A New Era of Being A Grandmom
By Helen Mandlin
My partner Joe and I are bi-coastal, spending five months a year in Cambria, California, escaping the summer heat and winter cold of New York City.
Cambria had always felt like heaven but this summer, it was hell. Almost every day, my chest was tight. At 67, I felt homesick for the first time.
Why? Because I had become a grandmother the previous January 20th when James Trevor was born. A month later, I flew to Washington, D.C. for a ten-day visit with my son Jason, his wife Lucy, and their new little boy.
I stayed nearby and respected Lucy’s nursing schedule, when she wanted to be alone with James. I felt a bit of loneliness and a sense of being left out.
My son had married into a large, stable family, completely different from the family Jason had with me: one sister and a cousin, both of whom I seldom saw. Everyone else – my parents, Jason’s father, a handful of cousins- were all either dead or out of touch.
James was precious; he laughed as I played with his toes and sang “Bicycle Built For Two.” One afternoon, when Lucy was out, Jason announced, “I’m exhausted, Mom. Can you rock James to sleep?”
Call out: That’s when it hit me: James was going to change my life.
I rocked James. Soon he and Jason were asleep. I looked at both of them and traveled back in time. When Jason was ten years old, he told me, “Mom, I’m gonna have three kids and be a great Dad.” He wanted to be different than his charming, alcoholic father.
That’s when it hit me: James was going to change my life. I didn’t know how, but I knew he would. As a child I’d been very close with my grandmother, Bubby. I slept at her house every Friday night for as long as I could remember. Now, with me living in NYC and spending so many months in Cambria…well, there was no chance of that happening for James.
The highlight of my visit was when I accompanied Jason, Lucy and James to dinner at a restaurant. James needed a diaper change. Despite her saying she didn’t need any help, I walked with Lucy to the bathroom. The bathroom had only one piece of furniture with barely enough room for James to lie down. Lucy, keeping one hand on James’ tummy, handed me his dirty diaper, asked for wipes from her well-equipped “baby bag,” and then a clean diaper. I felt like I’d assisted in surgery.
Walking back to the table, Lucy said, “Thanks, Helen. I’m really glad you were there to help.”
“Oh, Sweetie, it was my pleasure.” I foresaw many such moments where James could bring the two of us closer. Another link to a family I never had.
Between that first visit and this summer, I’d seen James twice. In May, Lucy returned to work and her parents became the full-time babysitters. I visited during the week, so I could see Jason and Lucy in the evenings but spend the days with James at Lucy’s parents’ home. I enjoyed every minute, but the feeling of being an outsider never left me.
Since arriving in Cambria in July, that sense of not belonging persisted. One afternoon, while contemplating all of this, Jason called.
“Mom, when I look at James, I see myself.”
Both of us got teary. That’s when I realized that feelings from the time my son was young had been triggered by James’ birth. Feelings I didn’t have room for then, as I forged ahead from one career and one marriage to the next.
Now, at last, financially secure and in a solid relationship, I realized I was in the middle of another life change. I was going to have to rethink how much time I wanted to be on the West Coast. I thought back to when Jason was playing Little League and as I watched him I knew he always hoped his dad would show up.
In life, as in baseball, there is no clock. Nothing is certain. A single swing of the bat can end the game. I could die in a plane crash tomorrow or live for another thirty years. But even with uncertainty, there has to be a game plan, a strategy. Money buys security and the opportunity to choose.
How should I choose to spend my time and money?
How much of my life should I choose to spend with James?
Back in NYC, I observe myself as I approach every adult on West End Avenue, who is either carrying a baby or walking with a toddler. I ask a two-year-old boy, “What’s your favorite song?” When he answers, “The Wheels On The Bus,” I start singing.
I imagine what it will be like when James is that age. What will we explore together? Maybe a Yankee game? I only hope the game goes into extra innings.
AUTHOR – Helen Mandlin
A new era grandmom, Helen Mandlin, is a native New Yorker. Check out her blog at elenmandlin.wordpress.com