Just over a month ago, my life took a new turn. I became a grandparent, an event long hoped for, though it wasn’t something I readily admitted, even to myself. It certainly was not something to be taken for granted. In fact, my grandson’s eminent arrival caused me a bit of trepidation. He would live so far away, how would he even get to know me? What if he didn’t take to me? Would he cry if I held him? How would being a grandparent affect the activities that otherwise keep me busy and engaged in life? And despite the fact that healthy, happy babies are born every day under less than optimal circumstances, I worried about the actual birth itself, even given the state-of-the-art care that my daughter would receive.
With today’s technology, parents (and even grandparents!) have far greater knowledge about a baby’s development than they did a generation ago. While on vacation in New York last fall, we were able to see the heartbeat of that tiny little speck of new life. Over the coming months, through photographs, we could see the pre-birth infant growing in the womb. And on that miraculous day, the day he was born, when he emerged into the world, he looked exactly as I had imagined – a beautiful, perfect little being.
Being a grandparent has made me something of a different person. I carry around photos on my phone, eager to share with friends and colleagues. “Want to see a picture of my grandson?” I will ask anyone who seems even remotely interested.
“That baby is beautiful!” exclaimed the nurse in the hospital. “All babies are beautiful,” I replied. And for me, it is true. Babies are wondrous things. Next time I retire, I may volunteer as a baby cuddler at one of the local hospitals. But, of course, one’s own grandchild is the most beautiful being in the world.
A recent Perspective piece voiced on KQED radio, one of San Francisco’s NPR local affiliates, contributor Paul Staley summed it up nicely.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. We grandparents can be a bit much. There’s nothing quite like one of us armed with a smartphone full of photos and videos… But we can’t help ourselves. When you hold that child in your arms, a switch goes off inside you. I think we are hardwired to go nuts when our kids have kids of their own. Indifferent grandparents wouldn’t have helped the survival of the species.”
There is something about an infant, especially a grandchild, that turns one’s insides into mush. There is a burst of tenderness and joy, and no small feeling of protectiveness.
References to being a grandparent have been popping up in my reading, listening and viewing. As a baby boomer – and on the early end of the curve, at that –my generation has reached grandparent age and beyond. Until a year ago, boomers were the largest living generation, but now have been surpassed by Millennials (ages 18 – 34), according to Pew Research. And those Millennials are the perfect age to be having children of their own.
But amidst all of this happiness, I remember that infants cry, often for no discernible reason. They are warm, they are dry, they have been fed, and they are loved. So why are they so unhappy? A howling baby can fray the nerves. One of my daughters developed colic when she was about a month old. Her little legs doubled up in pain, and she cried, sometimes for hours. I held her close, even while doing housework or preparing dinner, as she snuggled against me in the carrier against my chest. We walked, we talked, we rocked – and yet still, she was inconsolable. Often it made me cry, as well. It is no easy task, being a parent.
As a grandparent, we already have been through all of this. We know that they, the babies and their parents, will get through this stage, ready to face new challenges. I admire my daughter and son-in-law’s patience, and take comfort in knowing that not only can they can handle the trying times, but also that the love and joy they feel for my grandson far outweighs the sleepless nights, the unhappy infant days and the disrupted meals.
Now he is six weeks old. He is starting to smile. Facetime and text messaging are now everyday occurrences. It is these moments that make me love technology. I am, despite the 3,000 miles between us, a very happy grandparent, with plans to travel often. But again, in the words of Paul Staley, “this is not about us. Quite the contrary. When we hold our newborn grandchild, we are acknowledging and celebrating that life does, and will, go on without us.”
While being a grandparent is awesome, clearly, it is the future that matters.
Note: Grandparent readers, please email me with your thoughts about your experiences as a grandparent!