There are the few rare times during life’s journey when we receive advance notice that we are about to fall in love. The impending birth of a grandbaby swells the heart with anticipation of new life and pure unadulterated happiness. If ever there’s a valid case of love at first sight, it’s the arrival of a grandchild, forming a lifelong crush that is mutually shared.
Without question, we love our children fiercely. However, the unbreakable bond between children and their grandparents is a special relationship freed of the stress and accountability of parenthood. Plus, by the time grandbabies start arriving, the sharp corners of our perspective have been thoroughly worn down.
Priorities change as the calendar turns. With the dwindling of the hourglass sands, we reach for the ideas and the people we’ve put off too long. Deadlines matter less and our menial to-do lists get second billing. With renewed determination, we focus our energies on better agendas: fish to catch, naps to enjoy, miles to travel, memories to make, and definitely, grandchildren to coddle. The work and career side of life no longer rules the day once your kids begin having kids.
In the beginning, there are lullabies to sing, babies to rock, chubby hands needing to pat cakes, giggle fits to take your breath away, bedtime stories to read, boo-boos to kiss, mud pies to mix, childish drawings to display on the refrigerator door. As grandchildren grow up (at alarming speeds), we revel in the talents that bud and blossom during the miraculous agony of adolescence. Like silver-haired groupies, we faithfully follow our fresh-faced descendants in unabashed support of their sports games, school programs, music recitals, church activities, stock shows, plays, competitions, graduations and weddings. As their #1 fans, our investment in a grandchild’s life continually evolves.
When a family welcomes its latest generation, you find yourself looking for clan traits. It’s human nature to search fresh little faces for traces of their genetic pool. Aunt Ethel’s nose. Those Twilley eyes. Mimi’s hair. Grandpa’s singing voice. The wondrous mash-up of mannerisms, birthmarks and features are distinctive for each new twig that sprouts on the family tree. Although they come from the same marriage of chromosomes, each sibling arrives with their own unique and wondrous stamp of individuality.
When I was born as the youngest grandchild in a large extended family, only one grandparent was living. I spent much of my childhood in my grandmother’s modest two-bedroom, stucco home on Avenue E. Widowed for thirty years, she was a remarkably resilient and self-reliant woman who enjoyed her own company along with her fat Chihuahua and a succession of songbirds. In the evenings, after a home-cooked supper, we watched her “stories” on a small black-and-white television set while plowing through a tub of popcorn.
I spent many nights under Grandmother’s 12-foot ceilings although I can’t say how much I slept. Nighttime breezes cooled the house, but I was unnerved by all the open windows with only wire screens between me and the dark outside world. My grandmother slept just fine, confident in the loaded pistol and knife she kept tucked beneath her pillow. So, she talked — and sang and laughed — in her sleep when she wasn’t snoring like a freight train.
Mary Frances was a Baptist/Quaker who never attended church services but a believer nonetheless who prayed and read scripture daily. Her days were filled with gardening, sculpting, painting and music coaxed from an old upright piano and hand-me-down violin.
My grandmother taught me that happiness is ours to choose.
A sacred affinity exists between children and their grandparents who bestow the saving graces of unconditional love: patience and humor. Grandkids innately understand that Nana and Papa are always in their corner. When our teenage daughter reached the perilous point that she needed training at the wheel to obtain her driver’s license, I asked my parents to be her hands-on instructors. When she laid rubber peeling out of my father’s pristine driveway, he chuckled and good-naturedly shook his head with a sage level of tolerance never before witnessed by his own astonished daughters.
Maybe it’s a reward for survival, having developed a greater appreciation for time and how it should be spent. My eyes may not see the world as sharply as they once did, but in some ways, I see so much farther and deeper. My ears are attuned to little voices, cherishing the innocent prattle and funny pronouncements on a world made new by babies. I’m addicted to the sweet silliness of toddlers.
You inherit a new identity with the birth of your grandchildren because you’re no longer just Mom and Dad. Bela and Belo? Gigi and Pop-Pop? Or Grammy and Gramps? So many choices, but by whatever name they choose to call, we will always answer. ♦