“What are they having for supper?” I heard the whisper from across the room. My six-year-old grandson Jacob was trying to decide if he would stay at our house with his big sister Becca, or go home with his mother, our daughter Elizabeth. He’d already nabbed a Little Debbie fig bar from the freezer which he knew I kept stocked with the product at all times.
What does it say about me that I later fed Jacob a Weight Watchers meal, piping hot from the microwave?
What kind of grandmother serves her grandchildren frozen Weight Watchers meals and keeps a stash of fig bars for their snack times? Where is the cookie jar full of homemade oatmeal cookies? The casserole dish of homemade macaroni and cheese?
I pondered my failings as a grandmother while Jacob and Becca spent a few hours playing at my house yesterday.
When my first grandchild was born, I was the mother of a three-month old. Yes, the youngest of my eight children was born just three months before my daughter gave birth to her first child, our first grandchild. I was too busy being mommy to a newborn to ever treat Becca like a granddaughter. Elizabeth and I shopped together all the time with our babies. Our relationship seemed more like that of girlfriends than mother/daughter; not something I regret or begrudge, but unusual nonetheless. At the check-out we’d take turns holding each other’s baby while the other one wrote out a check. Our babies were each other’s best friends, and they remain so today; aunt and niece playing together for hours. The incongruous look on their faces when reminded of their familial relationship says it all. How could Abby be an aunt to Rebecca when they are just little girls? The very notion sends them into fits of giggles.
When Jacob was born, I was the mother of a two-year-old toddler; still too busy as a mother to serve as much of a grandmother. Then Elizabeth and Ben moved from the country house that was less than a mile from our rural Dyersville home to town twenty-five minutes away. I saw less and less of my grandchildren. Our weekly excursions became once a month visits. I was happy to move to the same town four years ago, just one block from my daughter and her husband. I babysat for Becca and Jacob when Elizabeth was in labor with our third grandchild. It was little Joseph, also known as Jo-Jo, who would experience the most grandmotherly actions from me, though I still didn’t hold him as much as one would expect, mostly because I’d been mothering newborns for so many years myself I didn’t have the overwhelming urge to hold a baby again. Frankly, I was glad for the reprieve I was finally experiencing. There were no long, drawn-out sighs at the sight and smell of a newborn’s soft fuzzy head or laments of missing nursing or rocking a baby. I was still too close to having spent the past 25+ years doing the same to miss it at all. I might still be missing out on the best parts of grand parenting if it wasn’t for Jacob’s cancer last year. Due to his lengthy cancer treatment, I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of quality time with Jo-Jo; reading him books, making him lunch, rocking him and holding him for hours one day when he was ill with a fever. While his energy level can quickly zap my own, I have felt blessed to share a time with Jo-Jo that I might not otherwise have had. When he sees me now he calls out “Grandma” with a delight in his voice that thrills me from my toes to my scalp each time I hear it.
But Jacob and I didn’t have that time. Instead, he and his mother spent days at the hospital during his treatment. He and I have even gotten a bit shy around each other. So when he chose to be with us yesterday, despite the fact that I couldn’t assure him I was cooking him anything better than the goulash his mother was serving, I was secretly pleased.
Jacob played happily with the girls for quite a while, and then wandered over to the couch where I was working on my laptop. He picked up some library books that were piled on the cushion near me, and flipped through some of the pages aimlessly. It occurred to me he might like some attention.
“Do you want me to read to you?” He shook his head no, but I wondered again what kind of grandmother I was. Shouldn’t I be reading him a book? Spending some quality time with him?
What kind of grandmother am I?
I continued working on my laptop, thinking about the time my daughter Elizabeth had been complaining about the chores she needed to get done around the house and my granddaughter Rebecca blurted out, “How would you like to be Grandma and have to write all the time?” Even my granddaughter notices I spend a good deal of time writing.
When David turned on the television, I put the laptop aside and sat next to him. While I don’t care for many television programs, David will watch several each evening and I enjoy sitting next to him. Jacob quietly turned the pages of a book for a few minutes, and then got up and brought a blanket to me, silently climbing up onto my lap. I covered him with the blanket and put my arm around him, unsure how to hold him. Would I scare him away if I brought him too close to me? Did he like an arm around his back? Did he want to cuddle, or just sit and watch television? I was disappointed when he jumped off my lap just a few minutes later, bounding back and forth in the living room. Had I held him wrong?
Then I noticed a cartoon animal in the television commercial doing the same thing. “Look, there’s Jacob on television,” I pointed out to David, and Jacob shyly smiled and with a renewed effort, zipped back and forth in the room with a zest that would normally warrant a warning from David to slow down. Instead, my husband reached for my hand and whispered so quietly I almost didn’t hear him, “Just think, a year ago we weren’t sure he was going to make it.” We both watched him take another leap in the air to the chair, and then off again. When the commercial ended, Jacob headed back to my lap, and this time I didn’t hesitate to bring him close and kiss the top of his head. We stayed like that for another half hour, watching television in companionable silence before it was time for them to go home.
What kind of Grandmother am I? One who rarely bakes cookies, never wears an apron, and who feeds her grandchildren the novelty of a microwavable meal in a red box. A grandmother who spends an inordinate amount of time writing and working on her computer.
I’m a grandma who will gladly wrap her grandson in a soft warm blanket and hold him on her lap, reveling in his presence.
That’s the kind of Grandma I am.