Grandparenting 101: There's Really Nothing Like It

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“When you become a grandparent, everything changes,” a woman who works in the bank said to me. All my friends with grandchildren seem to be at a loss for words to describe how wonderful it is. “You can’t possibly understand until it happens.” “I can’t explain it -- you’ll see.” “There are no words.”

Well, now I’ve been a grandparent for ten days. Amalía was born at 4:42 p.m. on August 26 -- and after nagging for all those years about how much I wanted to have grandchildren, I’m truly at a loss for words when I try to write about it. I think I’m still too new at this grandparenting thing.

Amalía does things her own way. She was a week late, bursting into the world wailing with incredible voice and strength. She was not the Leo we’d expected (because of her Aug. 19 due date) but a Virgo. She has a birthmark on her belly like a Nike swoosh -- the symbol of the goddess of victory. As you can see, she’s bright-eyed and precocious and has lots of adorable expressions.

Grandparent love

She weighed seven pounds (length 19.75 inches) and is gaining daily thanks to Eleni’s patient round-the-clock breastfeeding. (No bottles allowed -- even pumped milk -- for four weeks.) She’s beautiful and happy and does nothing but eat and sleep and poop, but we would happily stand over her all day, just staring at her as she sleeps and her face goes through a repertoire of emotions, from despair to grins, yawns, hiccups, sneezes, pursed lips, the occasional squeak. It’s lots more entertaining than TV.

Everyone said to me -- “It’s even better than having kids. It’s more fun. You can play with them and then go home. Leave the hard stuff to their parents.” But the minute I saw Amalía wailing lustily, flailing arms and legs -- this tiny, tiny person who is completely filling our days and nights -- I remembered the terror of having a new baby. It’s painful to be so in love with such a tiny, fragile-looking, vulnerable little person. After 30-plus years, it came rushing back -- when my own tiny babies had earaches and colic and would scream for hours and you couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Nowadays parents are so much better educated, with things like “lactation advisers” to help them over the first obstacles in breastfeeding. They know the tricks of the Happiest Baby On the Block book to calm colicky newborns. (Wish I had known about swaddling, shushing, etc. thirty years ago!) When some scary symptom comes up, they check the index of What to Expect in the First Year and are re-assured.

Eleni and Emilio have had classes in hypno-birthing and infant CPR and breast-feeding, and diapering (with cloth, not disposables). But still, with all the classes and preparation, modern parents also know a lot more things to worry about than we did. I don’t know any new mother who doesn’t have moments of complete panic in those first three months.

Last night Eleni and Emilio went out to a movie for the first time, leaving the baby with us, along with lots of advice. It was raining hard as they headed to the theater. Evidently the previews of coming attractions were all thrillers, involving child murderers and haunted houses.

Soon I got a text from Eleni: “My phone is on vibrate; call if you have any problems. If there's an emergency and you need to call 911, use our landline so your call can be traced.“

I had to smile because I knew just what she was going through. Being a new grandparent can be just as scary as being a new parent. It always reminds me of a quotation that I think started with Frances Bacon and was paraphrased by John F. Kennedy: “Having children is giving hostages to fate.”

(To see more photos that go with this text, please view the original on my blog.)

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