Piano and stuff animals

This is the world according to a child. A piano is where all of the stuffed animals need to line up and stay put until the weekend is over and someone else puts them back in the box.

They look happy there and, oddly, it makes me happy seeing them there. So I don’t fuss about how my granddaughter ought to collect them up and put them away at the end of the day. I don’t care.

This is the fundamental essence of being a grandmother – not caring about the stuff that took the joy out of being with children when I was the parent. Each time I’m left alone with one of my granddaughters, I feel like I’ve been dropped in a little joyful conspiracy to do whatever we want, talk, not talk, make cookies, buy them, walk in the neighborhood, lie on the couch, pretend we are dogs, take naps in the sun. It’s intergenerational decadence, the not caring what we ate for breakfast when we’re hungry for lunch. Being little girls’ grandmother is a devilish, joyful thing.

I have two granddaughters – one is the adopted child of my biological daughter and the other is the biological daughter of my adopted son. This fascinates no one but me. Moreover, to make it even more interesting and somewhat improbable, one of my granddaughters is Chinese and the other is Laotian and Nicaraguan. If this was a poker hand, you’d throw up your hands and run out the door.


You want to have my luck? You can’t have it.

While I revel in all this, I wonder what my granddaughters will remember about me. I recall my grandmother as always being glad to see me. That is a plenty fine thing to remember. There are rare people in your life who are always glad to see you.

Beyond that one wonderful thing, I don’t remember much about my grandmother. She drove a very old Chevrolet, one with a curved roof and a polished pearl grey finish that was so lovely that you’d want to pet the car every time you walked past. We drove in her car out in the country to fetch my cousin from where she lived over the gas station. The two of us, cousins, would hang out with Grandma, play Chinese checkers, and read a worn copy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. We’d sit on the counter in her ancient kitchen and watch her peel potatoes, every few minutes she’d offer us a slice of raw potato at the end of her knife.

That’s what I remember – that feeling of being always welcome. That, and the potato. It’s something to shoot for.

Sorority Sister

Tuesday night just as the youth choir sang the first few bars of the Star Spangled Banner, after I’d drunk down an inch of my Miller Lite, and before the Milwaukee Brewers took the field to lose what would be a 14-inning game to the Minnesota Twins, I read a text from my son-in-law telling me my twin grandsons had been born.

We knew it would be that night. Before we’d left the house for the game, a text had told us that my daughter’s preeclampsia had morphed into a more dangerous version. The babies were to be delivered right away. I was ecstatic. Not to have the babies born. To have my daughter out of her terrible, long ordeal of being pregnant with twins and suffering every symptom in the encyclopedia of multiple pregnancies. If a pregnancy-related problem, especially the more painful and disabling conditions, had ever been invented, dreamt, or dreaded, my daughter had had it. She was flypaper for every rotten problem floating by. I hated it. Watching her suffer was awful.

I’d watched in person for a while when she was hospitalized with early contractions. I flew to California, walked in to her dark hospital room and spent the next twelve days trying to convince her to play Scrabble. I helped her make it to the bathroom and looked at Facebook on my phone. In the mornings, I walked her daughter to school and after school took her shopping for deli meat loaf and wine. We slept in the same room, my granddaughter and me. She’d roll over on her cot and look at me in the middle of the night while I tried to hide the light of my Kindle.

After I saw that the lamp had left scorch marks on the spare pillowcase I’d used to douse the light a bit, I’d gone all dark, relying only on my phone for light. Messages would come at night from my son-in-law at the hospital. Sometimes happy. Sometimes very scary. The message that she had preeclampsia came at 12:30 one night. In the dark, I Googled preeclampsia and my mouth went dry. My God, I thought, she has what killed Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey.

Why is this happening? Why is this happening to her? I couldn’t stand it. She was grown, my girl, a big accomplished adult. When she was sick, she looked like my 9-year old. Pale and tired and fragile.

I kept doing what I knew how to do – going to the hospital for my day shift, sitting by her bedside cracking lame jokes, and going on special missions to Target. My triumph was finding three Vera Wang nightgown at Kohl’s Department Store so she could get out of the hospital gown and into something cute. I bought a robe and slippers and felt like mother of the year.

And then I came home. Her father was coming for a week and having both of us there would have certainly confused the sleeping arrangements (since we’ve been divorced for thirty years) and produced layers of parenting that no adult could tolerate. Better to take my leave.

So I did. Then after her father left, her mother-in-law came. Now my daughter had been discharged from the hospital and put on strict bed rest at home.

“How do you like having her there?” thinking maybe it was a little irritating having one’s mother-in-law around. I’m not suggesting anything, just thinking about my own mothers-in-law and wondering how long I’d be ok with them being in my house. So I was thinking, let’s give the poor girl a chance to vent about her mother-in-law.

“It’s great. She’s been cooking. Her plan is to make double of everything and fill our freezer.” My son-in-law’s mother, which makes her what to me? I don’t know, is Italian and her husband is Greek and they used to have a restaurant and she brought her recipe book, or so my daughter told me.

I’m wondering if they got rid of the rest of the deli meatloaf.

After another few days in the hospital instigated by a spike in her blood pressure, doctors released my daughter back to bed rest at home, knowing that her mother-in-law, an LPN, would take her blood pressure three times a day.

I’ve had my blood pressure taken a million times. I know it involves pumping the arm thing up, fiddling with a dial, watching a gauge and tracking time on a watch. I could only do one of those things at once. I could never have taken her blood pressure. I could, however, put my hand on her forehead and know if she has a fever. I’ve done this for four kids ever since we lost our family thermometer.

When my daughter sent me the picture of the stuffed artichokes, I cracked. This woman is really beating my time. How do you even stuff an artichoke? My husband and I Googled it and found out where the stuffing actually goes. We resolved to stuff artichokes the next weekend. I suffered with the artichoke picture. “I’m going to try to develop more things that I can do,” I said to my husband. “I want to be more accomplished, more competent.” He said that stuffing the artichokes could be our start.

And then it occurred to me. It’s not a competition.

I was glad my daughter’s mother-in-law was there. I was grateful. I was grateful that this person whom I have never met in person was mothering my sick child. Grateful that she was cooking and taking her blood pressure and fussing over her. Like we were secret sorority sisters, I knew she was doing what needed to be done. I knew there was some serious mothering going on and I was glad for it.

I sent her a message the night our twin grandsons were born. “Congratulations, Grandma,” I said.

“Congratulations, Grandma Jan,” she messaged back and told me about how one grandson, moments after he was born, had pulled the oxygen tube out of his nose. She saw them first. She did.

And that was fine with me. Very fine.