I should have been suspicious about it from the start.
It first happened when our daughter, the firstborn of our two children, left for college more than eight years ago. My husband retreated to the couch for what seemed like several weeks, clutching the remote control and staring at the TV, even though it was turned off.
Not me. I headed to a yoga class. Later, a friend told me I looked like a total, neurotic little mess, but I didn’t notice at the time. I was there, wasn’t I? I was functioning, kind of.
It wasn’t until we went to the grocery store for the first time, as a newly reconstituted family of three, that I started acting strangely. For years, I’d been bringing up babies, then toddlers, then children, then teenagers. I was bone-tired. I was particularly tired of babies and toddlers, helpless little creatures who couldn’t fend for themselves, eat, wash, stay out of traffic, what have you. After years of indentured servitude — I mean, motherhood — they had lost their charm for me. I was sure they’d be perfectly nice people once they grew up, started conversations and were toilet-trained; in the meantime, though, I wanted a respite.
Until that year. That was the year I rediscovered babies and toddlers. I found myself walking around Central Market getting all teary-eyed and adoring every time I saw a small being in a safety seat, drooling and looking perfectly irresistible. They were everywhere. I oohed and aahed and complimented their parents, and after a while, was concerned I’d probably get arrested for baby-stalking in the produce section one of these days.
I was just bright enough to realize that the timing of my newfound baby-love wasn’t exactly coincidental. Your firstborn grows up and leaves you, and what do you do? Your hormones (assuming you have a few left ) start surging and screaming for a new supply of babies. They’re wonderful! Sweet! Life-enhancing! It’s not that you want one of them for yourself; nature’s usually taken care of that, anyway. It’s just that you want one in close proximity. A grandchild, say.
Not that your kids are having any of that. God forbid. They’re too young and they’re not married and they don’t want to be tied down yet. Which you understand. But, still.
Over the holiday season, we went to a party where I saw an old friend of mine from law school. She was accompanied by her daughter, son-in-law and first grandchild. We all sat around in a circle, unable to take our eyes off the baby. Mesmerized. A baby’s face, I realized, is as hypnotic as a fire; you can stare at it forever, without ever getting bored or restless. Just stare at it and feel warmed by it, somehow.
“Why didn’t I do that when my kids were young?” asked a friend whose daughter has very young twins. “Why didn’t I spend all my time looking at them — the way I do my grandkids?”
Oh, I don’t know. Probably because days have only 24 hours and we were all breaking our necks trying to get everything done when our kids were little. Probably because that’s what a grandparent is supposed to do: Stare adoringly and forget the clock. If and when I get there, that’s exactly what I’m planning to do.
(copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)