Grandmother School

When my first grandchild was about to be born, colleagues would look me in the eye and tell me I would never be the same after the birth of this child. One went so far as to tell me my office would be floor to ceiling pictures of this child.  I did not believe them. For starters, the best dean I had ever worked for had one grandchild, whom I did not know about until the day she retired, for she never brought this granddaughter up in all our conversations and meetings.  She had one small picture of her granddaughter in her office, but you could only see it if you were sitting at her desk, which one never did.  I aspired to this level of professionalism, having had endured the unpleasant experience of listening to colleagues drone on endlessly about their grandchildren. I never did have those pictures floor to ceiling. However, the day my granddaughter, Elli, visited me on campus, she held my hand as I walked her down the hall from my office to the water fountain. My students stopped and stared at this little blue-eyed blonde-haired angel by my side asking if she was mine…and me, beaming, yes, yes, she is, she’s mine, this is my granddaughter. If I had known a grandchild was this much fun, I would have had one first.

Sometimes, Elli tells me how much she loves something I do with her.  For example, one of her favorite games when we are swimming in the bay is for me to be the “Porpoise for the Princess.”

For this to work, we must be where the water is near the top of my legs and up to almost Elli’s shoulders.  I take a deep breath and lay myself down on the sandy bottom of the bay, and Elli sits on my back, her hands holding onto my bathing suit.  Then, with my hands taking hold of chunks of sand as if I were on a ladder, I drag myself across the bottom of the bay, simultaneously moving my back as if I am doing the butterfly. Elli holds on tight for the ride till she tumbles off my back. The first time Elli and I played this game, Elli told me how much she loved “Porpoise for the Princess.” I explained that I learned how to do that at Grandmother School. Elli eyed me suspiciously. What? You went to Grandmother School? I explained that of course I did, for becoming her grandmother was the most important thing that ever happened to me and I wanted to be a good one.  Elli listened, clearly questioning this tale of mine, but not asking. She chose to believe, as it felt so good to be only four years old but so important. Grandparents can do this; they can sprinkle stardust over the lives of their grandchildren.

My husband and I raised two sons. When we had to decide to have another child or not, I was brutally honest.  If I had another boy, it would be the death of me, for the only women I knew with three sons were by far better quipped for this than me. So, I lived in what I called man-land, and got a female Chesapeake Bay Retriever who was my very best friend through all those years of motherhood in man-land. I attempted to dress my Chessie up once in a while, but she would have none of that. (If you know the breed, you understand.) Then, this little girl, my granddaughter, came into my life.  The two of us love to disappear to the upstairs bathroom where we play hair salon. We brush and comb and clip and braid each other’s hair. We paint our fingernails. We test lip glosses. I dress her up in my best silk scarves to look like a princess from somewhere in the Middle East and Elli poses while I take pictures of her on my iPad that we browse through together to choose the best one.  Honestly, I never knew I had this much girl in me. A grandchild can fill a space in your heart you did not know was empty.

A miracle happens to you when your child’s child is born. A miracle. However, like a lot of other roles we get to play in our lives, don’t let others barge in and tell you how to do it. Be yourself when it is your turn to be a grandparent, for in bringing yourself into your grandparenting, you are destined to success. I learned that in Grandmother School.

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