Monday, April 16, 2012

Rites of Passage: Becoming Grandma

We look forward to them--those watershed moments by which we judge how we’ve grown and changed. A first is becoming an all-day student; another is numbering our age in double-digits. Next comes the new name: teen. We are no longer the child, the kid, adolescent, little one, or “Hey, you!” We are a teen, one among those of a new generation: Baby Boomer, X, Y, or Millenium.

At sixteen, we can claim more independence if we qualify for a driving permit; thereafter, incrementally, we become more and more able: able to drive alone at night, able to hold a part-time job, able to buy a ticket for a movie rated “R” without an adult nearby. At eighteen, we can sign contracts and get ourselves into all kinds of weighty trouble if we have not learned to go slowly, accept advice, and work hard.

Finally, we enter our twenties, and most of us, toward the end of that decade, have married or begin to panic about marriage. Many who marry in their twenties spend time together, traveling, building equity in homes, and adding titles to their résumés before beginning the life-altering, forever-after family.

Those of us who have gone ahead zip our lips and summon great sympathy for parents-to-be. We know that they wouldn’t believe us if we tried to tell them how much their lives will change. Oh, they might listen politely while still believing that they alone will manage the changes better than all the rest of us. They tell themselves that

§  They will never be too tired for “date night;”
§  They will never pretend to be asleep in the hope that their partner will rise and change that diaper;
§  They will never be the parent with a child screaming and wailing about being confined to the kiddie seat in a grocery cart;
§  They will never be the parent of a toddler who throws himself on the linoleum when he hears “no” in relation to some cheap toy or piece of candy;
§  They are wiser, more patient, and the greatest multi-taskers ever to walk this earth.

Parents everywhere know that there are few things more humbling or exasperating than parenting. They also know that there is little else on this earth that they can love so completely and selflessly. Parents-to-be will discover these truths just as we did: one stumbling, exhausting day at a time.

Now, however, I am about to experience another rite of passage: I am about to become a grandparent. And I enter this phase as blindly as I entered all the others. Others who have gone before me tell me that “there’s just something special,” that “there’s nothing like it.” They ask me if I’m excited, if I’m going to move closer to be near her, and I answer “Yes, I’m excited,” and “No, I don’t plan to move soon” because truly, I don’t know what this next rite of passage will bring any more than I knew what all the others would bring.

As with other rites of passage, I’m sure some aspects of being a grandparent are sobering, even frightening. Remember when you earned your driver’s license and stood a little taller? Then you realized how much responsibility that little plastic license represents. You held a weapon of mass destruction beneath you and arriving safely with all fenders and limbs intact was up to you--to how well you paid attention, to how well you obeyed the rules of the road. Well, grand-parenting carries tremendous responsibility, too. You are a role model, a safe haven, and a fine playmate charged with protecting every molecule of that precious life. You must be your absolute best self, never letting your focus fade or your attention lapse.

Still, I think the miracle of life will outweigh every sobering, frightening aspect of grand-parenting. A grandchild is life asserting itself, hope reborn, and a promise of futures untold. As we age, we celebrate youth through that child, knowing that we must let go and leave this world to them, trusting that they are capable and wondrous.

Yes, I believe I’ll enjoy this next rite of passage, one of the last I’ll face, but I’ll remember fondly my passage and my dear child’s passage through that grandchild, and those will be fine memories indeed.