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mother and her baby silhouette, isolated vector symbol

mother and her baby silhouette, isolated vector symbol

Just read a really nice essay by the fiction writer Ben Marcus about great writing — it was about short story writing, but I think it applies to great non-fiction writing, too.  The best, he writes, has a “time-release feature . . . to crack open in the body days later, bleeding out inside us until we start to glow.”

It’s not that I want to HURT people with my descriptions of how it feels to be a grandmother. But I do want to affect them, and I’m not quite getting there in these little snippets.

Sometimes when I hold Peaches and gaze at her mobile, mercurial, perfect little face, when I sit on the back porch with her asleep on my shoulder and listen to her creaks and whistles, I feel a here-and-now peacefulness I don’t get much of these days. But too often I’m also thinking about whether I’m being too intrusive as a grandma, whether Peaches’s parents are enjoying themselves here in my house, whether anyone appreciates the food I’m cooking. I’m cooking so much food, so many times.

Too often, too, I’m finding myself a little wistful about Nutmeg’s happiness — not jealousy, exactly, but a kind of yearning to be right there with her and Southpaw amidst their murmured conversations, myself a young woman again but this time with a husband who is one hundred percent on board with anything I do. Not jealousy, exactly, but something unbecoming and inappropriate anyway. And, let’s face it, something that probably actually IS jut a little bit jealousy.

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speak-no-evil_design (1)Gee, and here I thought we’d all been getting along so well. Nutmeg is finally at the beach with iDaddy and me, having arrived with Southpaw and the delicious Peaches two days ago ,and settling in to the two extra bedrooms we have in the front of the house. (This is exactly why we were happy to have been able to buy this house 5 years ago — for long visits from the grandbabies, who at the time were mere figments of my fevered imagination.) It felt like we had already settled into a nice routine, with iDaddy and me leaving them alone for hours on end so they could do whatever child care things they needed to do, waiting for a full hour without complaint so they could prepare for our first foray to the beach yesterday evening, making elaborate (for us) dinners and letting them head straight to bed afterward without cleaning up (even though they offer — they are sweet kids, after all), serving as eager pairs of arms to hold Peaches as she sleeps. We saw that Nutmeg and Southpaw don’t seem to ever put her down into the bassinet during the day but just walk around with her, or sit with her asleep on their chest, so when Peaches fell asleep on my chest yesterday I just sat with her and relaxed into it, for hours, even though I had work to do and even though I had to pee. Later I checked with Nutmeg and Southpaw to be sure that their hesitation to put her down isn’t out of some sort of baby-rearing philosophy, it was simply because they lovedholding her so much — so now I know that in the future if I really feel a need to put her down I can at least do so without feeling like an interfering grandma.

But today, I was made to feel as though I’m being EXPERIENCED as an interfering grandma after all. At lunch time, as they rummaged through the refrigerator, I announced which leftovers I had already pulled out for them to use to make their lunches. I wasn’t fussing around actually MAKING anything for them; I was eating my own leftover tabbouleh at the time. But Nutmeg chose that moment to tell me, supposedly good-humoredly, that I had a window of one more day, after which I was expected to know that they would have as clear a sense of the refrigerator’s inventory as I did.

As I said, it was said in supposed good humor. And I replied in a sort of good-humored way. But what the fuck? Nutmeg is not usually critical of my behavior — unless it’s something that has bugged her a whole lot more than she lets on in her supposedly good-humored comment. And here I’ve been SO restrained, SO careful about not inserting myself into their routine, SO careful not to grab Peaches from them when I feel like holding her. In fact, I’ve been so restrained that a part of me started to fret last night that maybe they worry that I’m not being grandmotherly ENOUGH.

And what I get instead is a snarky comment about my working too hard to make their lives easier by telling them what food I’ve pulled out of the fridge.

Obviously I should just let this one go, right? And be grateful that they’re here and basically glad to be, and that I get to spend a couple of hours a day cuddling an infant who’s quite wonderful to hold. What I should focus on, instead of the “stop telling us where the food is” comment, is Nutmeg’s comment from earlier today, when she marveled at my comfort holding Peaches at the breakfast table on the back porch. “All I could see from inside was you holding the newspaper,” she said. “And you looked so relaxed I was surprised to see you were actually holding a baby, too.”

