Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tween Grandma

My mother was 39 when she gave birth to me, and, by the standards of the time, it was a geriatric pregnancy. I grew up surrounded by blue-collar kids who were the products of hastily arranged teen marriages, so my mother was always the oldest mom at any school gathering, even older than the principal. She always seemed to feel her age, and to communicate that discomfort to me. So, knowing how keenly she felt each of the years that separated the two of us, I think it’s something of a blessing that she was at least allowed to get to know my children, if only fleetingly.

On the day she died, my mom was in town, visiting, and had spent her last hours on earth tending to then 7-month-old Mary Katherine, while I was off at a department meeting. I can remember getting home that day, and asking mom if she wanted to go out and run some errands, figuring she was bored from being in the house all day with a baby. She was happy to go along with me – she loved “bumming around,” as she called it – but, instead of being bored, I remember that she was glowing about her granddaughter. One of the last things she said to me was, “She is just the sweetest baby.” And then she laid down where she was and died in my arms, while Emma, age three, watched the whole thing unfold.

Since I was 39 myself when I gave birth to Mary Katherine, I suppose I have a strong sense of that circle coming back around, and I’ve considered the sad possibility that I might not get to see the children my own girls have someday. We speculate together about those kids sometimes – if, for example, by some ironic twist of fate, Emma has only hyper-feminine girly-girls and Mary Katherine is stuck with a passel of unruly boys. (“We’d just trade them,” Emma says matter-of-factly. “We share everything, anyway.”) I offer dire warnings about the type of no-holds-barred Granny I plan to be, with potato chips for breakfast and no discernible bedtimes.

Still, I wonder if any of this will ever come to pass, probably the way a tweeny girl wonders if she’ll ever grow up to become a real-for-true-teenager. Emma insisted, when she was twelve, that she be referred to as a “two teen,” and I suppose I have her same sort of let’s-get-on-with-this anticipation toward grandmothering lately, especially when I have the chance to spend time with my favorite seven-year-old pal, Maren. Of course I’m not her actual grandmother, any more than a 12-year-old Emma was anything like the driver’s-license-carrying, job-holding young woman she is today. But sometimes, it’s nice to pretend that it’s so.

I spent some extended time with Maren over the past few days, and I promise that no cute kid stories are forthcoming, just a quick appreciation of her many marvels. She is, really, something that should be a very ordinary phenomenon and is, in fact, a rarity – a little girl who is being raised by two people who clearly have put the duties of parenting above everything else in their lives – above their own egos, their own pasts or their own need just to lay down for Five Minutes and Stop That Kid from Chattering.

It is obvious, within minutes of spending time with her, how loved she is, and how she can just lean back and relax in that love. As someone who spends volunteer time with children at the crisis nursery, I have grown sadly used to being with kids who cannot, under any circumstances, relax for even a tiny moment, so I can tell you that Maren’s ease – with life, with herself, with others – is a lovely thing to observe.

What is remarkable to me is how comfortable she is in her own (very skinny) skin, which is something I recently got to observe first-hand. Late on Sunday afternoon, when I was running out of fresh ideas for fun new things to do, I suggested that we try a Big Girl Bath and Glamour Time, and promised her free rein in the tub with the Jacuzzi jets. She was wary. She hates loud noises, she told me, but she trusted my vow that I would not run the jets for one second longer than she wanted.

The look of joy that passed over her freckly, gap-toothed face when the bubbly jets connected with her rangy little self – that was a daymaker, let me tell you. For me, to have the chance to hang out on the edge of a tub again -- chatting and shampooing and being careful not to get soap in her eyes and watching when she laid back and let her hair spread in the water just like a real mermaid -- in a way I have not done in a very long time – well, that was enough to make me realize that I really am a Tween Grandmother, ready to move up to that next stage of life that seems so far over the horizon.

For now, I will be content to take this wonderful little girl to some children's theater matinees, or to play Barbies with her on a slow Sunday afternoon. And, perhaps someday, once she’s driving around town and going out with boys and astounding me with her fabulous teenaged self, I’ll be helping Emma’s daughters try on pink ballerina dresses, or letting Mary Katherine’s sons teach me the finer points of ice hockey. And that, my friends, will be a very good thing. 

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