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Lesley Stahl: On Becoming a Grandmother

Sure, I'm a tough journalist. But when my first grandchild came along, I nearly swooned

Lesley Stahl: On Becoming a Grandmother

Dave Lauridsen

Stahl with her grandaughters, Jordan, left, and Chloe

Throughout my career, I had worked at suppressing both my opinions and my emotions. I was out on the streets of New York on 9/11 and held myself together. I walked the alleys of Sadr City, Iraq, and once raced to a cafe in Tel Aviv minutes after it was leveled by a suicide bomber, without allowing my fears to surface. I thought I had become the epitome of self-control.

Then, wham! My first grandchild, Jordan, was born January 30, 2011. I was jolted, blindsided by a wallop of loving more intense than anything I could remember or had ever imagined.

When I saw Jordan for the first time, swaddled in my daughter Taylor's arms, she was a little bundle weighing 6 pounds, 14 ounces. I thought: A whole new person, and she's mine. I was so pumped, my heart was on a trampoline. And there was my daughter, soft in a way I'd never seen. Was this my tomboy who wouldn't wear dresses? She was now a Giotto Madonna.

Lesley meeting baby Jordan for the first time

Photograph courtesy of Lesley Stahl

Lesley meeting baby Jordan for the first time

Her husband, Andrew, was stretched out on the bed next to her so they could pass the baby back and forth. A pair so suddenly a threesome.

Since he and Tay had come to the hospital early, I kept urging them to take a nap. They laughed and teased me — I guess it was pretty obvious that all I wanted was to hold Jordan. Have her to myself.

When it was finally my turn, I felt I was growing a whole new chamber in my heart. I nearly swooned, staring at her like a lover. I'd never seen anything so delicate and beautiful, so sweet, every feature perfect. And it's not that I didn't see her three chins.

This is what I didn't expect. I was at a time in my life where I'd assumed I had already had my best day, my tallest high. But now I was overwhelmed with euphoria. Why was she hitting with such a force? What explains this joy, this grandmother elation that is a new kind of love?

But there was something more at work here, something mysterious welling up inside me. It wasn't that I hadn't been told that becoming a grandmother was the best thing that ever happens to a woman. But what I couldn't get over was the physicality of my feelings. When I got into bed at night, I would pretend I was holding Jordan in my arms. I was infatuated.

Dare I say it? It felt like … ardor.

Aha! There it was. We grandmas literally, actually, fall in love.

Being a grandmother became my new identity. And I fast became a stereotype. Whenever I passed a store that sold anything for babies, man, was I sucked in. Dresses, little shoes, toys, books.

If you came to our apartment in New York right now, you'd see a dollhouse in the hallway, a little stove by the kitchen, a miniature baby grand piano in the living room, a huge stuffed dog, a baby rocking chair. You can walk into any room and know we're grandparents.

I am so not alone. Grandparent spending on child-specific items has increased sevenfold in the past 10 years. We're out there buying baby food, equipment, clothing, tricycles and toys. Our grandchildren melt our wallets!

Many grandparents happily end up trying to support their grandchildren, and others do it grudgingly, feeling their kids are taking advantage of them or shirking their responsibilities. But whether happily or reluctantly, grandparents are contributing. Pinchas Cohen, dean of the University of Southern California's Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, says there are three stages of life. In the first stage, you believe in Santa Claus; in the second, you don't believe in Santa; and in the third, you are Santa Claus.

Which reminds me of something my friend Tom Brokaw once said: "For parents, bribery is a white-collar crime; for grandparents, it's a business plan!"

60 Minutes correspondent and longtime journalist Lesley Stahl, 74, will publish Becoming Grandma, from which this is adapted, April 5.