Definition of a Gig: A job that is temporary or has an uncertain future
First, a disclaimer. This is my view though one shared by many of my fellow Grandmothers. It is not, God knows, a widely acknowledged, admitted or maybe even, true for the masses view. So, there is no need for agitation or death threats, it’s just a gimlet-eyed look at this sacred cow.
I am, one of these sacred cows, myself. And since Christopher Hitchens, has left us and Mother Theresa too, I do think having a new myth to chew on is a good thing.
Men, can ignore this. You will probably not relate, since Grandpas, like fathers, are pretty much given a pass about their roles and behaviors. So this is mainly for us ladies of a certain age (Grandmothers do range from 40’s to death). I, myself am 70 (the new 50, they keep saying) but, that doesn’t really help anything but the hawkers of exercise equipment, yoga gear, plastic surgery and manufacturers of really, really depressing products like, ‘Not My Daughter’s Jeans’.
I have been a Grandmother for 19 years, which means my nest was barely vacated before this new role descended. I have six grandchildren ranging in age from 9 to 19. So, I have gone through the Kubler/Ross five stages version of Grandmotherhood. Though she was talking about death, the very opposite of the new life, new chapter, new joy deal associated with GRANNYWORLD, so far I’ve identified seven stages:
STAGE ONE: New Baby Stage, especially the first grandchild stage. A kind of dementia descends. Gurgling, ecstatic madness involving excessive amounts of embarrassing noises, shit-eating gargoyle grin iPhoto’s, compulsive buying of and spending large sums on tiny little, coo-able items of clothing that are all overpriced and often (afterward) cringe-making in how they turn these perfectly dignified and cool little creatures into objects of stranger’s mirth and chuckles. (Picture a 3-week-old in a Patriots jersey or socks made to look like spats.) I mean, what happens to us?
STAGE TWO: A continuation of sorts. This depends on proximity. Grandparents who live down the block, have a different sort of Stage Two than those who live on the opposite coast or more than a car ride away. But, they still share the purchase of items not thought of since the first Nest filled; Crib gear, safety locks, removal of toxic substances from reachable surfaces, sippy cups, apple juice in large quantities, milk in large quantities (vegans and raw food freaks and the like are on their own), booster seats, a variety of smushy, cuddly things and probably a special room (most likely once belonging to the parent of said infant) and an excessive amount of bragging, compulsive photo sending and euphoria. A new reason to live, post-active motherhood, possibly post career glitches, and various disappointments, body changes, and mid-life issues (even without menopause).
STAGE THREE: More may arrive. Add additional versions of Stages One and Two, but now there are logistics, planning get togethers, re-arranging your lives to deal with this very powerful and totally unique and unchartered new role and all the ridiculous Hallmark expectations we have inhaled from Disney movies, the Brady Bunch, endless commercials featuring perfect fake families, Cialis ads, Grandma Moses posters, bullshit articles in women’s magazines, name your poison. And most surprising, how exhausting and confusing it all is.
One question we never seem to ask first. ‘What exactly is a Grandmother? Hmmm. What if I don’t wear aprons, bake cakes from scratch, find endless games of Legos, Go Fish or hours of dealing with a two-year-old having the Carrie version of a tantrum, all that divine?’
What if, I need the aid of the Cartoon Network, Gummy Bears and a bowl full of Cheetos so I can read the paper or lie down and zone out (not to mention, doing something that, well, interests ME. BAD, BAD GRANNY. Booo on you.
A friend of mine, new to this game and starting very late (so add,
not the same energy as when I started almost 20 years ago) who was trying to figure out what boundaries she could set, said to me, “Isn’t this what Grandmothers are supposed to do?” A simple, vulnerable, declarative question most of us never ask even ourselves. She didn’t even feel she had the right to say, “take-out Chinese tonight gang and pizza tomorrow. I’m exhausted.”
STAGE FOUR: This begins when they are no longer adorable munchies, but little people, starting about age 6 and beginning to pass from perfect (every one’s an Einstein with a huge heart and a roll-on-the-floor-hilarious sense of humor) and you begin to see other stuff.
First, comes their not being so totally overcome with joy at our presence (this is the age of social media, with which no granny alive can compete). Second, the realization that when you’re taking care of them, whether for a week or an afternoon, you are shouldering quite a lot of responsibility (they are, after all, NOT OUR children) and one’s children do tend to remind one of this fact if we happen to bite down so hard on the sticks in our mouths we actually choke out an honest opinion about anything to do with THEIR CHILD or how they may or may not be handling something.
But, we really have no authority. This is a hugie. As parents, that was never the issue, unless we raised Throne Dwellers, whose every burp was applauded and whose opinions on all decisions were sought and (this one hurts, NO! was not a word). But I will pass on that group like the vegans or people who buy Prada shoes for two-year-olds.
