I was never one of those hovering, anxious mothers, but I was always connected and sure in relationship to my daughter. Then she got married, and I learned the growing pains of being a mother.
At first I struggled to accept that there was someone in her life who would come to be more important than her mother. Eventually, I relaxed. There was a brief respite when I was secure in the knowledge that someone fairly competent had her back. I liked him. I took cues from her so as not to be intrusive. I let her set boundaries and supported her choices.
Then she got pregnant.
After four days of drama, not a little fear and anxiety, and a last-minute cesarean, I sat in the waiting room late one night, with various family members and the other grandparents. I looked at the clock. It was six minutes before midnight. I walked to the area outside the OR in time to see my son-in-law slowly wheeling a tiny trolley. There, sleeping on his side, was a little boy with a thatch of thick black hair. This was magic of the best kind.
Immediately it all came back:
How small they are, how helpless. How you tend to move slowly and speak quietly around them, and stare, and melt when they hold your finger or look at you.
As the days passed, my role changed again. I became an expert, elevated to new status by a previously highly self-assured daughter who, like everyone in her position, found herself in a foreign world. I desperately tried to remember what worked, so I could be a wise parent. There was a powerful bond between this newborn and me. And after a short period of initial awkwardness, I handled him with an authority his mother did not yet have. I could put him to sleep, make him smile. I assured my daughter it would all become second nature; after a week of changing diapers, you become adept. Baby-care skills, long dormant, came to life again from somewhere deep inside me.But, as devoted as I was to this baby, something was different.
“At some point, I went home. And left him with his mom. It felt strange. I was not in charge. I was also not ultimately responsible.”
But, as devoted as I was to this baby, something was different. At some point, I went home. And left him with his mom. It felt strange. I was not in charge. I was also not ultimately responsible.
It was a slow transformation, a series of moments, as I realized I would have a relationship with this child unlike any I’d ever had. He felt like mine, but he wasn’t. It was something else. She is mine, and he is hers; yet he is also mine.
I was confused. I needed another perspective. It came one day when my daughter called to say the baby had been up all night, crying. She was exhausted. I realized that although I felt bad for her, I was happy that it was her and not me who was exhausted. Something in me let go. I took a step back and relinquished the reins. It was a quiet ceremony, taking place only in my heart, but no less profound for the lack of trumpets.
I understand now that being a parent isn’t a one-size-fits-all garment; that I had been letting out seams, and raising and lowering hems for years in an attempt to accommodate and grow along with my child. Children do change, and grow, and so must our relationship to them. We are wanted and, yes, needed, but like the gantry that supports a rocket until it blasts free, into space, it isn’t our flight.
You can’t always see the road ahead, but when you glance back, it all seems divinely logical.
Three and a half years later, my grandson runs up the steps to my house, with a tough, sweet toddler sister struggling to keep up with him. These children are more precious to me than I would have ever imagined. And they have transformed me into their grandma. I know who I am to them, where I fit. And I am happy and privileged to have a place in their hearts.
Read about Mary Traina.