My Friends Knew Better
There’s nothing like it,” my friends began saying. “Nothing in the world!” They weren’t talking kale or cilantro. Or the season’s best read. They were talking grandchildren. Yes, grandchildren. “Just wait,” they’d say, smug with a knowledge that admittedly I didn’t possess.
I did have 63 combined years of parenting my now-adult children. That’s more than a fleeting familiarity with being utterly smitten-drunk in love with my babies. I know the elation of that slew of firsts — smiles, hugs, laughs, raspberries, teeth, steps. I can revisit the highs of hearing my kids’ first words because I still have the journals recording their mamas, dadas, I wuv ooos and nos! How much more love could my heart generate? Or need to?
And then Olivia was born. My friends were right. Each and every one. There is nothing like it. Nothing in the world. Olivia disappears time. I am with her and the world drops away. I watch her, love her, play with her fully in the now. Forget meditation. Forget mindfulness practice and yin yoga. When I am with Olivia, I am alive within every moment as if as newly arrived as she is. Whether we’re rolling a ball down an improvised slide, or clapping hands, or trying to catch a ribbon of water as it falls from the spout at bath time, that’s all that exists. In tandem we discover the world — a magical universe of unfurling surprises.
My heart has no assignment but to love. It isn’t obsessed with schedules or deadlines. It doesn’t future-fret about college or carpools. It neither second guesses me nor sinks in the face of newbie insecurities. There’s no obsession over milestones. Olivia’s teeth will come in when they are ready to emerge. She will crawl when she’s ready to locomote. She will speak when speech clicks for her. She will walk when crawling no longer serves her. While those milestones wait in the wings, all I am called upon to do is love this delicious sweet bundle of squeals and grins, luscious wrinkles and dreamy softness.
As a new parent, I glommed onto something Mr. Rogers said about becoming a parent giving you a second crack at your own childhood. I well nigh engraved that one upon my heart. My kids and I delighted in bugs and bunnies. We read endlessly. We danced in the rain and played dress up. With the help of wise therapists I healed childhood traumas, striving to become the kind of parent my children deserved to have. Rain puddles aside, my reality never wavered — I was first and foremost a parent.
My job was to guide and discipline, to role model the kind of people I hoped my children would become. I traveled a road much taken yet one not infrequently marked by uncertainty, fear, delight, passion, confidence and self-doubt. Somehow, we all made it through.
In those early years, I wrote in my journal, “Oh, I just wish I could have perspective. I just want to know it will all be OK!” Such innocent and impossible yearnings. For perspective belongs to the time-weathered. Perspective now lies gently in my hand, the same hand that once gripped a pen as if it were a magic wand, as if inking a mere word on a page could manifest it into my life.
I have joined that club my friends so lovingly and smugly knew would change my life and I have no idea if it will all be OK. We have escaped many sorrows; others rained down upon us and upon our children. Today, we prevail. Tomorrow, who knows? But in this moment, everything is OK. Unfettered by the worries that forest the landscape of parenthood, I simply witness and cherish each of Olivia’s moments.
Mr. Rogers was right. Becoming a parent gives you a second crack at childhood. What he didn’t say was that becoming a grandparent gives you a second crack at parenthood. Becoming a grandparent allows you to walk beside the young mother still within you, healing her and praising her, comforting her and celebrating her and sometimes, when the moment is right, gently and respectfully sharing her hard-fought wisdom with the generation now coming up. Nothing beats that. Not even kale.
This essay originally appeared in the Detroit Jewish News, 3/22/18, a My Friends Were Right.