Saturday, November 9, 2013

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Get Me A Grandbaby. Maybe. -guest author Karin Anderson

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In Utah, I’m old enough to be Clint’s mother. Easy. But I was packing some un-cheerleader-like weight while my high school class was pairing up for early reproduction. The fertile young bucks of my hometown only noticed me when I looked like a stepping stone to my prettier friends. Thus I was granted a few extra years to find my brain before joining the Utah Valley propagation squad.

It took a long time to see this as a “blessing.” I wanted to be pretty and flighty and breathless, but way leads on to way. I finished college and then most of an M.A. before pitching into matrimony with a man who said he liked smart women. And so I produced my first child when I was twenty-seven instead of eighteen, and now at fifty-one I am ogling other people’s adorable grandchildren on Facebook. Nary one of my own on the horizon.

My father, grandmother, and great-grandparents, who are holding me and my sister, respectively.

Part of this is okay. A recent writing student acknowledged me at the end of his beautiful chapbook—possibly because I had been a helpful mentor but more explicitly because he saw me as a “surrogate grandmother” to his baby. Yes, I was crazy about that little guy, but I was shocked. Any epithet with the word “grand” in it bounces off my sense of self like a tennis ball. My sister, a year older than I am, recently showed us the ultrasound of her third grandchild. I felt a twang of envy until I heard “Grandma” fall again from the adorable lips of the two little girls already present. Then I just felt disoriented.

Theoretically, children are supposed to reassure us that, see—in a way, we’re going to live forever!  But, contrarians that they are, kids actually stand as cute but horrifying signals of finitude. I gazed at my sister’s five-year-old granddaughter Lily – shimmering double-projection of her young beautiful parents—quivering with vitality and curiosity and wacky humor, and I plain freaked out. I clearly remember inhabiting this brand-new but very-old planet when I was five—I recall sensations, internal chatter, wonderments and devastations as if they were right here. I remember my sister, now Lily’s grandmother, coming home from kindergarten to repeat her ABC lessons for me in our pretend schoolroom. Memory, for me at least, is not a one-thing-after-another sequence—it’s a super-uncanny simultaneity.  Everything happens at once; time is like sitting on a pile of mattresses stacked higher and higher for an oversensitive princess.

I’m high enough now that I can see it will topple over. Not any minute, I hope, but the same non-time it’s been since I held my first child in my arms until her departure for grad school will mash the next twenty-four years into flat microsecond. I’ll be a wild-eyed toothless gray-haired woman before maybe, just maybe, one of the four kids I trained too well to claim their lives and minds before parenthood will produce a freaking grandbaby for me.

I hope I’m conveying mixed emotions, here. The kid most likely to conjure a grandchild right now is my third—my twenty-year-old son, and I have to shut my mouth daily to keep from re-admonishing that beautiful very young but clearly grown-up man that it’s NOT time to be slipping into a parental situation. Because I’m a realistic sort of mom, I carefully instructed each one of my kids—various genders and orientations alike—on the blunt fundamentals of safe sex. A pregnancy is infinitely better news than an STD, but at a certain age not much less life-altering.

I’m in the uncertain throes of seeing my four kids through another kind of birthing: safe passage from childhood to capable adulthood. My oldest daughter is writing her thesis.  My two sons are in college, and baby-girl caboose will graduate from high school in a few months. Not a baby at all. It’s a big unpredictable future I’m sending them toward. Gorgeous and awful. I’ll only be here for part of it. I’m doing my best to hang in and let go at the same time: this segment of motherhood is about “finishing” the job right. The strange task is ultimately to send my whole purpose for surviving the last quarter century on to their own lives and capacities. 

My sister, who is now a grandmother of two and a half children, and me, probably 1963 or barely 1964.

It’s fun, and thrilling, and frightening for reasons I couldn’t anticipate twenty years ago. It’s at least as exhausting as changing diapers and double-tying little sneakers. Sometimes after a long day of teaching, in a finally quiet interlude on the northbound commuter train, I breathe a minute and pull out my phone to check the day’s messages. Often the names of my children pop up on the screen, electronic signals from the multiple sites and perplexities of their day. But sometimes, no messages at all, because everyone is just fine and absorbed in preoccupations that limn the contours of their own interesting futures. And then I have to stop myself from tracking them down like a can’t-let-go stalkermom.

I swore off sentimentality and nostalgia a long time ago, but once in awhile, I guess, a heady shot can’t hurt. I love this stupid world. Even if I can’t believe that the dead and unborn will be joyously reunited, will live bonded forever in a crystal-bright eternity, I can see that we do live on in helixed waves of human grief and joy and regeneration. The earth that made us shows us that we belong to one another, in all our stunted misdirected glory.

I do realize this is not a good enough reason to pressure my children into providing me with babies to spoil. I admire their lives, their conscientious coming of age in a hard global season. They’ve already experienced plenty of family grief; they may choose other ways to burn their own brief candles. They get to tend their own gardens—that’s the only excuse I have for volunteering them into existence in the first place.

Clint and Melody most likely think their lives will be forever hued in kid-poop brown. And it’s true, in a way. I still wake myself up once in awhile, just in time to avoid cleaning up nightmare baby-diarrhea. Growing up means realizing it’s a permanently shitty world, and it means comprehending why we want it to last.

There could be a dark lining to all of this: maybe I just want my kids to experience, firsthand, how righteous and self-sacrificing their parents were every time we cleaned them up and set them loose to poop and poop again. Maybe the first time I get handed a stinky grandchild I’ll just hand the little bundle right back until she’s all clean and powdery-smelling.
But probably I’ll faint at the vivifying shock of new life on a tired planet, and then give worn-out parents a break and change the diaper. I don’t care where the baby comes from—the genes of my lovely offspring or the rich cache of the larger human race, with all its colors and features and histories. My blond gay son sees a dark-haired daughter in his (“distant, Mom! distant!”) future. My dark-haired straight son seems most intuitively maternal of all my kids—his world will shatter into bright stars as my own did the day he holds his first child in his strong arms. My daughters, understandably, fear the staggering physical transformations of pregnancy. They all question the implications of population and first-world consumption.

Fine, kids. Make your own or make one your own. The next generation is coming, and already here, and already gone to the next. The planet spins on. Somebody needs to get me a baby before I get gone. 

                                                            k anderson, October 2013

Karin Anderson is the mother of four strapping nonparents. English professor: life sentence at Utah Valley University. She is the author of Breach, and has been published in various lit journals, and is a Contributing Editor at Fiddleblack. Pie-maker. Tomato gardener.