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|Hello, Good-bye - Page 3|
Summer came. They found work and made friends. When Clay was free, we trolled the farmers' markets, and then we whipped up one feast after another. We took spontaneous walks and met for coffee. For the first time in our adult lives, the pressure began to ease. My son and I could spend time together without booking plane tickets months in advance or worrying that we needed to make every second count. One day, when he dropped by the house to pick something up, he looked at me and joked, "Now that we live so close, are we supposed to hug every time we see each other or what?"
As the summer wore on, it began to feel as if we were all biding our time, slogging through the sodden days, our internal compasses set for early August, when the baby was due. I knitted a crib-sized blanket, tried and failed at a tiny sweater, and started on another blanket, resigned to the fact that I could knit only squares and rectangles, nothing that required a shape—and even then, the squares and rectangles were riddled with dropped stitches and gaping holes. But it didn't matter, because for the first time in years I felt whole.
I was going to be a grandmother—in the abstract, a slightly unreal, somewhat ironic, and improbable notion. I didn't fit my own image of a grandmother, spun from Bessie, my nana, who was renowned from one end of Pittsburgh to the other for her melt-in-your-mouth chopped liver. No one ever asked her what she wanted to do with her life, and she certainly never entertained the question herself. She took care of people: her husband, my grandfather; their two children; and later her aging parents, who lived until their deaths with her and Pa in their famously spotless one-bedroom apartment—the shtetl relocated to Squirrel Hill. Nana was permanently on call to take care of her grandchildren, too, all of whom lived nearby. I adored her. She had a salty tongue and a sense of humor that killed—survival tactics, no doubt, that kept her sane after being stoned by the Cossacks at age 6. Everyone adored her for her generous, indomitable spirit—my most prized inheritance. Still, our lives could hardly be more different. Could I, a semireformed hippie writer, rise to the occasion and fill the mythic shoes left behind by Nana?
Motherhood hadn't upended my sense of self the way the prospect of grandmotherhood did. Waltzing through my days with my son on my hip was the most natural thing in the world; the image of Earth Mother fit nicely with my starry-eyed pioneer persona. But becoming a grandmother—both the wonder and implications of it—stopped me in my tracks. Often in the month before Isabelle was born, I caught myself gazing into the mirror, studying my face and body, wondering: is this what a grandmother looks like? How could someone with my history possibly be called Grandma? (The answer is: I couldn't; I became Nonna, the Italian for "grandmother," which to my ear sounds hipper and younger than "grandma.") Still, that's just word play. Unlike mother, which carries with it a sense of urgency, the rush of the all-consuming present tense, grandmother sounds archetypal, ancestral. It evokes a sense of history, of a lineage going back generations, and going forward, too—far beyond me. Comforting. Terrifying!
And though I'm certain that humans throughout history must have felt a jolt of shock as well as joy when they, too, moved up a notch in the life cycle, my sense is that we baby boomers, who cling to our youthful self-image despite mounting evidence to the contrary, may feel the jolt ever so much more acutely. Even if we don't, we're bound to discuss this new stage of life and dissect it so thoroughly that someone listening in from another galaxy might suppose that we're actually inventing grandparenthood.
Which, in a certain sense, we are: more accurately, we're putting our generational stamp on a role that's as ancient and universal as parenthood, but which has changed radically since we were children. In the introduction to Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother (a new book, which I edited), psychologist Mary Pipher writes: "Grandmothers today confront different issues than our grandmothers. Even the look of many contemporary families has changed: there are single-parent daughters, custodial grandchildren, divorced adult children, and blended-family and adopted grandchildren." Now, many same-sex couples are becoming grandparents, too. By comparison, my extended family—with a mere four biological grandparents and two stepgrandparents—is as common as a one-dollar bill.