That little one, of downy hair and milky breath, wrapped in a bunting, is not mine.
Although I drip sporadic, happy tears when holding him to my chest, he did not emerge from my womb. When he cries, I cannot feed him. Yet, he is my blood and he is my kin. He looks like at least one other that I birthed as he is my daughter’s son.
Before that rare angel joined our world, I understood “grandma” to be the province of old people. Parents’ parents were, in my uneducated esteem, folks who brought all manners of shiny things to nurseries. Maybe, as well, they made pots of soup for their own offspring. Always, in my imagination, though, they reserved the best portions of their resources for their shoots’ shoots.
My reality contrasts to the universe of grandparenting that I had anticipated.
When I kiss the soft cheeks or sleepy eyes of our family’s youngest child, of that boy who feels so much like my own, I am bestowing a ‘grandma’s’ love. When I visit his home and rock him or sing soft words in his direction, then, too, I am swelling with a ‘grandma’s’ sentiment. However, during those sweet moments, to my surprise, I do not remain focused on that innocent, but on his mother. One can’t outgrow the role of daughter.
Sure, when I swing by, I bring along packages of wipes and of diapers, ask after the little one’ sleeping habits and inquire about his frequency of feeds. Likewise, I appreciate every single minute that I get to cuddle him.
Nonetheless, it is his mama that I attempt to nurture. Her postpartum healing is my worry. Her lack of sleep is my pain. Her hunger fills my cooler. Accordingly, I transport baked barley, stir-fried tofu, steamed salads, and, of course, soup, for my dear vegetarian. Sometime, if there are a few inches left, I pack goodies for her husband, too.
After my visits, my child emails me entire collections of baby pictures. Hers is the generation of digital cameras and instant sharing. Hers is the most precious baby in the entire cosmos.
I email back thanks along with questions. Did her local Le Leche League leader address her pumping concerns? How is her postpartum discharge? Does she suffer engorgement during baby’s growth spurts? Who cooks for her when I’m not there?
My grandson gets bigger. His legs begin to fill his pajamas. He remains awake for longer spans. Ceiling fixtures fascinate him. It is probable, now, that his eyes will stay blue, like his mother’s.
My child matures, too. She eschews baby complicated apparati, which only a week or two ago caught her favor. She points, proudly, to the single mat changing surface she employs and to the fabric with which she binds her baby to her. Cocooning, she announces, as if she has discovered a continent or a remedy for a dreaded illness, is good for both mommy and baby. What’s more, she’s becoming expert at expressing milk. Slowly, she is banking it in her freezer against the time when her maternity leave is over.
When I run into my daughter’s friends, in the city, or at celebrations, I encourage them to call her. I suggest to distant relative that they post her baby books or easy readers since there are only so many onesies or stylish infant clothes that a single baby can wear. I urge her only sister, my other daughter, to take the train and make a visit.
From far away, I send my oldest child cartoons featuring parenting foibles. I forward her photos of llamas, alpacas and cats, her animal besties. I link her to financial guides and to strategies for integrating work and parenting. I email her funny YouTube pages and other forms of electronic ‘smiles’.
I bite my tongue. Though I offer up suggestions about the nutritional needs of nursing moms, I say little when she tells me she opted for white rice instead of quinoa. I tell her how I fed her on demand, and nevertheless silence myself when I hear her baby whimper before she cradles him. I encourage her to consider cutting back on her working hours when she returns, yet nod to my keyboard when she insists on her fanciful aspirations for layering her life.
My grandson’s skin is soft. His cutest zip suit has bear cub ears. He is so young that his smiles are still formed from gas.
My firstborn child recently gave birth to a baby. Unlike her toddler years, when she’d walk in my oversized shoes; her preschool years, when she’d slide headfirst on play equipment; her school years, when she needed guidance against bullying; her teen years, when she needed scaffolding to be herself; her college years, when we shared tearful nights discussing boys that courted her, this newest span of my daughter’s development sends me to friends and authorities for counsel.
You see, when my daughter became a new parent, I became a grandmom.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem