As I write this, in a nearby room, sleeps about 22 pounds of energy, laughter and joy embodied in our thirteen month old granddaughter. This is our east coast girl and we are enjoying the quiet, after a few hours of entertaining and ministering to the needs of a little one. Hanging out with someone who does not yet use words means there are moments when it is like a game of charades, trying to figure out what has changed her mood, what she is staring at and whether she is tired, hungry or bored with my singing. I know for a fact that my rehearsal for grandparenting was caring for my own children, and sometimes I forgot my lines and my patience was in short supply.
It amazes me that as I grow older my need to be doing “it” right (whatever “it” might be) diminishes exponentially. When someone so little looks up and grins a toothy grin that makes you know you are doing it the way they need or want, it becomes the standard of measure. It doesn’t matter whether you are acting like a fool, or that you are willing to copy any sounds that they utter or crawl around on the floor, it all meets with approval. It doesn’t matter that everything else that used to be important, is put on hold because my FHB and I finally get it….time has accelerated, our kids are adults and these little folks (both our east and west coast girls) are willing and available for loving and experiencing life in this moment with us. Children have no sense of time as that is a concept that it thrust upon them. So every moment is freestanding. The relationship is the connection between moments.
The caretaking is somewhat more daunting, and I am not that sure whether it is because I am older or whether I am more worried about messing up “someone else’s” child. Having the trust of my child to watch his child is a tall order. What I did when I parented many moons ago is less relevant to being consistent in caring the way I am asked to do. It is learning respect for someone else’s system and honoring them for being excellent caretakers, which in the circle of life might just be a reflection of how they were raised. It is actually such an eye opening experience to know that your child is truly a person who can manage to work, and caretake and be a partner and it all works well. They already know more about letting certain things go and emphasizing the critical tasks of being available and present for their children than I knew. It is kind of impressive. There is also the sense that they are truly grateful for our help and participation in their daughter’s life and that it is not taken for granted and assumed. All of a sudden the good manners and acknowledgement that seemed to pass me by during their adolescence, comes back a hundred fold. I like these people. They are kind to us and kind to others.
I had a hard time sitting still when I had a baby. I thought that everything was equal in terms of cleaning, laundry, and childcare. I did little caretaking of myself and questioned how I was doing as a parent. I was a hard critic and concerned that I was juggling all I needed to, the job, the house, and the children and not doing it terribly well. I like the current babysitting gig and know that somehow it has all synthesized itself into a pretty lovely system of checks and balances. I guess the investment of time plus or minus the lack of or increase in life experience, all adds up to a lot of return and drooling kisses. And you can take that to the bank.
This evening, while gathering some paperwork to send out in the “regular” mail, I turned to my FHB and said “I’ll go make a photocopy of the documents”. I heard myself and thought I should look at my feet and see if I am wearing sensible oxford shoes and ankle socks and perhaps a poodle skirt. Sometimes I think I am stuck in a time warp because as much as I consider myself a woman of the 2017s, I revert back to terms that really date me, and not in an attractive way. There are smells of the purple ink of the mimeograph machine that I can conjure up and imagine choking on chalk dust. I still refer to Xerox machines and Mixmasters despite being able to send a copy wirelessly and make some cakes in the Kitchen Aid mixer. Sometimes I say to people, “I left a message on your answering machine” and I get strange looks. They usually remark…”You mean a voicemail?” and I will smile, a sort of sheepish smile.
Many of us grew up in the world of telephone exchanges long before there were area codes. We had two phone numbers in our apartment in Jackson Heights, Queens; one that started off Illinois 8 and the other was Havemeyer 6. I was told that in the towns surrounding and including New Bedford, all you had to do was dial the last five numbers. When is the last time you spoke to an operator? Do they still exist? Is anyone out there worrying about whether our phone calls go through? Probably not. It was comforting to speak to some random woman when you pushed the “O” and she genuinely wanted to help. There’s no more long distance although there are certainly many long distances. It’s just different. Moments where I forget the terminology and lapse back into the venacular of 1962 or thereabouts, I wonder why those words are still so imbedded in my vocabulary, as thought it was my first language. It felt like a connection to where I lived. Our neighborhoods were identified by the exchanges. Folks stayed in one place and your phone number was something that didn’t change and you remembered long after you moved away.
I have a gyro wheel in my office for students to play with while we are talking. They are completely fascinated by the fact that I had that as a child and loved to move the wheel back and forth, no batteries, no wires and a rather simple lesson in movement and flow. They are mesmerized by the motion and often ask if they still make them because it turns out “it is really cool, Miss”. I could play with my Jack In the Box endlessly and time after time, I would jump like it was the first time. Probably a bit weird, right? My FHB and I will often talk about the words our parents said which sounded so wrong when they used them. My father used to say that he felt “uptight” and I remember shuddering and thinking that I will never use that word again and he’d better not talk like that in front of my friends. I was just horrified. I imagine that my children as they were growing up, had similar moments when I embarrassed them by saying something that they felt was their word or expression, and I had no right to use that in conversation. I remember when one of my sons was travelling to South America while he was in college and he said that he would send me pictures of his travels but I had to establish something he called a Facebook account. When I told him that I already had one (this was in 2008), he was adamant that I was doing it to spy on him. What a concept…a parent monitoring their child’s activity or anyone else doing that to people you don’t even know based on information as part of an algorithm. Whoever thought I would understand and use a word like algorithm with appropriate meaning.
I suppose that my current experience is akin to my grandmother’s wanting to see what the inside of an RV looked like or to fly in an airplane since she was born in 1887. So, if a self driving car shows up, I’ll get in, put on my seat belt, hang on, and enjoy the ride.