I step back in time to the magical protected place at my grandmother’s. It’s a Friday night sleepover. The house is dimly lit in observance of the Shabbos (Sabbath). Random low lights are left on. Candles light dark corners of rooms. One of those might reveal the two of us curled up in a big old chair, she regaling me with stories before bedtime, some about little me.
My favorite things to eat waft in from the kitchen: chullent from the slow cooker, matzoh brie lightly sprinkled with sugar, the fizzle taste of Cel-Ray tonic soda still on my tongue. Not until later do I realize the rich legacy I have to pass on to a granddaughter of my own.
A friend of mine just became ‘Grandpa.’ I watch him feed little ‘Zach’ in his highchair, spooning applesauce from the jar to baby’s mouth. His joy flows out in dramatized ‘I love you’s.’ My friend, like me, is still ’39.’ I feel his hand outstretched, leading me into this alien new ‘Grandma’ era.
Grandmothers may be ubiquitous, dotting restaurants, parks, and zoos, and as common as red geraniums in summer, but the word itself, ‘Grandma’ sounds foreign if it means me!
I first meet my granddaughter sprawled across my daughter in the hospital bed. I am instantly, and unexpectedly, transformed:
She lay tiny and still except for the rise and fall of her diaphragm.
Her six pounds warm my lap like a kitten, ten minuscule, silken fingers lay in mine.
We remain like this simply, breathing together.
Our own private cocoon of hiccups, and moist warm pampers, transcend the larger hospital room.
In this moment I’m the only grandmother.
And she’s the only baby.
I feel a surge of protectiveness, wanting life to be better for her, to correct some of the mistakes I made with my own kids, and change the family legacy messages that disabled me from bolting through life, and robbed me of a joy I observed in some others.
This time I’d give messages of optimism instead of the negative ones I received, then passed on like a baton to my own kids. I see them clearly now, and want them stopped. I’ve since gained wisdom and perspective.
Several months later I’m babysitting, anticipating an afternoon devoid of dictionary words, and probably, boring. Instead, surprisingly, I find myself in an Alice-In-Wonderland oasis.
Daniella’s nestled into my lap, relaxed, as I read her The Very Clumsy Click Beetle, by Eric Carle. She bolts upright as the page comes alive with its clicking, her small fingers tracing a red poppy flower.
Then with a twist of her torso, she does a 180 from the waist up, positioning herself squarely face to face with me. From there, with great focus, she studies my mouth as if to trace the source of the words she’s hearing and to verify they are indeed, coming out of grandma.
Her inch long fingers strong beyond their size grip my hair like the tow of a ton derrick, really hurting, and forcing a laugh out of me, and knowing, there is no place I would rather be.
I remember back to when I was the young mother. ‘What was I thinking?’, I yell at my younger self, focused on the treadmill of life, running, rushing to pick up that container of milk, get to that birthday party on time. So much seemed pressing.
Today I see clearly past the chores. Winter wanes, and spring’s mild air arrives. Strolling around the backyard carrying Daniella, arms wrapped around each other in a big hug, we follow the musical chorus of birds. Their sound system surpasses the finest, our personal philharmonic right in the backyard!
A blue jay flits out of a nearby bush, she and I are its personal audience. We watch his show from centerstage, among towering trees, where butterflies gently kiss perfumed petunias. Chirping cheerily, a young bird journeys through the air, stops to perch on the wood post fence, then lifts up to disappear into a thicket of green leaves. “Mo, mo, mo,” she commands I choreograph Mother Nature’s birds.
What a joy to have these moments I somehow forgot to have with my own kids. I truly believed they would stay little, and mine forever. I learned the lesson too late for them, but happily not too late for my granddaughter.