This little slice of heaven was born last week. I’m not sure what I thought it would be like before it happened, but I sure have a few thoughts to share after the fact. Let me explain.
I mean, on the one hand, being a grandma doesn’t actually feel a whole lot different than not being a grandma. Kind of like when you have a birthday. From one day to the next the number might change, but you don’t physically feel a jolt or anything. It’s not like the universe gives you a literal countdown where the ball drops and then you’re suddenly, noticeably, irrevocably different.
Having your first child, on the other hand, is definitely life-changing.
In the space of one breath –
one beautiful, heart-wrenching cry,
you’re suddenly responsible for another human –
a life that will be forever altered and shaped by everything you say and do.
Your presence. Your influence. Your love.
They say that writing a book is easy – you just open up a vein and bleed onto the page. Having a child is a shockingly similar process. It is both the easiest and most challenging thing you will ever do. It’s as if your chest opens and your soul spills out into the universe, suddenly raw and vulnerable. In a single instant you have given your whole heart, your whole mind, and your whole life to another.
In marriage this act is a choice. When you have a child, you love beyond your capacity. Beyond reason. Beyond anything you could possibly comprehend with your logical mind. It comes with the package, wrapped up in this tiny, beautiful bundle of unquenchable love. In fact, your world will never, ever be the same, because for as long as that child lives you will never again *not* be completely in love with everything they’re made of.
To have a child is to learn to love yourself as an expression of yourself.
The true miracle of procreation and life comes crashing into your sleep-deprived psyche and turns your brain and heart to mush. It no longer matters why you feel this way. You just do. And you can’t take it back. And you would never, ever want to.
Like Bilbo, I’ve been there and back again.
Four times over I’ve added dough to the mix and multiplied it and experienced all the ups and downs and heartaches and joys of motherhood. As I have watched my own children unwrap the gifts that have been hidden within their souls, I have cheered them on and loved and ached with every milestone, even as they have chosen their own directions and shaped their own lives.
The soldiers journey on.
My children grew fully to adulthood before having children of their own, so I had already begun the transition of relationship from nurturing parent to advisor and friend. From hands on, to hands off. The shift begins as they venture out on their own, and continues as they forge their own paths and make their own way in the world.
No longer can you be there to pick them up, dust them off, or kiss their tears away, but this was always the plan. After all, we were never raising children, we were only ever raising adults. Inherent in this path is the comfort of inevitability.
When your child has a child, it feels more like a natural progression–
the circle of life moving through one generation
that will feed and nurture and shape
yet another generation.
I have spent my entire adult life, and most of what should have been my childhood, looking after the needs of others – wondering if the worry and responsibility would ever end. But the truth is, it doesn’t really end, it just changes tone and urgency.
It’s no longer my job to do the 2 am feedings and keep the schedule and get to every doctor’s appointment. I don’t have to take a stand on cloth vs. plastic diapers. I don’t have to choose whether or not to vaccinate, circumcise, or even use a pacifier.
I just have to love those in my care and support them as they decide for themselves.
What I do or don’t do now is a choice, born of love and an understanding of what it’s like to have been there myself. Now I get to watch the milestones and love and ache and cheer from one row back, with a slightly different perspective and less of the responsibility, to be sure, but no less joy.
This is the grace and wonder and reward that is being a grandparent.
I was instantly in love with this little bundle, just as I was with his mommy. I am honored and privileged to be a part of their lives, with no motivation to do anything but watch, learn, love, and be there for them. My place is changing, yes, but this new place is one of honor, of respect, and–occasionally–a chance to share little bits of this wisdom born of experience.
If there’s one thing I have learned through parenting it is that it really does take a village to raise a child. Multiple voices and inputs and arms to share the load creates a strong safety net through which no loved child will ever truly fall. We are all soldiers tasked with loving and protecting and nurturing those within our circle of life.
I heard a great story recently about how Tolkein was feeling stuck while trying to write a book to follow The Hobbit. His friend C.S. Lewis told him “You know, Hobbits are only interesting when they’re placed in very un-hobbit-like circumstances.” That was the inspiration that Tolkein needed to take those hobbits out of The Shire and make them into unlikely little halfling soldiers in a grand and epic adventure that has shaped generations of readers around the world.
My own books have similar stories. When I finished writing Truly (which eventually became Trulane) I had created this interesting but yet to be fully understood character of Finn McCarthy. My son – who was then a young teenager and had been reading Truly as I wrote it, said to me one day: “What about Finn? What’s his story?” I asked myself the same question, and the answer flooded page after page for six straight weeks until Finn’s story had been told. Without that catalyst of an idea, without the question that drives the answer, Finn’s story might have remained unwritten.
Collaboration. Feedback. Creating in community.
This is how the best of the best produce great masterpieces. A great work of art is rarely, if ever, the work of one person alone. It is always shaped and molded by the influence of others. I can hardly believe I’m being given this incredible opportunity, to help shape the life of this amazing little masterpiece who will reflect the love and influence that has showered his life, even as we all learn and grow together.
Happy one week birthday, little man. I remain, happily, a truly thankful villager in this wonderful tribe.
May we raise great soldiers. May we raise one another.