As a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s, I grew up knowing three of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother and grandfather and my paternal grandmother. While my paternal grandfather passed away when my father was still a toddler, I also was fortunate to grow up having a living great grandmother and three great aunts on that side of the family.
But here’s the rub. None of them lived near me. My parents, who met in San Francisco during World War II, chose to live in the Bay Area, with only one paternal family member in proximity, a great aunt. Childless herself, she lavished attention on us. We were heartbroken to leave her, and she undoubtedly missed us as well, her surrogate grandchildren, as our family took off to live in the Midwest.
How we enjoyed our trips to the dairy farm in Bellingham, Washington, or to the then Aggie college town of Fort Collins, Colorado to visit grandparents. Those journeys, today known as “road trips,” were undertaken in the wee hours of the morning, starting around 2 a.m., and not completed before 24 hours had passed. The one time we spent the night in a motel, it rained, and the water leaked onto the bed. That was that. Future trips were straight drive throughs, with stops only for gas and restrooms. No sightseeing for us! Nevertheless, these trips were a novelty, an adventure, something to be looked forward to.
Nevertheless, in our everyday lives, we lacked extended family. And, as a family that moved to a new location every few years, the friendships of childhood dissipated after a few years’ absence.
Today, separated by thousands of miles from either of our daughters, our son-in-law, and four-month old grandchild, I realize that this separation is no longer unique. I envy my friends who have children and grandchildren within easy proximity, but living on opposite sides of the country is no longer the exception.
My grandson is named after me, after my family name. He is also named for his great grandfather Leo, and for his two paternal grandparents. There is something in his name to please everyone, and to bond us all together. The daily adorable photos and videos of Graham surely are the best thing that ever happened to any of us.
Recently, I called upon readers of “On Being a Grandparent” to share their thoughts about the experience, and several of you recommended that I read Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting. In this important book, long-time CBS broadcast journalist Lesley Stahl investigates this phenomenon of grandparenting, including “that staggering thunderbolt of joy” that accompanies a birth. “Here you rediscover fun and laughing, and reach a level of pure loving you have never felt before.”
Through personal stories, historic and current anecdotes, and interviews with all manner of grandmothers, Stahl guides readers through the many experiences of grandparenting. She explores “granny nannies,” mothers-in-law, grandparents who fill the role of parents once again in their lives, the role of step-grandparents, working grannies, and more.
On Becoming Grandma also enlightened me that the euphoria that I feel when I am with Graham has a physiological base. Oxytocin, the hormone that activates the mothering bond with a newborn, also can be triggered in grandma.
Thank you for the many precious stories that you shared with me about your own grandparenting experiences. My friend Bernadette, grandmother to preschool-aged twins, describes the experience as “expanding her heart.” She has but three rules for them: 1) don’t eat dirt; 2) do not play in traffic; and 3) you can’t be unkind to others. These seem like pretty good life rules to me.
Some of you mentioned the joy of watching your own children grow in their new role as parents. Nancy T. of Honolulu wrote that “being a grandparent offers brand new ways to love and admire your own children as they take on the new and exciting role of parenthood. It provides an opportunity to observe and applaud them anew as they embark on the path of raising a child. For me, pride in my children has taken on larger dimensions and grown exponentially as I witness them handling life’s ups and downs with grace and confidence and caring. For me, that is one of the most amazing blessings of grandparenthood.”
Jim and Carol, Graham’s other grandparents, also commented on the sense of wonder on observing the changing role of one’s own child. “It is like The Lion King, this passing on of responsibility to the next generation,” said Jim. “The video of the first smiles was pure joy. I have tears thinking about it,” wrote Carol, Graham’s grandma “Kiwi.”
“I knew he would have you at hello,” wrote Ed. “I think of what my Grandparents meant to me and that special bond we had until the day they died. They were there to welcome me in the world and I was there to see them on from this world. It will remain one of the most precious relationships I will ever have in my life.”
“Being a grandparent is indeed special–almost indescribable how rewarding and pleasurable it is! I feel very lucky to have two granddaughers. Will be seeing them in about 10 days here in Maine!” wrote fellow blogger, Jean. Jean writes extensively about travel, nature, books, restaurants and more. You can follow her at jauntingjean.com.
Kay shared the following Ogden Nash poem about the firstborn (also quoted in Lesley Stahl’s book):
Stupendous, miraculous, unsurpassed,
A child to stagger and flabbergast,
Bright as a button, sharp as a thorn,
And the only perfect one ever born.
These and additional comments can be found with “On Being a Grandparent,” posted August 2016.
As I write this, I am waiting for my flight back to San Francisco following a visit of 16 days to Brooklyn. Already, I miss that little guy! Those smiles and cuddles are enough to melt the hardest of hearts.
Becoming Grandma by Lesley Stahl