Grandparents And Grandchildren: Observations From A Parent In-Between.

Larissa Dann

He fumbles open the car door, leans down to grab his stick, then steps precariously across the gutter. She glides to the door, closes it, and peers at me through the smudged glass with a look that she knows I will understand.

“I will look after him, but I’m a bit worried . . .” are the words I translate from her eyes.

In the darkness I watch their silhouettes walk towards the theatre. His back is bowed and his stick pendulums like a third leg, holding back his pace but ensuring his safety. She walks with dancer's grace beside him, tall and straight, her youth and promise evident in every step. With her long hair swinging from side to side, she turns towards him, leaning in and down, listening, respectful, loving.

My elderly father is taking his teenage granddaughter to a show - just as he took his grandson, years earlier. This is their time together, grandparent and grandchild, making memories, deepening relationships.

Grandchildren Arrive

I breathe between the shuddering spasms, soothed by the click-clack of my mother's knitting needles, as she knits a jumper for the baby making his way from my body. I am moved by her awe-struck face as my son emerges. We are three generations.

My son is still a baby when I become a single mother. Alone, I watch my baby be remarkable – as all little ones are. But my squeals of excitement reverberate around partner-empty walls.

With whom could I share the wonder of my baby’s first word, or the first time his plump index finger unfurled from his tiny fist, to point at something he wanted?

Who would gasp with me, who would applaud with me?

Who would love my child with the same fierce unconditional acceptance that I loved him? My yearning for someone to feel the same delight in my child as me is visceral, tangible.

And this is where my good fortune becomes evident. My children have a built in cheer squad, in the form of my parents.

“I’m sending down the next couple of videos, Mum. He’s amazing – crawling everywhere, and loves the pots and pans cupboards”.

I hear the smile down the phone as my mother imagines the scene.

“Grandpa – what’s this? And how does this work?”

My son’s questions are never ending, punched out like a ticketing machine. My father’s patience is limitless, as he neatly folds those figurative tickets and gives them back to his grandson with lived answers.

Knock, knock, knock.

“Who could that be?” I say to my curly haired boy. “You’d better answer”. He looks at me, puzzled, and then skips to the door. Reaching up, he turns the silver latch.

“Gran! Nan! Mummy, they’re here and I didn’t know!” and he launches his three year old body into theirs, melding himself into their legs as they reach down to sweep him up. Their faces crinkle with delight and adoration.

Years down the track, and my mother looks after my son for the many, many hours of my labour.

In the darkness of the early morning, grandmother and grandson arrive at the hospital. The floor is marbled with blood and muck from the delivery of a new human, and the air is pungent with hospital and birth. My daughter, caked in membrane, snuggles into my chest.

My mother falls in love once again.

Now my daughter is in primary school, and her grandfather tells a cheeky joke. She crumples in mirth and shock.

“Grandpa – that’s rude!”

He delights in her understanding. Then he sits back, and watches the banter between his grandson and granddaughter. He turns his head, following the conversation, but not interrupting. Behind the grey curtain of his eyebrows, their grandfather’s besotted eyes cherish every moment with his grandchildren.

The morning after my father and my daughter’s big night out, we sit at the breakfast table. In the middle of the table steams a pile of my husband’s pancakes, next to them jars of homemade jam - our Sunday morning tradition when Dad is staying. And there, placed carefully away from the food, open and ready, is my laptop.

We dial, and the black face of the screen is transformed. My man-son, deep of voice, manicured beard, is lounging on his bed on the other side of the world. We breakfast, while he prepares to sleep.

My father is transfixed and dominates the conversation. This time, it is he who asks the questions of his grandson.

Grandparents Leave

Now, my parents ail. Disease sneaks into my parents’ aging cells, and their strength of body and mind fade.

My children and I visit my mother. Her hair is dishevelled, her shirt on backwards. Always respectfully clothed, today my mother does not wear a bra.

“Someone’s been to my house, and left a note on my table. I’ve had the locks changed. And the people over the road are always watching me, spying.”

The note is in my mother’s handwriting, from years ago. The neighbours are away.

My mother is in the early stages of dementia.

Years later, and my mother is placed in a nursing home. She can no longer walk, or eat, by herself.

It is the turn of my children to visit their grandmother, to care for her, as she had so often cared for them.

There is my young adult son, broad shouldered, bearded and beannied, hunkering beside her, feeding his grandmother food of mushed colour.

And now my teenage daughter delights in choosing a colour for Mum’s nails. Together we gently wrestle Mum’s fingers outwards, painting them in a glory of hues.

My father develops cancer. His hip breaks, and my daughter sits by his bed, telling him stories of her latest activities. My son drives from another city to brighten the day of his revered grandfather.

We busy ourselves, fulfilling as many of my father’s bucket listed activities as possible. And we ready ourselves for his passing. In the future.

The phone buzzes in my pocket.

“Your mother has stopped eating and drinking”, advises the nursing home. When I arrive, I catch on to their real meaning. She is dying.

For days, my teenaged daughter sits vigil with me in the nursing home. She holds her grandmother’s hand, reads to her, chats about her school, her interests. She chooses music that my mother loved.

My mother’s breathing changes. My son lives hours away.

“Mum”, I whisper into her ear. “Please wait. He’ll be here this afternoon. He has to drive from another city. Please wait.”

A life-time later my son steps warily into the room. Alone with his grandmother, he holds her hand, he talks, and she breathes. Then stops.

The Circle

Where once my parents cared for their grandchildren, their grandchildren now help care for them.

Where once their grandparents cheered on my children, my children now cheer on, protect and support their grandparents.

As a daughter, as a parent, I marvel. I am witness to an unbreakable link between generations, to relationships forged on unconditional acceptance, on love.

The value of my parents in my children's lives is incalculable, immeasurable.

And acknowledged. I am deeply grateful.

First published 11 August 2018.

© Larissa Dann 2018.

Comments

I followed every word of this lovely sharing..rejoicing with you and relating deeply from my own experiences with my parents and children, Larissa. Thankyou so much for sharing these lovely memories...I have only recently welcomed my first grandson and can also relate first hand to your parents' memories so strongly. I had no idea till I met little Finn just what a powerful love connects us with the children of our children..

Thank you so much, Janine - I'm so pleased this piece resonated with your experience. And most importantly - congratulations on becoming a grandmother!

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