Sunday, October 6, 2013

An uneasy transition

I was never one of those mothers who started dreaming of the pitter patter of little feet as soon as I sent my daughter down the aisle. It's as simple as that.

When my daughter called to give me the downright shocking news that she was pregnant -- well I knew she had sex for gosh sakes, but really! -- I was totally unprepared for a new role in life. My poor daughter thought I was less than ecstatic. Frankly, I was in shock. There was no good way to explain it to her.

Seriously, I was working 45 or more hours a week as a journalist on the crime/county government beat in a world where a good pair of legs still counted for something, like it or not. I drove a convertible, kept in shape and had my shoulder-length hair highlighted to cover up the silver strands creeping in. I took care of dogs as a sideline that gave me an excuse to get out and walk. I didn't feel like a grandmother, a granny, a nanny, a mimi, or any of those terms. Adjusting my perspective was going to take time.

Never mind that at my age my mom had been a grandmother to my daughter for about five years, and my arrival turned her mom into a grandmother before she turned 40. Still, pushing 50 with an ever shortening stick I hadn't given any thought to being a grandmother.

Suddenly, like a stork dropping an unexpected baby down the chimney, that had to change. Theoretically I had nine months to get used to the idea.

Then my self-image took another shot a few short weeks later. The collapsing economy meant cutbacks and my 25-year career in a field I loved came to a crashing halt. Eased by unemployment and a series of part-time jobs, I gradually accepted that not only would I become a grandmother, it made sense for me to keep the as yet unborn child because childcare was outrageous.

Now before you embrace this idea as logical and ideal let me tell you I don't like babies. I barely tolerated my own and had it not been for leaving them with a sitter and rushing back to work when they were six weeks old, I'm not sure any of us would have survived. I loved them, but I didn't do well with them until they were older. Give me a mobile child any day, but even then only for a limited amount of time. Perhaps I was missing some maternal instinct. My memories of my children's infancy are cloaked in remembered fits of crying (theirs and mine), sleepless nights, exhaustion, and eventually the ending of the marriage that produced them.

So it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I faced becoming not only a grandmother, but a bit of a nanny as well to my granddaughter when she arrived.

Then there was the issue of what to call me. Heck, I'd never given it any thought, but apparently lots of women have. Her paternal grandmother quickly snatched up Nanny as the name she desired. My daughter suggested Mimi and Papi for her stepdad. I was of the opinion I'd probably answer to whatever reasonable name she called me, but accepted Mimi as what I would be called.

When the big day arrived, or actually the long night followed by the blessed event, the arrival of the anticipated baby was much as I'd expected. There was no magical connection. My strongest connection was still with the new mother holding the baby, who looked much like she'd just come through a bad fight. I was, ready or not, a grandmother.

But I still didn't feel a lot like one. Not even a few weeks later when my daughter returned to work and I was left with the little bundle of joy sleeping on my chest. Or even nine months later, when I learned that number two was on the way and it would be double the fun. Soon there was a toddler and an infant occupying my home like a pair of hostage-taking munchkins. Days revolved around their schedules, their illnesses, their dirty diapers, helping out on doctor's appointments. My daughter wanted to have a third and I still wasn't sure about the first two. No, that's not right. I loved and adored them, but I didn't feel like a grandmother. Not really.

Somewhere along the way, however, E1 started to talk. And ignoring the fact that I'd been called Mimi ever since her birth, she christened me "Ma." Suddenly my whole perspective shifted, not the least in part because that was what I had named my maternal grandmother and I knew how much I loved her and how that affection was returned. I embraced the less than snazzy name whole heartedly.

And I realized that I felt like a grandmother after all. That it didn't mean old lady clothes, bee hive hair, orthopedic shoes, or buying expensive gifts and never saying no. It came from the shout of joy from a little girl's lips when she popped out of her car seat. It came from falling in love.

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