On Being a Grandmother

How does this happen? This grandma-thing?

My Grandma H. loved me – loved all of her grandchildren. She used to sew toy animals for my sister and me and put them in the mail to us with instructions to stuff them with bread bags. She wrote to me in a letter, “It makes them lite and don’t cost any thing.” I don’t remember ever stuffing them, but Joan was the seamstress, so maybe she did it. A brown elephant for me, a pink one for Joan. A giraffe with crazy black and white designs for Joan, a giraffe with more giraffe-like brown rectangles on a white background for me. My sister outgrew stuffed animals before I did, so they all wound up on my bed, performing dramas and musicals for me and my best friend. Grandma H. loved me a little less when I became old enough to go fishing in pond across the pasture by myself, but not old enough to know it hurt her feelings for us to fish on Sundays. She never held that against the boys, though. She loved them forever. I think she didn’t quite know what to do with the girls.

My Grandma W., on the other hand, thought I was a pain in the neck when, at the age of four, I walked around and around in her living room, following the ovals in her braided rug with my feet as though I was walking a simpleton’s labyrinth. A few years later, she stayed at our house for a summer, and couldn’t bear the laughter coming from my bedroom as my girlfriends and I played goofy games. “Quiet down!” she shouted. It wasn’t until I became old enough to drive to her apartment by myself to sit and chat, look at pictures, and sometimes take her on adventures at Ben Franklin, that we became friends. “We don’t tell each other’s secrets,” she told me. And we didn’t.

My parents adore my children. Mama let me know right up front she thought babies were cute, but she would enjoy them more when they could talk to her – and she did. She and Dad would take them for weekends, but just one at a time, so they could really spoil them. They took Ariel to Williamsburg dressed up as Felicity from Revolutionary War times and treated her to a tea party. They took Robbie to the science museum and stood by proudly as he lectured bystanders on the ability of a snake to unhinge its jaw in order to consume its prey. Now that my children can drive to them, they anticipate their visits and fill my ears with the details of them.

And us? We hunger for our grandchild, who lives as far from us as possible while still being on the mainland. I’ve seen him only once in person, when he was only two weeks old, but I got to snuggle with him on the couch all night so his mama could sleep between nursings. My husband has visited him twice – Sky is his daughter’s son, after all. We are techie grandparents, though. We Skype and FaceTime and Hangout with him and Michelle, making crazy faces and singing his name to the camera on one electronic device or another. He’s 15 months old now, and during our last session, he seemed to realize we weren’t just part of a TV show. He became shy, ran to get his stuffed monkey and then showed off by throwing a ball for us. We’re flying out to see him this weekend, arriving in the middle of the night on Friday and waking up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to rush to Michelle and Hazen’s apartment and smooch his soft, little cheeks. I’m hoping he’ll get used to us quickly, so we can take turns scooping him up and reading to him and crawling around on the floor and being generally dopey over him.

Maybe grandchildren give us another opportunity to get it right. Maybe we latch onto them because they’re likely our last chance. Whatever it is, I have an urge to bake cookies and put my hair in a bun. I’m ready for this.