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Archive for the ‘grandparenting’ Category

IMG_0105_2Ten days in, and hanging out at the beach with Peaches and her parents has turned out to be really sweet and easy. I do hold my tongue occasionally or make myself deliberately scarce — like the previous two days, when Nutmeg’s best friend came to visit with HER brand-new baby, and I thought the two new mothers might have lots they wanted to talk about without me horning in — but generally it’s been really easy to not get on Nutmeg’s nerves at all, and she hands me Peaches to hold and cuddle at least a few times a day.

It’s amazing how slowly things move when there’s a one-month-old around, and when there’s not anything you really must do but get her and her parents enough food and enough sleep. I’m trying to get into that nothing-important-to-do rhythm, which Nutmeg and Southpaw have adopted quite successfully — though I did write a couple of short articles this past week for a little bit of money, mostly to remind myself that while Nutmeg might be on maternity leave, I’m not.

I went to free yoga on the beach a couple of times, but I ended up thinking it might have made my ailing knee (a torn meniscus compilcated by arthritis, or maybe arthritis complicated by a torn meniscus) worse instead of better. Same for bike riding, which I did a few times when we first got here and haven’t done since. I walk some, and swim the equivalent of a couple of laps when we go to the beach at the bay, but by and large exercise has not been high on the activities list. The truth is, I don’t know what HAS been high on the activities list — there are so many things I keep meaning to do, various antique-shopping excursions, going to a picture framer, that kind of thing, but the slow pace of everything here at the house makes me sort of dozey, too. Instead I just do a lot of laundry, a lot of straightening up, and a lot of collecting groceries for and then preparing dinner — for the four of us, usually, but also sometimes (like tonight) also for friends of Nutmeg’s and Southpaw’s. I don’t mind the continual flow of their friends, and their friends’ kids, because one thing I really miss about the old days when Nutmeg and Meta were teenagers is the continual flow of young people into the house. And I do want Nutmeg and Southpaw, even as adults, to keep inviting their friends to stay over, because I want them to think of this house as their home, too.

Most of all I want to keep reminding myself that these are lovely, lazy, summery days, and that I should treasure them.

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mother and her baby silhouette, isolated vector symbol

mother and her baby silhouette, isolated vector symbol

We brought Peaches and her parents home from the hospital a week ago last Friday — a kind of difficult undertaking, actually, since waiting in a car in front of a big-city medical center is a dicey proposition, and it took forever to get Nutmeg the “escort” she apparently neded. And then iDaddy and I stayed for a while, holding Peaches, sitting around the apartment, talking a bit, running out to the local grocery store to buy stuff for lunch and help lay in some supplies for the next couple of days.

When Nutmeg mentioned that my brother Avuncular and his wife were going to come over for a viewing on Sunday afternoon, which was Father’s Day, I promptly invited us over, too. “Sure,” said Nutmeg, with no apparent hesitation. But I spent the next day worrying that I had overstepped, inviting myself over to hang around with this new little family at just the moment when they really would rather not be receiving a lot of company. A bagel brunch for four had become, through my unfiltered “Can we come, too?” a bigger deal, brunch for six. If nothing else, I had moved the venue, with my outburst, from the coffee table to the dining table, with all the extra work that entailed.

As I fussed over how to check in with Nutmeg on Saturday to make sure I hadn’t overstepped, and to give her a chance to un-invite us if she felt that I had, an email pinged into my inbox. “Co-working with Peaches” was the subject line, and the email was addressed to both Meta and me. It read:

If you guys want to come some day this week, either together or separately, to work from here and hang out with Peaches,, you are welcome to! (You might be asked to run an errand or hold her while we run an errand or something. But in exchange you can hang out with her on your chest while she sleeps, which is the best!)

The generosity of that invitation, the willingness it reflected to have me actually be there and be a part of their lives, made me weep. I couldn’t even read it aloud to iDaddy without breaking down.  Naturally, I said yes.

