“Why,” said the eyes of the three-year-old with the openness and complete lack of potential judgment that only a child has.
“Why what?” I asked with as much openness and lack of judgment as is possible for a person who has lived a long time, long enough to be a grandmother.
The answer didn’t matter all that much. The question was one of many coming as hail from a relentless rainstorm. The questions were all over the place, not connected, not necessarily important to the young questioner, but designed as a form of communication that would keep us connected all the time, which was so important to him. And just as important to me.
I thought I knew what it would be like to have a grandchild. My own child—old enough to have a kid? It would be new love all over again, the kind of love that is impossible to explain. But different. I had heard the line many already-grandparents often used: you get to see them and love them, but then you get to leave. You don’t have to do the hard work. You can just hand them over.
I thought I knew what to expect. I learned I didn’t know anything. And that statement they all used proved pretty useless. When he arrived in the world, something unexpected happened. We bonded. Not like I expected, on the outer circle of the inner picture that was now my daughter’s and her family’s.
We bonded directly. Like grandmother and grandchild, a bond that felt so strong it made me feel faint and worry that I might collapse to my knees.
He is now three years old, and that bond that was there from the day we met is so strong and so real, it makes you want to understand the bigger picture of everything.
We did not have to get to know each other first, we didn’t even have to like each other first, it was just there. A bond so strong that one has to surrender all doubt in something bigger than what we know and understand.
And with that comes an unbelievable and indescribable sense of vulnerability. Every day, from afar, I wonder if he is okay. I trust his parents and school, of course, but he is always in my heart and thoughts, always.
But there is another layer of vulnerability. When someone new in the world, so closely connected to us, looks at us for the first time with big open eyes and just trusts us, we melt and love our children unconditionally for the rest of our lives. But as we know, there are no training wheels for parenthood, and so every new parent does the best they can.
But as a grandparent, we have a second chance. When someone new in the world, so closely connected to us, looks at us for the first time with big open eyes and just trusts us, we have a chance to remake ourselves. No longer without training wheels, we have a chance to think about who we want to be, who we want this new person to see us as, and what we want to teach this new arrival in the world by who we are.
And that leaves us naked. Exposed. Always observed.
Well then, who are we? Who will we be? How will we be? What will we be?
Self-judgment comes crashing at me like a meteor from outer space.
I can think of few situations in my life of both happy and broken marriages and relationships that have left me as vulnerable as being a grandmother to a new little inhabitant in the world. Every word I say, every action, every decision—matters.
Only this time, I have more time and space to reflect on my words and actions, and this time, I represent a different role than mom. The older, the wise…they say.
Do I want to play now? If I say yes when he asks, he will remember. If I am too busy being a grown-up, he will remember. If I teach him something, he will accept it as the truth no matter what it is because it came from me.
Tiny moments all the time add up to something. The awareness of the meaning of my actions and words in this little man’s life leaves me humble and vulnerable beyond my comprehension.
“My grandmother was…” he will say one day.
Who will I be?