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page_001aUr-Momma would probably be horrified if she realized how often I go to school on the mistakes she made 35 years ago. I keep remembering things she did that managed to upset me when I was a new mother, and I actively try not to do those things to Nutmeg.

I’m not even sure HOW she managed to upset me so much, and so often. Back when Meta was a newborn, Ur-Momma and I lived 250 miles apart, and we only spoke by phone on Sundays. That’s a far cry from the constant connection that’s possible with Nutmeg. We live just a subway ride away from each other (okay, it’s an hour-long subway ride, but once you’re on the train it hardly matters). And whenever I’m curious about how Peaches is doing I could, theoretically, just send Nutmeg a text or an email and ask for an update.

But I resist. Partly because Nutmeg is herself so good at texting a couple of photos a day of how the baby’s doing, which helps me get my fix. (How is it, I wonder, that a one-week old infant manages to look so child-like in some of those photos? “It’s all about the open eyes,” texts Nutmeg in reply.) Partly because I don’t want to do what Ur-Momma always did — go straight to asking questions about the most worrisome things, the very things that are probably of some concern to Nutmeg and Southpaw already and that they really don’t need to hear about from me.

It’s not exactly the lesson you want to pass along to your daughter, is it? The lesson always to do the opposite of everything you once did? I hope for a better legacy for myself, to be honest. But maybe one way to get that better legacy is to take the Ur-Momma lesson to heart, and to rein myself in whenever I want, more than anything, to just have a good long chat with one of my kids.

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IMG_0367Not exactly beach reading, with all its dark Norwegian chill and overtones of a scary, domineering father, but nonetheless the first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s massive My Struggle is on my to-do list this summer. It’s slow going — I started several days ago and am still only up to page 57 — but already I’ve found something in it that’s noteworthy enough to want to pull out, write down, and think about.

It’s about what happens to your sense of the meaning of things as you get older, and how the ability to impose sense, or “knowledge,” has as its corollary a speeding-up of the sense of the passage of time. It’s sad, what happens to us as we solidify into adulthood, but I’m starting to think that maybe that’s what’s so wonderful about being around a child, or a grandchild — the slowing down of time again, if you allow yourself to see the world through the child’s eyes. Here’s Knausgaard’s description of what happens to your understanding of the world around you as you gain maturity (page 11, for anyone following along at home):

As your perspective of the world increases not only is the pain it inflicts on you less but also its meaning. Understanding the world requires you to take a certain distance from it. Things that are too small to see with the naked eye, such as molecules and atoms, we magnify. Things that are too large, such as cloud formations, river deltas, constellations, we reduce. At length we bring it within the scope of our senses and we stabilize it with fixer. When it has been fixed we call it knowledge. Throughout our childhood and teenage years, we strive to attain the correct distance to objects and phenomena. We read, we learn, we experience, we make adjustments. Then one day we reach the point where all the necessary distances have been set, all the necessary systems have been put in place. That is when time begins to pick up speed. It no longer meets any obstacles, everything is set, time races through our lives, the days pass by in a flash and before we know what is happening, we are forty, fifty, sixty . . . Meaning requires content, content requires time, time requires resistance. Knowledge is distance, knowledge is stasis and the enemy of meaning. 

I don’t think he means — at least I hope he doesn’t — that knowledge is a bad thing. I think he’s just trying to remind us that it comes at a cost. It’s that stagnation of thought and curiosity, and the paradoxical speeding up of the sense of time passing, that I’m trying to avoid in my sixties and beyond. Maybe Peaches will show me the way.

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images-1And she’s beautiful, with regular features and big soft cheeks and some black curly hair and one of those perfect bows of a baby mouth. And she seems to be even-tempered, too. iDaddy and I drove Nutmeg, Southpaw, and the baby, whom I’m going to give the blog name Peaches, home from the hospital today, and she whimpered a bit and then actually seemed to be able to settle herself, without us needing to pull over on the Brooklyn Bridge and let Nutmeg nurse.

