"Grandma", a word sounding as old as Methuselah, was about to become my title. My response to this new position escalated to the point of panic. Initially, I didn't react well to the word, mother, either.
I remembered my own grandmother, with her soft white hair wound up in a bun; hair that when let down, easily reached her waist. I can still see her laboring over delicate paper-thin streudel dough in a warm kitchen filled with the aroma of chicken soup and fresh baked bread. I thought of my children's grandmother, who had wiry salt and pepper hair, mostly salt, velvety skin, and eyes that seemed ageless. She was lovely, wore no make-up, and exuded a gentleness that gave the word, "Grandma", a good name.
The title, "Grandma" seemed to place me in a different age bracket; and I wasn't ready. I could still squeeze into my designer jeans, if I lay flat on the bed to pull up the zipper. My hair, mostly my own, was still blonde, and I hadn't yet given my bikini to the Salvation Army. I would probably have to soon; the neighbors were starting to complain. I did Jane Fonda religiously, which meant once a week, and wasn't planning on taking Geritol for a few more years.
Soon after my daughter informed me of her pregnancy, placing the weighty mantle of "Grandma" around my neck, my life began to change. My shoulders drooped as I walked down the street, hinting that osteoporosis was right around the corner. Wrinkles, seemingly cropped up from nowhere, etching the itinerary of my life. Silver strands peeked out from among the gold, thinning gold at that. Fading eyesight precipitated the need for "Granny" glasses, and all my best parts appeared to have dropped six inches. My husband, suffering his own identity crisis, joked about trading me in for two twenty-year olds.
"Go ahead," I told him. "I may as well be widowed as the way I am now."
My youth was gone, chased away by a menacing word that hovered like an albatross over my troubled psyche.I sulked most of the nine months preceding the arrival of the one responsible for my fate. I was proud of my daughter, excited by the prospect of a new baby, her baby, joining the family, but I couldn't adjust to my novel role. I laid claim to many titles in my lifetime, from Miss to Mrs., to Mommy, a brief encounter with Ms., plus a few titles that didn't need capitalization. There was something about the word, Grandma, that stuck in my throat. My friends smirked and made the usual jokes, perilously endangering our friendship. They could afford to be cute. None of them were about to be grandparents. I would be the first.
It wasn't fair. I had raised my children, gave my all in the name of motherhood, faced the daily grind of bottles, diapers and finicky eaters; lost sleep during middle of the night marathons with teething toddlers, and suffered through puberty and adolescense with only a hint of martyrdom. Now when the "best was yet to come," some small stranger, still to be born, was transforming me into an old woman; a grandma.
My daughter's delivery came, as most do, in the middle of the night. It was a long, hard labor, beset with life-threatening problems for both herself and the baby; problems which made my own insignificant. My pleas, that night, to a higher authority, did not concern my apprehension of grandmotherhood. I begged for the safety of my child. Nothing else mattered.
After an agonizing wait in a room full of people mutely sharing similar concerns, the doctor burst through the delivery room doors. Ten agonizing hours had elapsed since we entered that room. It seemed a lifetime. The doctor spotted us and rushed over. My heart was in my throat as I rose to meet him.
"Your daughter's fine" he said, smiling. "Congratulations, Grandma! It's a boy!"
He had to say "Grandma". My husband breathed a sigh of relief and began passing out cigars. I sat silent, relieved for my daughter, uncertain of the reality before me.
I finally walked over to the glass windows of the nursery, where "Grandpa," beaming proudly, had preceded me. I looked down upon a tiny, screaming infant, who, with flailing arms and red, wrinkled face, was a miniature of my daughter. He stopped crying, and gazed up at me with unfocused eyes, appraising me as I did him, his mouth turning up in a crooked grin. I loved him at once. Suddenly the word "Grandma," the most beautiful word in the world, seemed to fit like a pair of broken-in running shoes.