My husband, Dave, and I married young – we were only 20 and 18 – and we had four daughters before I turned 25. Our youth put us out of sync with our peers, who’d married later and had younger children. Suddenly, it seemed, in our forties, we found ourselves in good health and, unlike most of our friends, with an empty nest.
While raising our children, Dave and I had both gone to college. I’d finished graduate school and begun writing full-time. Dave had started a new business, which required him to travel to Europe and Asia. So that I could accompany him, I asked for and received permission from my dean at Boston College to teach half my classes online. We worked hard and traveled frequently, often for two or three weeks at a time.
Our lives were busy and full when our eldest daughter, Jen, told us she was having a baby. She was 30, married three years. A year earlier, she’d suffered a heartbreaking miscarriage. I did my best to inject appropriate cheer into my voice. For her sake, I wanted badly to feel elated. But I wasn’t ready to be a granny. Two of my girlfriends had children under the age of ten! Selfish, I know – but deep down, I was crushed.
In my mind, grandmothers were fat and old and they spent their days babysitting and baking cookies for the grandkids. Not a life I was ready to lead! I have no clue where this idea had come from: My mom, whom I’d made a grandmother before she was forty, was beautiful and young. Even now, in their seventies, my parents work full-time and they’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Switzerland and Rome.
No, my vision of grandmotherhood was very different from the life they led. Being a grandmother would stop me in my tracks! To complicate matters, Jen and her husband lived in south Florida. Soon Dave and I would be trading exotic far-flung destinations for heat, humidity, and diaper duty. My life is over, I thought. This is it.
Throughout her pregnancy, I did all I could to support my daughter. I even hung the sonogram on the fridge. But I can’t say I enjoyed the experience. Our friends, about to be grandparents for the first time, await their cherished babies with anticipation and joy. I felt anxious and annoyed – and I hated myself for feeling that way.
The baby-a boy-was due on December 22. On 12/20, Dave and I flew to Florida. Early in her pregnancy, Jen had gained weight quickly. Now she looked radiant and positively gorgeous. The weather lovely and warm, she and I took long walks on the beach. If not for her enormous belly, I might have forgotten why we were there.
On the afternoon of 12/22, her obstetrician decided to induce labor. My stomach churned. I love children and I hoped for grandchildren-someday! Just not now.
Her labor started slowly. We spent several hours with her that night, before returning to her apartment to sneak a few hours sleep. She was still in labor-and exhausted-when we returned to her bedside the next morning. We barely had time for a quick hello before the doctor arrived and shooed us out of the room.
The baby-Samuel David-arrived at 10 that morning. Even as we entered the room, moments after his birth, I felt torn. We’d been such young parents, the early years of our marriage stressful and busy. I wanted time with my husband. I wanted time for myself. Part of me was dying to see the baby; the other part wanted to run.
And then the nurse placed the baby in my arms, still covered with vernix, a waxy substance that looks like cottage cheese, and I was-and still am-blinded by love.
Sam is five now. He has a brother, Matthew, 3, a sister, Alexandra, 14 months, and another sister due in August. Last September, our third daughter, Natalie, gave us a grandson, Griffin. These four-almost five-babies are the light of my life!
Being a grandparent has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. I still work full-time and Dave and I travel, but now the trips that mean the most are those we take to visit the kids. I’m not and never have been much of an athlete, but I can spend hours in the yard with Sam, playing hockey or golf or throwing a baseball. I’m equally happy on the floor with Matthew, playing with his dinosaur puppets. I love to dance with Alexandra and I could spend all day playing with or reading to Griffin.
This is only one chapter in my life; the book is still in progress. But the story has a beginning, a middle and, for me, a surprising epiphany at the end. If I were to write it into a book, I might slow the pace, add detail. Otherwise, I’d tell it exactly as is.