It’s been a few years since I wrote my last “Feminine Genius” column, and I’d have to say a lot has changed since then.
For one thing, I am now the ranking senior mom in first grade — not just in my son’s class, but probably in the whole school. And we’ve officially given away all the remaining baby gear we’d been hanging on to — this time for good.
My life has changed so much, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I’m breaking at least one “Truth in Advertising” law by running the photo at right.
But the biggest change by far is that, as of 2016, I am now a grandmother! And as many of you know, life will never be the same.
Now, one might reasonably assume that, having had eight kids of my own, the grandmother gig would come as easily as falling off a log — that my new grandson, immediately sensing my advanced maternal capabilities, would trust me implicitly. One might reasonably think that, and one would be completely wrong.
The reality is that, even though I was present for his birth and have always lived within a 20-minute drive of his house, I have had to work hard to earn my grandson’s trust.
For example, the first time we babysat while his parents left for a night out, he was about a year old and in the throes of teething. As soon as he realized that his parents had left, anxiety set in and he started to whimper. I had a sinking feeling that we were in for a long evening.
Remembering that my daughter had mentioned the name of his new favorite movie, I jumped in the car and sped off to Wal-Mart to pick up a copy; I think you can still see the skid marks on the driveway.
The movie did help to calm him down a bit, but the only one who seemed to truly be able to comfort him was my 10-year-old daughter. So he sat on her lap while I worked the remote from a safe distance. We watched the entire movie — including all the bonus features — at least twice. Meanwhile, I was counting the minutes until my daughter and her husband got back.
As my grandson grew into a toddler, he gradually became more comfortable around me and didn’t mind being left in our care. But I still got the distinct impression he regarded me as sort of an amiable prison warden — not really a friend but someone he had to play ball with if he wanted to get to the milk and cookies.
In addition to shaking my confidence a bit, the whole experience has caused me to reflect on just what God is asking of me during this phase of my life.
True, with a seven-year-old at home, I’m quite a ways away from being an empty nester. But as my friends and I embark on this 50-something decade, it can be easy to rest on our laurels and think we have attained some type of permanent status.
For the past 25 years or so, I’ve exercised the authority of parent, however imperfectly, because that’s what was best for my children. But that authority stemmed from my vocation as a mother, not from any inherent knowledge, goodness or virtue on my part, and it came with an expiration date.
To everyone else, I’m the same person, with the same defects and shortcomings, that I’ve always been — only a little more humble because of all the times that my efforts have so obviously come up short.
My grandson’s birth has taught me that the best thing any of us can do is to struggle to meet the needs of the people in front of us right at this moment, regardless of anything we might have been or done in the past. Trying to forge and keep up an identity based on our professional status, life experience or past achievements is a fool’s errand. It’s especially so when it comes to dealing with kids, because they weren’t around to witness our glory days, and none of that matters to them anyway. What does matter is the love we are able to give in the present.
So yes, I’ve learned a few things in the last couple of years, like how to keep my grandson’s favorite juice on hand in case he visits. And it’s paid off. The other day, he was standing in the kitchen while I grabbed a bag of garbage and carried it out to the garage. He followed me to the door, and in the cutest two-year-old voice, asked, “Whatcha doin, grandma?” Pure gold, I tell you, pure gold.
(Veronica Ambuul is editor of The Colorado Catholic Herald.)