Hatching the Next Generation
Instead of looking back at 2014, I thought it would be more fun to look forward. What happens to new empty nesters down the road after their offspring have flown the coop? Some parents may preserve a grown up child’s room like a shrine. Others (like me) will convert the empty room into an office or den, while plenty of suburban parents may decide to downsize and move to the city for the convenience and nightlife. But sooner or later all of us hope to enjoy grandchildren—the hatching of the next generation. What will it be like to welcome these chicks back into our nest? For the answer, I invited Lynne Feldman—author, lawyer, retired educator and fellow blogger at www.integralhealingbook.com—to share her experience of becoming a grandma. Although Lynne lives in the suburbs, I’m sure many aspiring city-grandparents will relate. Here’s her story:
After Emily turned 32, she announced her pregnancy. I’d been struggling with cancer and chemo for over a year, so the good news couldn’t have been more welcome. Miracle of miracles, nine months later, I completed chemo on the very day little Andrew Paul Singer was delivered at the hospital where my daughter had been born 33 years earlier. Due to Emily’s husband’s age (49) and children from a prior marriage, Emily explained that this birth would be a onetime event. Thus my husband John and I embraced our blond-haired, blue eyed and dimpled cherub with special delight.
Although Emily has lived in several houses since leaving for college and law school, she’s never been more than an hour away from Jon and and me. By sheer chance, I found a house in their price range on a street exactly one mile away from ours in the same town. When Emily and her husband Samuel moved into that house, my secret dream had come true: my only child would be living walking distance from me. She would be just far enough away not to trip over me and John whenever she went out, but near enough for us to pay quick visits that were never unannounced.
My closest women friends in town had had children the same age as Emily, and we’d raised our kids together in one happy, noisy pod. Now, decades later, joyous coincidence brought grandparenthood to a few of my friends around the same time. There was Dana, with two sets of twin grandchildren, living one mile from her. Meryl had a granddaughter she cared for every Wednesday, and Charlotte’s two little grandchildren were twenty minutes away. Cindy’s son and daughter, along with their respective spouses and little ones, lived around the block from her. We were the lucky Grandmas. No long plane rides twice a year to see how much little Angela and Tyler had grown. We were the fortunate ones who got to see our sprouts growing on a daily or weekly basis.
But once infancy passed, my small group of friends and I—60-something Grandmas—switched our conversations from the wisdom of saving umbilical cord blood to (re)baby-proofing our homes. The irony! We, who had long ago stopped fearing broken glass and sticky tiny fingers poked into electric outlets, found ourselves retrofitting our nests for the next generation of fledglings. We Grandmas all conducted research on the newest baby proofing methods and discussed the particular hazards of our redecorated homes (the white linen couches, the new Olympic-sized pool). We bought sized gates to install at the top of our staircases; if you looked closely, you could still see holes from the gates that protected these stairs 30 years before when our kids were very young.
We Grandmas loved bragging to one another about how close we felt to our grand-babies, but we also admitted that it was wonderful to be able to say goodbye, after getting winded from running after a 12 month creeper. However, along with the joy and energy of the arrival of the next generation came those calls at all hours: “Mom, the babysitter bailed on us, and Ted and Amanda are waiting at the restaurant. Could you watch—-?” “I ran out of diapers, and Bill is delayed coming home. Could you run out to A&P and grab me some—–?” “Hey, guys, we can’t get a babysitter on New Year’s Eve. You wouldn’t mind watching Spencer—–?” “Hi, sorry to wake you, but my car won’t start, and Isabelle needs to get to pre-school. I know it’s early for you, but could you help us out—-?” “I’ve got a fever and I need to sleep. Could you watch Lily for me today?”
In addition to pinch-hitting during times of stress, making sure our homes were within toddler-safety code, and helping out during holidays and birthdays, we Grandmas also found our own living areas had been infiltrated. My husband John tripped on enough random Lego pieces to win a combat ribbon. Charlotte’s favorite turquoise bowl from Phoenix got bumped onto the floor and achieved maximum destruction after a preview of little Laura’s ballet abilities. Cindy figured out why finger painting is such a hazardous activity on her king-sized bed. And our puppy Chloe discovered that having a tail could be a tempting liability around a lively two year old.
When grandchildren re-fill your house, you are parents once again in every sense of the word. If grandkids have almost daily use of your home, you have to be realistic and change that regal decor into something from Ikea. And let’s not forget the potty training errors, when your entire house starts to smell like a kennel, and Febreze won’t come close to doing the trick.
One thing we Grandmas all agreed on was the joy of seeing the world through the innocent eyes of the next generation. Observing the firehouse from my grandson’s perspective, watching him meet a sheep for the first time, and seeing the look on his face as he tasted his first snowflake sent me into paroxysms of ecstasy. We Grandmas realized that when our children had tasted snowflakes, we’d been harried and tense, our attention divided among myriad stresses of daily work and parenting. But now we are either retired or working a less involved schedule. We have the time and space to empathize with those small wonders experienced by the nervous systems of newbie humans. Those previously tedious remarks like “Where does the moon go during the day?” and “The sky is broken. I can’t see the sun,” now amplify my sense of gratitude for being alive. Today my world is restored to mystery and wonder. Instead of running to Google for a scientific explanation of why the sky is blue, I can now confide in my grandson with total sincerity and satisfaction: “Wow, that’s a cool shade of blue, isn’t it?”