So in addition to a quick Father’s Day visit with iDaddy along with Avuncular and his wife (Nutmeg assured me it was fine; she said she expected we’d bring more food than we ate and clean up more than we dirtied, which is how it unfolded), I got to go back on Wednesday for my “co-working with Peaches” experience. I didn’t get much actual work done that day, but who cares. I helped a little with a couple of chores — grocery run again, mostly — and I did get to hold Peaches on my chest while she slept. Nutmeg is right: it IS “the best.”

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bassinetThere’s something of a sense of unreality to Nutmeg’s preganancy, which I guess is part of what it means to be an expectant grandmother rather than an expectant mother. Even when we saw her this weekend for a baby shower; even when we went up to her apartment and saw the little bassinet they’d set up in the living room with its bunch of teeny tiny gifts lined up in an adorable tableau; even when we went to dinner and I sat next to Nutmeg and was able to feel the baby moving, with an intense sense memory of how it felt to be the one carrying the child rather than the one with her hand on the belly; even with all that, I can’t quite picture what it will mean to have a baby in our lives, a baby crying all night long in our house at the beach, a baby AT the beach with us, wearing the delicious little bathing suit I couldn’t resist buying for the present iDaddy and I brought to the shower. (It was a co-ed shower, very low-key.) Maybe this is what it takes to make it super-clear to me that this is not really MY life that’s changing, it’s THEIRS, Nutmeg’s and Southpaw’s — another pivotal “aha” moment in the ongoing adventures of parenting grown-ups.

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dorothy_parker_kris_hedingWhen you use a Dorothy Parker quote from three generations ago to highlight a phenomenon you’re trying to suggest is something new in this generation, maybe you need to consider whether the phenomenon you’re talking about is actually all that new. That’s the advice I’d give, gratis, to David Brooks, whose New York Times columns are often provocative and interesting but are occasionally a bit smug — especially when he’s talking about his new favorite topic, morality and character-building.

The Dorothy Parker quote in today’s column concerned child-rearing. Americans children aren’t raised, they’re incited,” Parker supposedly said. If it was true then, it’s even truer now, Brooks continued; “a thousand times” more true. Maybe he just had a bad day at the Google quote machine.

His point is one that many others have been making for a long time — and I hope they’re all wrong: that this latest generation of kids is being excessively praised and excessively “honed,” to the point that they feel that the only approval and love they get from their parents is contingent on their performance. Quite apart from the fact that this is an argument that is internally inconsistent — how can you object to parents praising their kids for just being themselves, but also object to them praising their kids only if they show their talent? — I think it’s just plain wrong. I like to read pieces like this in a different way now, with an eye toward imaging what life will be like for my incipient grandchild. I’m afraid that this time, Brooks offered me nothing interesting to think about.

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7Growing up, I was always embarrassed by my mother’s ability to chat up strangers everywhere. But I seem possibly to have become That Woman. Not a lot, but in service to a greater good: information for Nutmeg about baby gear.

An adorable baby and his mother came into the coffee shop where I was working yesterday afternoon, and right away I noticed the brand name of the stroller. It looked nice. I found myself smiling at the baby, because he was so adorable, and I said something about his adorable-ness to his mother as she pulled him out of the stroller and sat down at the table next to me. We got chatting a bit about babies — I told her I was expecting my first grandchild, and she told me that this baby was his grandmother’s THIRTEENTH — and I figured I had to extend the conversation just a tad longer, to find out whether she liked her stroller.

Of course she did. People always like whatever equipment they’re carting around when you ask them about it. (I found the same thing happened when I stopped a guy in the supermarket parking lot to ask if he liked his Toyota Rav 4, the car we were thinking of buying.) I dutifully passed along that info to Nutmeg, and then listened for a while longer as this young mother chatted about returning to her job as a school therapist, hating the job and hating missing James, finding another work arrangement, and on and on. It reminded me how boring and lonely it can be to be a new mother; you glom on to anyone who seems interesed in what you have to say. And then of course, if you’re a certain kind of mother, you find that all you have to talk about is the mothering itself.

