Monday, July 6, 2015

Getting Ready for Round Four

That wonderful little app on my iPhone popped up the other day with a Time Hop that really took me back.

In it I was anticipating meeting my first granddaughter after having been to a weekend yard sale and purchased some things for the baby whose birth was still about six weeks away.



Has it been that long since I was forty-something grandmother-to-be? Since my daughter and I agreed I would be christened "Mimi" by this first little bundle of joy (although even then I insisted I would respond to whatever she named me, just as my own sweet Ma Mary had when I was the firstborn grandchild)?

Honestly, it feels like a lifetime (and in it has been, E1's anyway) since I became, in E1's naming, Ma.

Just when I thought things would be gearing down a bit this fall with that first little girl heading off to school, my daughter and son-in-law delivered an April Fool's day surprise. "We're pregnant," my son-in-law announced, almost as an afterthought after loading up the girls on April 1 and backing down the drive.

In fact, he did pull back up and didn't get out of the car. There was some fear of violence on my part. He said my daughter made him tell me because she fully expected to be slapped. Perhaps her fear was not without merit. Before number three I had at least been consulted about my plans for the next five years, so it did come as more than a bit of a shock.

It was much like E1, who was a bit of a surprise and perhaps not quite planned. Two came along quicker than anticipated and Three was debated and planned. Four, however, well, I was reduced to tears.

I've had time to come around, but that day another baby wasn't something I wanted in my future.

The mantle of grandmother sits uncomfortably on my shoulders at times.

There are times when I wish my granddaughters could have the grandmother (Ma Mary) that I had. She was plump and well padded and gave the best hugs in the world. There were always vegetables for dinner and something sweet for dessert. If you showed up at an odd time, there were cheese sandwiches to be grilled or a stash of cookies or candy to be delved into. She worked 40 hours a week sewing baby clothes in a local mill, but still had time to make me the world's greatest doll clothes. Her garden with its towering rows of corn and tiers of beans was an adventure. Her house was always spotless and welcoming, the perfect place to watch "Batman" when I was a grade schooler and TV was still black and white and in the den, or lick my adolescent emotional wounds after some school or home drama, or nap while she was more than glad to take on looking after a baby or two when I was a mother myself.

It staggers me sometimes to think that while I was dragged into the status of grandmother still kicking and screaming at 47, Ma became a grandmother when she was a decade younger and was already a great-grandmother at my age. Yet I was still a small child when I complained about her not coloring her hair any more and she hid her beautiful white curls for decades longer. By the time she was the age I am now, I was a teenager on the brink of driving. She was still young in years, but in my eyes already an old lady defined by girdles and big bras, cataracts and home hair coloring.

She's been gone more than a decade, slipping away in her early 80s, her life in those days defined by glaucoma and diabetes, thick glasses and a walker, the fear of falling and the equal dread of being a burden or going to a nursing home.

In many ways her course has defined life for my mother, myself, and to a level already my daughter, as we seem determined to avoid her fate if possible. My mother, now a decade younger than my grandmother when she died, is still small and thanks to a rescue dog adopted last fall, walks every day. She tries to eat good and complains about not having the stamina of her younger days. I'm actively fighting weight gain and muscle loss as well, remembering the things that crippled my beloved grandma.

So while I'm sorry at one level that my granddaughters don't have my grandma, I also wonder about the differences in the role model they are seeing and what that may mean to them. Instead of anticipating middle age as a slow down and slide toward elderly feebleness, they will remember watching me lift weights, do yoga, dance a Zumba routine to a popular song, and swim in a string bikini. What kind of difference will that make in their attitude toward aging? Will it challenge them to stay strong? Will that be a gift that exceeds, or at least equals, the doll clothes and baked goods?

Will my efforts to stay strong mean I'm still able to look after my great grandchildren, even though I'll be at least a decade older when they are born? Will it mean I can still go on the trips with family that my grandmother couldn't take because she couldn't get around? Will it mean the chance to build new and different memories longer in their lives?

The announcement of a fourth grandchild -- another girl if ultrasound is to be believed -- meant trading cars again so that I have room for four car seats (although I stopped short of a mini van with a crossover with third row seating). It also meant rethinking what I'll be doing for in the immediate future and settling myself back into the idea of being Ma, almost as reluctantly as I did the first time. It means that I'll be tied down with a baby again, for a while, and life the next few years won't quite have the rhythm I'd been expecting. I've adjusted to the idea though. The sacrifice of my time and plans is an immeasurable gift as well, both to me and to them as we share time most families don't get the chance to enjoy.

It's helping out with gymnastics, swim and dance classes, doctor and dentist appointments where I almost fill the role of a third parent. It's outings where people sometimes still think I'm their mother (go me!) when we go grocery shopping or take a fun trip to the park or splash pad. It's picking beans and talking about sustainable gardening, discussing the advantages of free range hens, serving venison instead of beef and still cooking vegetables from my own garden. It's the magic of discovery in watching a caterpillar become a butterfly.

And all the lessons and magic repeated again and again for a new little voice and a new set of eyes and ears.

Looking ahead it may be learning to run a chainsaw, shoot a gun, hunt and butcher, and a thousand things that I wish someone had taken the time to teach me, instead of assuming I'd never need to know or somehow absorb by osmosis. It may mean sharing the things I was taught -- gardening and harvesting food, preserving fruits and vegetables, crocheting, sewing, making really good sweet tea and coleslaw.

So this somewhat reluctant grandma is as ready as she can get for round four. She's excited about school for E1, E2 being the big sister most days, and even one more baby to hold. It isn't quite how I expected to spend my 50s when I had a career dashing around the county for the local small daily newspaper, knowing everyone and everything, but all in all, I think it's a better investment of my time.

And I know what I'm doing day to day, even if it isn't bringing home a big paycheck or earning me accolades, ultimately will mean more than anything I ever put on paper.

1 comment:

  1. May I call your attention to my book, Celebrating Grandmothers: grandmothers talk about their lives, which sets out the inner thoughts of 27 very different grandmothers about being a grandmother. Many are very happy, of course, but some talk of their pain in not seeing their grandchildren due to sheer distance or difficult family relationships. The book describes the love, the worrying, the problems of giving advice to one’s children, the role of grandmothers in the family, the changes in family relationships and much more. It is a paperback (available on Amazon and through bookshops) and an e-book. Well reviewed. See for more information and free sample chapters.