“When I’m tired of them,” other grandparents often beam, “I can just hand them back to their parents.” This always irritated me. I never tire of my grandchildren. If anything, I’m sorry to hand them back and miss the next precious hours of whatever they would be doing next. I’ve brooded over this. Sometimes I think the delight springs from the fact that your own children (usually) have survived and thrived, so you are not weighed down by the dread of a mistake or failure that attends every tiny decision you make as a parent. And it’s not necessarily the satisfaction that they will carry my genes on into the unknowable future; my genes are a rather abstract substance to me, and too many of them have turned out to be crappy (cancer, heart attack, diabetes) for me to dote on them.
No, I can only think that love is its own reward. To own the privilege of having these young creatures in my life, to accompany them as they make staggering daily discoveries, to have an excuse to share the childish happiness of Halloween or autumn leaf piles or a sandy beach. Each of them doubles and triples the amount of life in my life.
Most parents remember that they were immortal in their youth and began to be mortal the moment their children were born. That fear subsided as my children grew to adulthood, only to be replaced by a new spectre after the grandchildren were born. I began to hear the ominous clock of mortality ticking in the background; the more I grew devoted to these infants, the more horrified I became at the thought that I must, in all probability, “check out” before they are grown.
I bargain with the Shadow. “Just let me live till they are bar mitzvahed,” or, as that becomes less likely with my advancing age and the continued production of babies, “just until they’re old enough to remember me.” I don’t care about my genes, but I want my grandchildren always to remember how much they were loved.
copyright 2014 by Michele Landsberg. Excerpted from The M Word: Conversations About Mothering. Edited by Kerry Clare and published by Goose Lane. Gooselane.com