For Seniors : Becoming a Grandmother Gracefully

A year ago my daughter, Julia Rose, gave birth to her daughter, Kaya Raven. The standard grandmother line is that having a grandchild is all the fun and none of the worry of rearing your own children. That's half true.

The baby arrived at a time in my life when I no longer worried about my own children. My son, Jason, was putting himself through law school. My daughter was living a minimalist life in Santa Cruz, where everyone is so "radical" that there's something common about being different.

I knew Julia would raise her daughter differently when she told me she would deliver her child at home with the assistance of midwives. I was in awe, and I worried.

The baby was healthy and alert but small. I worried. There were to be no inoculations. I really worried about that. I asked questions. I listened to the rationale. I had nightmares. Kaya's a vegetarian like her parents. I worried. I read books. I wanted to give her a lamb chop. I got over it. She sleeps in the same bed with her parents, has no feeding or sleeping schedules. And no disposable diapers--they're bad for Planet Earth.

As a mother, one question governed my child-rearing. What kind of an adult do I envision this child becoming? But, now, I am the grandmother. I have raised my child to be an adult and I'm pleased with the result. How can I not embrace her as a mother?

I visit. Julia asks me to watch the baby while she does an errand. I sing to her. I've forgotten most of the words of every song in my limited repertoire. I ad-lib words to the opera "Carmen," making myself laugh. We swing on a hammock and nursery rhymes start coming back. She falls asleep in my arms. It feels natural to hold her and even more natural to hand her off to her mother.

Another visit. I drive up with a high chair, a playpen, a rocking chair strapped to the roof, and two shopping bags filled with imported baby clothes. Kaya sits between her mother and me for dinner. Very civilized. She turns and looks at me straight in the eyes with a look so penetrating it sends me back 27 years to when it was her mother's big, wonderful eyes that took me in, trying to figure out who is this person and how does she figure in my life?

She keeps her gaze and I look right back. I'm hers. It's sealed forever. In that moment, I know it's beyond vegetarianism or being home-schooled or whatever else her mother decides is best for her daughter.

They come to visit me. I always had an image of what visiting with grandma would be about. In my fantasy, there's a rambling, charming house in the country with a wide, wraparound porch. I stand in the doorway with open arms welcoming everyone. There would be a dormitory room for the grandkids and a guest house for their parents. We would all live happily ever after eating homemade sugar cookies in front of a roaring fire after returning from picking wildflowers in the woods.

If I had all that I would have missed the three of us sleeping in the same bed in a one-bedroom apartment in Beverly Hills and being awakened at 4 a.m. with a tiny finger examining my lower teeth. I would have missed the bath we took together and the first wet, soapy kiss she planted on my mouth.

Kaya is mischievous and full of fun. She's demanding and tenacious. People automatically smile when they see her and invariably exclaim, "What a happy baby!" It happens so often that I wonder if a happy baby is a rarity nowadays. Strangers tell Julia she's lucky and we look at each other. "Luck?" she says. "There's nothing lucky about having a happy baby."

The first time I saw Kaya fall and hurt herself I had to leave the room. When I returned, I said to her through my tears, "Grandma's all right now." My daughter and I laughed. Now, whenever Kaya hurts herself, my daughter asks, "Is Grandma OK?"

I get this divine pleasure from pushing her in the stroller and showing her off to my colleagues. One time she came to the office waving this blackish, floppy mess in her hand. "It's seaweed, her favorite snack," I say to the journalists gathered around. "I'm eating the zwieback and Arrowroot cookies."

I dream of the day when Julia will let me take Kaya to New York City. We'll get dressed up and go to the ballet at Lincoln Center just like I did with her mother. We'll bring roses with us and throw them on the stage when the dancers take their bows. And Kaya will turn to me and say, "Grandma, how could anything be more wonderful than this?"

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