STAGE FIVE: Hopefully everything we have learned leading up to this point, will emerge in one giant Banana Split of wisdom, self-awareness, acceptance of real life and the power of letting go (with a huge glob of whipped love) and a cherry, or whatever is now present on such deserts, which no one seems to eat anymore, anyway. But gluten-free kiwi cake doesn’t seem to fit the drama of this portal.
This is where we must face the second empty nest syndrome re-formed to exclude our right (as the world sees it) to even feel this loss. Grandchildren have now entered the PHONE IN THE HAND OR FACE at all times, zone, simultaneous with puberty or pending puberty. Grannies are no longer sources of exaltation and adoration. We are now wallpaper. A part of their world, history, security apparatus, source of goodies, dinero, presents and nice vacations, but, well, not really of much further interest.
This is tough. It’s almost as if a curtain just descends and they are on the other side. Eyes glaze when you talk, their center of gravity is Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Selfies, which seem to breed a kind of especially pernicious narcissism and, what used to be SO alive and captivating (talking to them) is now rather like a combo of shoveling snow and twenty questions played with an extremely patronizing questionee. Draining, in the way making small talk with strangers at some awards ceremony or conference is draining.
The fact is, teenagers, even when they were our own, are no more fun for us to talk to than we are to them, most of the time, every once in awhile, there is still the magic of an honest, open-hearted connection, but not enough to keep the rest of whatever is left of our lives on hold for.
STAGE SIX: This is sort of the stage I’m entering, where a lot of flares of awareness and inner conflict about all these roles that we have chosen, start sparking.
I have many friends who have no children but do struggle at this stage with variations of the same issues. I’ve never had one of them express regret about the ‘no child’ choice, the anxiety or second thoughts are always more about the fear of being old and all alone, without a child or grandchild to take care of them.
I happen to be quite good at snapping them out of that Road to Ruin. Outside of the movies (old ones, mainly) or Little House on the Prairie delusions held by fellow Grannies unable to deal with reality, the chances of our kids or grandkids tending us (or of us wanting them to!) especially if we keep living SO FAR PAST OUR EXPIRATION DATES, that even the most selfless and devoted offspring will start hoping for our finish line, are slender.
The idea of having children so they will see you through your decrepitude is sort of like buying a house based on your new lottery ticket. I mean, really? Wrong reason, ladies. I kid my children about my hope they will slow down so I can do a tuck and roll in front of the Assisted Living facility, but, well, you know what Freud said about humor (if you don’t, I think you can figure it out!).
As I watch my second nest empty, I’m keenly aware how I, and most of the women I know, have lived our lives so identified with roles: mother, daughter, sister, friend, wife, grandmother, plus whatever profession we may have and with our over-active super-egos demanding that we live up to all the crap we’ve internalized about what and who we have to be to play these parts not just well, but perfectly (that’s how hard most of us are on ourselves); that when they dissolve as the center of our identities, we can easily be left completely adrift in an enormous sea of self-doubt. We are, after all, also human beings.
So, if motherhood becomes a mantle of certain behaviors, attire, self-sacrifice and, the daily fear of not doing it well enough, then being a GRANDMOTHER is really the last frontier; then the Granny Gown can become a self-fastened straight jacket.
I remember my oldest granddaughter at about age 10 evaluating me on an Easter vacation during which I unwittingly stepped out of my role and emerged in a very modified, but possibly a bit too much boob-exposed bikini, (not a itsy bitsy one, but, not a ‘Not My Daughter’s Jeans’ one, either) and she said, “You’re not supposed to wear that. You’re a Grandmother!”
Exactly my point. Grandmother can feel like the end of ourselves as women not only in the world, (“She was on a date with a much younger man and she’s a GRANDMOTHER!”) but inside.
Some examples of how this is almost totally a girl game. The Good Wife, The Good Mother; The Good Enough Mother, all big books or T.V. shows. Find me a best-seller called, The Good Enough Father or The Good Husband, and I’ll shut up.
STAGE SEVEN: Maybe, in the end, this is exactly where life is meant to lead us anyway, if we’re doing it right. You can’t grab water. Life is mostly a series of choices and, hopefully adventures of all sorts, not just the smiley face ones, but the roller coaster of inner and outer ups and downs, dips and stomach drops, screams and joy and the acquired ability to let go of enough fear and the fantasy of having any control over anything outside of our own undervalued, precious selves.
None of this is new, but for those of us who have played so many “roles” we’ve lost sight of who we were before we had most of them and who we actually are now, after most of them have shifted or ended (parents die, marriages break, children leave, careers decline to name a few) we have a new stage. An exciting, if harrowing, new choice.
Finding the courage to claim and reclaim our individuality and be HER for the duration. I think this, besides being a life and game changer for us, is really the ultimate gift to the people we love the most.
I didn’t really have grandparents, but how wonderful it would have been to have a grandmother who wasn’t playing the part, but was a flowering, big flawed example of an authentic human being. So, that seems to be what this stage is. I know I’ve got two more stages than Kubler Ross, but then, life is far more complicated than death, now, isn’t it?