May 2016

Grandmother in Training

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Reader discretion advised
If you are a certified, doting, picture toting, diaper-changing, cookie-baking, story-reading mother or grandmother, you may find parts of this story annoying and/or disturbing. Please suspend your disbelief and wait for it at the end.

There lives a woman who (purposely) never birthed a child of her own. (Thank God for “the pill.”) Married to an older man then widowed at a young age, she marries a man who has two delightful teenage daughters from a previous marriage. The man loves his daughters, and the woman loves them, too. She even befriends their mother and makes a point to blend in at family gatherings including school plays, holidays, graduations, funerals and weddings. Settling in to her role as stepmother, she is all set to live happily ever after, when the eldest daughter casts her in a precarious new part: grandmotherhood. I am that woman.

Most of the grandmothers (and step grandmothers) I know have been mothers. And most are madly in love with their grandchildren from day-one. For me, I confess, it was not love at first sight.

It’s a boy!
After a long drive and a sleepless night awaiting the blessed event, when it is finally my turn to take possession of the brand new bundle of joy, I have no clue what to do. I mean no clue. At age 57, much to the astonishment of family and friends, up until now, I never—not once in my life—held a baby. For me, this tiny creature in a yellow knitted cap all swaddled in blue is not a bouncing baby boy, but a strangely fascinating little alien to be observed from a distance. The mere thought of holding him strikes panic in my soul like a fire alarm in the middle of the night. I am, quite honestly, terrified!
“Hold him like you do the cat,” my husband encourages.

“I don’t think so,” I say, trying to support the bobbing head as instructed. Meanwhile, my heart is playing leap frog in my chest while my face goes hot as I eek out my best baby talk. (I have some experience with this from talking to the aforementioned cat.)

I’m pretty sure my new grandson is picking up on my fear and trepidation. He probably doesn’t care that I tossed and turned in my clothes, anticipating his grand arrival. And judging by his kicking and red face, screwed up in pre-tantrum position, I am willing to bet he is every bit as uncomfortable as I am.

One year later
Fast forward to his first birthday. By now, he is crawling, babbling, and exploring. Asked if I could watch him while everyone else goes to set up for the party, I say yes; but I mean, “Are you out of your mind?” Feigning relaxed confidence, I hold my breath for a good hour and a half, praying, “Dear God, please don’t let him pee or poop.” (I don’t know how nor want to learn to change a diaper…) I also pray that he will not pull the television off its stand, eat the dog’s food, or call Siberia on my iPhone—all stunts attempted within the first five minutes.

And then there is the crying. “What?” I ask, as he speaks in tongues. Desperate, I play a guessing game. I offer him his bottle, his “paci,” his toy truck, his plastic hammer. He’s having none of it. I resort to singing. (I have a vague memory of my mother doing that when I was a tiny terror.) I am so far removed from a child’s world that I can’t even recall all the words to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” but I fill in by humming. I bribe him with Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and apple juice. We both survive. Never have I been so happy to hear the jingle of his mother’s keys in the door.

Later in the day, when he is covered from head to toe in blue frosting, I observe his “other” grandmother (the real one with all the official qualifications) along with his two aunts removing his stained shirt and pants, dunking his squirming, sticky little body in a sink full of warm, soapy water and re-dressing him to enjoy the rest of his party. It all seems so natural to them…. Meanwhile, I busy myself collecting empty soda cans and clearing the tables.

The sequel
Grandson number two arrives, 10 days ahead of his due date. I am in the hospital having foot surgery, which may be just a tad less painful than the awkwardness of trying to fit in with the delivery team and assorted relatives. (I swear I did not plan it this way.) But when we connect via FaceTime later that evening and I see that fresh little face staring back at me on screen, I feel a slight tug on my heart that might just be my maternal instinct kicking in, about 40 years too late. Six weeks later, when I finally lay eyes on this little person, I take a deep breath and hold him—sort of like I hold the cat. He is cool with it. Not a wiggle or a cry. I think, “Maybe I can do this.”

Just when I am getting the hang of grandmotherhood, big brother (now I know why they call it the terrible twos) is taking flying leaps and jumping on my relatively new, fairly expensive leather ottoman. He is tearing through the house, looking for anything he can throw or eat that is not supposed to be thrown or eaten. (So much for my motherly instincts.) I want to love him, but I think I am going to cry.
Two hours later, I do. Cry, that is. But not because my grandson is bouncing off the walls. Because I am weary and in pain. Still in a surgery boot, I need to get off my feet. I go upstairs to lie down while the rest of the family continues the visit. And that’s when the miracle occurs.

Awakened from my half-sleep by the patter of little footsteps on the stairs, a pair of soulful brown eyes full of mischief and wonder peer up at me from the side of the bed. “Hoppy,” he says (my newly acquired non-traditional grandmother name). Then two tiny hands hold up a Ziploc baggie of grapes. Having not quite mastered toddler-speak, I struggle to interpret his garbled syllables. But then one word comes out clearly: “Share?” he says, offering me his grapes.

And that is the moment I fall in love.

I still have a lot to learn about being a grandmother, and I suspect I will do better when my grandsons are old enough to go on adventures and carry on conversations with me. I can’t wait to jump the waves with them, ride the merry-go-round at the fair, learn their favorite colors, buy them ice cream cones and hear about their school days. I look forward to seeing them play sports, admiring their art, introducing them to sushi, meeting their prom dates and congratulating them on their future accomplishments.

For now, I am trying to figure out where and how to fit into the picture. But one thing I know for certain: I have an opportunity, a privilege and a responsibility to influence my grandsons’ lives in a positive way. I accept the challenge of teaching them what I know about life, love and happiness. These babies are the men of the future, and I get to be part of their story.

Perhaps it’s not the bloodline that matters, after all, but remembering to share.

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