I watch from afar. A grandmother does that.
But as I watch, I remember the formation of my own family. I remember when my own daughter went from being one to one of many. She was graceful and helpful about it but looking back I can remember her fatigue with the new job of sharing everything that had previously just been hers. Like me.
One of my granddaughters is taking a crash course in going from one to one of many. Her father is with a wonderful and kind woman who has two children. So suddenly my granddaughter’s weekends have stopped being singular and focused on her, a child orchid blooming with many admirers. Now she is one of many, other children like other things, want to be awake when she is sleeping, inside when she yearns for the playground.
Everything in her life, her weekend life anyway, has to be negotiated, part of a mix of people’s likes and dislikes. It’s a big deal when it was only her likes and dislikes that prevailed up until now.
It has to be a jolt.
I once witnessed a woman and her husband with one, very curly-haired 8-year old girl, adopt, first, a sibling group of three from Nicaragua and then, because they had already started adoption proceedings on a local adoption prior to the Nicaraguan adoption suddenly happening, adopt a second sibling group of three. So basically, the family went from one child to seven practically overnight.
At the time, I was astonished at and for the mother. She was so obviously in a state of rapture about adoption (I know, I’ve been there) that more was better no matter what. The children needed her, don’t you know. Oh yes, I do know. But within minutes, I thought about the 8-year old. What on earth must she be thinking, going from one to one of so many in a flash. Was she expected to absorb this extraordinary reality? Be graceful, welcoming? Share her toys, divide her Barbies by seven, stand back from the spotlight that had been hers alone since birth? I guess.
This never happened to me. When I was born, all the other people who were going to be there were already there. No one came after me. There was no sharing of my hand-me-downs, they were mine alone. I never thought two seconds about any of it. The people who were in the picture were there and no one else ever knocked on the door.
It occurs to me, watching my granddaughter from afar, that I’ve not had much appreciation for the child who came first, the one who has to slide over in the back seat to make room for the next one and then the next. And it’s one thing to do it gradually, being the older child with a baby brother or sister, and quite another to run smack up against fully grown other children, to have been a solo diver and now be on a relay team.
The part of me that wishes I was a camp counselor loves the idea of kids together, playing badminton, cracking jokes. But the battle weary mother part of me knows that the tugs of war are plentiful and sometimes painful. Kids jockey for position, it’s what they do. And the only child can be ill-equipped for the fray. Holding her own is not what she’s had to do. Other people held it for her.
So I watch from afar because that’s what grandmothers do.
That and hope for the best.