The time I found my five-year-old son Justin in the bathroom smearing his dad’s Mennen Speed Stick all over his arms, legs, chest and stomach, I knew I had achieved the status of true motherhood.
“What in the world are you doing!!??” I demanded, stunned. With bright eyes huge with enthusiasm over the obvious, he informed me (as he continued to rub away,) “Joel told me that if I rub this all over my body, I’ll be able to ride my bike really fast!!”
At that point, I just knew I had reached it: the pinnacle of my dream of motherhood. It was the moment when I knew completely that my kids were so real, and that my role as a mother was so real. This was the kind of moment– exactly– that I had anticipated for all those years when I dreamed about motherhood.
Oh sure, there were also the “So this is really motherhood” moments like when 8 year old Joel broke his arm jumping between his bed and Justin’s; and the many nights when Dan and I traded off shifts holding our croupy toddler in the cold night air, wrapped in warm blankets, praying that he’d breath easy enough to prevent another run to the ER; and, later, of course, those embarrassing teenager moments that sent us hiding our heads under the table, incredulously wondering where in the world these kids had been all those years we were trying to form them into exemplary people who would change their world.
But ultimately, it’s in those times when kids are being classic, funny, normal “kids” that being a parent brings such incredible satisfaction. At this point in my life, these are the memories that dominate my recollections of motherhood. Like the time when I was trying to reward my four-year-old Sarah for staying in her own bed all night long instead of sneaking into my bed in the middle of the night as she habitually did. “Sarah, I’m so proud of you! Would you like me to give you a treat?” She smiled so sweetly as she nodded her head up and down. “Would you like a little roll of candy?” I asked. “No, thank you,” the sweetness of her answer pleased me and gave me the satisfying sense of a job I’d done well. Then the bomb “… Could you give me a diamond ring and necklace instead?”
Our children grew into teenagers, then into adults who one by one married. Meanwhile, despite my own position chronologically as the middle child of six siblings, I came in dead last in becoming a grandparent, regardless of the fact that I undoubtedly wanted it the most. Stories my siblings told me of their grandchildren sparked the desire in me to have my own funny stories to tell, even as each one of them repeatedly reminded me that raising their own children had been wonderful, but nothing even close to the wonder of having grandchildren.
My younger sister Dale kept me laughing over stories of her grandkids, Abbi and Alex– both colorful personalities. Once while visiting them, Dale was putting her five-year-old granddaughter to bed too late. Procrastinating, Abbi suddenly informed her Gramma that she had neglected to give her a bath. “At 10 o’clock at night?” Dale wondered, but Abbi insisted it was her ritual. However, the sudden exasperated look on Mom’s face when she opened the bathroom door told Gramma a totally different story when her daughter-in-law Angie demanded, “Abbi! What in the world are you doing in the bath tub at this time of night!?”
“I had to have a bath! I was so dirty!” she said, unsuccessfully trying to sound convincing.
“You aren’t even dirty!” Angie said.
“But I am! I have so many… spots!” Abbi said.
“Yes, spots…Spots from… the… firey darts of Satan!”
Oh man, how I wanted one of those!!
Finally, in January of 2005 the first of our grandchildren came into the world. From that moment, my own world has never been the same! Even now, as we are expecting our eighth grandchild, I just had no idea that the human heart had such an incomprehensible capacity to love! Every one of these kids is so individual, so incredibly special, so incredibly beautiful… so…normal…
Our first grandchild was three during the last presidential election, and he had clearly had his fill of political talk about the candidates. While babysitting him on a day when he was feeling crabby and contrary, he struggled to think of the best way he could to make me upset with him.
“Nama,” he finally said defiantly, watching me out of the corner of his eyes, not directly. “…I am going to vote for Barack Obama!” then he quickly looked right at me with a startled expression that communicated shock at his own outburst, to access the damage of his audacity. And in that moment, I knew it: I had reached the pinnacle of Grandparenthood. My grandkids were so real, so normal. And my role as a grandmother was real. It was real!
So many times now, I’ve experienced my own funny grandchild stories, as well as amazing, warm, heart-tugging and deeply special grandchild moments in this blessed chapter of my life. And what amazes me the most is that Grampa and I– these older, boring people in the lives of these eight little ones– are important to them. They actually get happy to see us, and they want to be with us. They want us to go to their Little League games and ballet recitals and gymastics classes and music lessons. They want us to stay overnight at their house, and do crafts together. They like my goofy songs and they urge Grampa to play in the yard with them. They need to be comforted by us, and prayed for by us. They depend on us.
We are a constant in their lives. And together with their Dads and Moms and siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles and their other grandparents, we form a strong, secure unit. It’s called a family, and it’s part of who they are. It’s their secure identity. We give that to them.
Raising my own children had been good, like really good wine. But having grandchildren has meant taking that intense love and committment that we gave to our children and extending it, together with them, so much further and deeper… and ultimately, it feels like we’ve saved the very best wine… till now.
This past Christmas, the oldest four of the grandkids–cousins– were playing together, and announced that Jakob was “Peter,” Raeme was “Susan,” Sadie was “Lucy,” and Ethan was “Edmond” as per the characters in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
“Who is going to be the White Witch?” I asked.
Four year old Ethan thought for just a moment, and then his face lit up with brilliance, an incredulous look that told us he just could not believe that nobody had figured this one out before this!
“I have the perfect idea!” he shouted. “SATAN can be the White Witch!” And I knew it. I knew that I had reached another pinnacle.
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