The new parents are both pretty even-tempered themselves, actually. They were that way even throughout the labor, for which I was in attendance. We all got to the hospital at about 7 pm Tuesday night, and Peaches was born at 7:47 on Wednesday morning. The whole 12-hour labor was all kind of quiet and focused — especially after Nutmeg asked for an epidural about an hour in. She had been in labor at home for most of the day and she was tired of it. Post-epidural, the spirit in the room noticeably lightened, and everyone was pretty chirpy throughout. Even during the two hours of pushing, which was hard for her.

It was also great to watch Southpaw through it all. He was completely attuned to Nutmeg and gave her whatever she needed, even if it was just offering a sip of water, or just knowing enough to be silent. And he grimaced whenever she pushed — it was as if he was pushing, too.

Now I’m just trying to figure out how not to get on their nerves!  This is just my own personal hangup — NOTHING they’ve said so far, even in extremis during the labor, has made me think that they’re anything but glad to have me around. I intend to do my damnedest to keep it that way.


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circa 2015

onmywayhome-bhurley10_424x302It seemed a sign of ur-Momma’s loss of cognitive function for her to ask, a couple of months ago in relation to Nutmeg, whether people still give birth these days the way they used to. Um, biology?

But recently it’s started to feel like maybe she was onto something. First Nutmeg informed iDaddy and me that grandparents who expect to spend a lot of time helping care for a newborn (as we do) need to get vaccinated against pertussis with a booster shot whose acronym I keep forgetting (I just checked; it’s tDAP). We dutifully did so. Then she called yesterday with a new concern: she’s been reading that it might not be a good idea for a newborn to fall asleep in a car seat, since she has no head control — which would suggest that her plan to drive down to our house in Delaware for the bulk of July won’t work out.

This would be awfully upsetting — especially if it’s really true what Nutmeg wrote in a note to us after her baby shower, that the sojourn in Delaware would be as much for her own peace of mind as it would be for us. “We are so much less nervous knowing that for all the early worrying and sleepless nights and poop tallying,” she wrote in a hand-written note last month — a note that I have, characteristically, kept,”we’ll have two adoring and competent grandparents nearby, and, should we manage it, even some bourbon on the beach to look forward to.” She signed it from both herself and Southpaw “with love and gratitude.”

So now will some new worry-fest make it impossible for them to make that 4-hour drive south when the baby’s two or three weeks old and has no head or neck control? Nutmeg sent me a text with a photo of the page in the book she was reading that had the brief worry-passage, complete with a line drawing of a newborn strapped in a car seat, its huge head all askew on its tiny body :

Also, the car seat is not a safe place for your baby to snooze in, except for little naps while you’re taking a short car trip. During the first six months of life, a baby’s heavy head can fall forward when she is seated, causing difficulty breathing and asphyxiation.

This is a totally new one on me, the idea that anything mroe than a “little nap” in a car seat will asphyxiate a five- or six-month-old baby. Is this what parental worrying has come to, circa 2015?

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tick tock

alarmclockOh, how I’d love to telephone Nutmeg at the start of every day and just check in to see how she’s feeling. Any twinges or aches or pains now, sweetheart? How about now? Now? I’m a lot more unsettled than she is, wondering when we’re going to really get this baby show on the road. As she so rationally — Nutmeg is nothing if not rational — points out, this is actually the easiest part. She’s not at all impatient about her due date, which is still officially four days away, since she knows that once the baby is delivered, THAT is when her and Southpaw’s lives will truly and completely change.

But I do find it hard to focus or make plans, not knowing when, exactly, I’ll be in the labor room with them instead of at the class I’m teaching, or out for drinks with a friend, or taking a walk, or whatever. My social calendar, which is usually pretty empty anyway, is absolutely and completely empty now. I dare not even buy a theatre ticket.

I’m like Rob Petrie in the Dick Van Dyke Show, who couldn’t understand why his wife Laura was so calm about her impending birth. “The doctor said it could be any day!” Rob cried. “Yes, any day, not any minute,” replied Laura, always so competent and cool. Nutmeg these days is a whole lot like Laura — and I, though in a much less extreme or humorous way, am feeling a lot like Rob.

Maybe I should really be killing time by reading a few books about labor and delivery — or how to swaddle a newborn.

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