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techmeme-tagsWhen Nutmeg and Southpaw announced that they were having a baby — something I was surprised by, since I hadn’t allowed myself even to hope that they’d start trying to get pregnant so soon — just about the first thing they asked was what iDaddy and I wanted to be called. Not having thought much about imminent grandparenting, neither of us had much to say.

On the subway ride home, though, iDaddy came up with a name he liked: Grumpy. It’s funny mostly because he’s such a thoroughly un-grumpy man, even-tempered and kind-hearted and so glass-half-full in his perspective that I often make fun of him and call him Polllyanna. (You might not believe it, but it can be very annoying to be a pessimist living with a perennially sunny guy.) If anyone in our pair should be Grumpy, I told him, it should be me.

But Nutmeg and Southpaw loved it, and Grumpy it will be.

I had some thoughts of my own for what I’d like to be called. If it were to be a name true to something in my nature or my interests, yet also a kind of “grandma” name, how about Grammar? I’m a writer, I love grammar; I can go kind of nuts over a misplaced apostrophe. Or how about Gamma, the kids countered, since the thing I write about is science.

Both of those names sound okay, I guess. But what I really want is a variation of a Grandma word that the baby herself invents, when the time comes. If I managed to avoid getting ahead of things when it came to wondering when Nutmeg and Southpaw might start trying to have a baby, I should be able to avoid getting ahead of things now, when I try to aniticipate what I’m going to be called when that baby finally arrives.

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The recent release of Roger Rosenblatt’s memoir Making Toast reminds me of the first time I encountered his essay of the same title in The New Yorker.  It was December 2008, and the article blew me away.  Roger and his wife Ginny had just encountered that ultimate worst nightmare, the phone call telling you your beloved child was suddenly, inexplicably dead.   And they moved into action, almost wordlessly, to try to plug the gaping hole their daughter’s death left behind — in this case, by closing the door behind them to their house on Long Island, taking a grief-fueled drive down I-95 to Maryland, and moving in with their son-in-law Harris to help him raise his three now-motherless children.  How long are you staying? the oldest of the children, seven-year-old Jessie, asked Rosenblatt the next morning.  And he gave her an answer that has, amazingly, turned out to be true: “Forever.”

Rosenblatt basically said it all in his essay, as far as I’m concerned, and there wasn’t much that I heard in his various interviews about the book that made me yearn to read the longer version.  But the book’s publication did drive me back to the original article.  As the mother of two grown daughters (though not yet anyone’s grandmother), I was struck by one image in particular:

Ginny tells me that when I am away, and she and Harris sit down to their late dinner in the kitchen, her heart breaks for him. “This should be his wife sitting across the table,” she says.

Her heart isn’t only breaking for her son-in-law, of course; it’s breaking for herself.  She yearns for her daughter Amy, dead suddenly at the age of 38 while walking on her treadmill at home, exercise having brought on the explosion of a congenital heart defect no one had known about until it killed her.  Ginny feels the guilt any mother would feel at being alive when her daughter is dead.  And she no doubt feels an extra layer of guilt, too, to be the woman who is now taking care of her daughter’s children, the one who gets to see them grow up.

How complicated it all is.  Ginny and Roger are in so many ways acting selflessly.  But of course it’s not selfless, really; it’s what they could do because they had no other choice.  If they had had the luxury, I suspect, they would instead have screamed, cursed God, crawled into bed and pulled up the covers and permanently withdrawn.  So often I’ve wondered how parents of dead children manage to get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other.  Usually they do it for the sake of the other children; in this case, they’re doing it for the sake of the children of the dead child.  How perverse, though, for Roger and Ginny to be there when their beloved Amy is not.

When Amy’s three children and her husband celebrated the day that would have been Amy’s 39th birthday with a cake and candles, Roger asked five-year-old Sam what he thought his mother would have wished for as she blew the candles out.  “To be alive,” said Sam.

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