all of the selves we Have ever been
“…it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us."
More of my friends have granddogs than grandchildren.
I rarely even see children any more. I drive through neighborhood after neighborhood, not a child anywhere. On my regular walks, there are no bicycles lined up at the park, no giggles floating through the air, no petty arguments with shouts of “I’m telling” when childish negotiations falter.
The researcher and writer Jean Twenge observes that a generation is defined not by historical events, though these shape experiences and attitudes, rather it is changes in technology that characterize each generation. And as technology has progressed, we have become more individualistic, less communal. We just don’t need each other as much for the hard labor of life-sustaining activities. With less wear and tear on our bodies, we are living longer. With longer life comes extended youth and later maturity. But as wannabe grandparents are here to remind, the biological clock is still an ancient wind-up toy. It ticks for only so long, and then it winds down. Stops. Makes us too late for the party.
COVID did not help the grandparent cause. The COVID years emphasized to young adults that children are a lot of work and a big expense. Young adults wonder: in these increasingly difficult economic conditions, where will the money come from to house children, clothe them, educate them, and entertain them? How will there be time left for young adult pursuits and careers? And what about the environmental catastrophes that make the headlines each day? Will there even be a world in which to live, a world that can accommodate one more tiny body in in need of a mouthful of oxygen? And so it was off to the pet stores and animal shelters for these fertile young people. What are aging parents to do other than offer to babysit their granddogs?
“Life is on the wire. Everything else is just walking.”
Karl Wallenda, High wire artist and Founder of The Flying Wallendas
Parenting is demanding. And expensive. It requires sacrifices. In moments, it can even be terrifying. It is a high wire act. The wire swings. We must constantly rebalance. As my graduate school adviser once observed, “You are dead no matter which side you fall off.” And as parents, we risk taking others with us. But parenting is also exhilarating. And meaningful. And forever. By comparison, everything else in my life has been just walking.
“Quick, I’m starting to forget. What does God look like?”
a three year old big sister to her new baby brother in Such Kindness by Andre Dubus III
Don’t arrest me for heresy, but I suspect that God is a grandparent. What else can explain that God has not yet tired of humankind?
For grandparents, the birth of a grandchild is a magic act--a baby is pulled out of a womb, and we are the ones born again. And this grandchild, this wonder, came from a child that we made or adopted and raised. Grandparenthood offers the hope that maybe we didn’t do everything wrong…maybe this wonder is a message that even if our own children have not forgiven our faults, God heard all of those fraught prayers we said in the dark. In each other’s eyes, we see what God looks like.
Grandchildren are an invitation to life, to come off the bench and join in the game. They allow us to focus on beginnings not the end. We feel young again and in love with hearts beating both wildly and tenderly. Our older years are no longer about mere preservation of our aging, deteriorating bodies. Our grandchildren help us to keep loving life. There is no future in memories alone. They must be shared, passed down, connected to new memories, memories that weave a history and define what it means to be a family, this family, memories that fashion a story that will be worth re-telling for generations to come.
While I have nothing against dogs, and I do appreciate the joy, companionship, and health benefits of pets, I miss a world in which children are more present and visible, where their safety and well-being are the responsibility of all of us. And where the joy is shared. With so much focus on accumulating, updating, and replacing things, wealth building, and saving for retirement, I wonder if only the wealthiest among us can expect to have children and grandchildren. Or will children become as out of date as the rotary phone? Where will the fruits of our lived lives go? To some lucky dog?
Perhaps I will hear all about it from the dog sitting beside me the next time I go for a facial.