Before I get to the love part, I must confess that I never expected to be a grandma — not because my son, who is married and will soon turn 40, wasn't old enough to be a father, but because I never dreamed that I'd be old enough to be a grandmother. Moi, a former 60's wild child, somebody's nana? How could this be? Even after I got the news that my daughter-in-law was pregnant and I was moving up a notch in the life cycle, I was as nervous as I was excited. What sort of grandma would I be? Would I remember how to hold a baby or change a diaper? How would I fit into the expanded family circle, in which I would be just one of six grandparents? Would I be as love struck as my nana friends, all of whom seemed so gaga over their grandkids it was as if they'd come down with some sort of viral condition. In other words, how would I measure up?
See also: Joys of being a hands-on granddad.
I needn't have worried. From the moment I laid eyes on Isabelle Eva, I, too, succumbed to love beyond reason. In the five years since, I've fallen a second time, for Azalia Luce, Isabelle's baby sister, now 2. Of course, there have been plenty of grandparenting lessons along the way — most having to do with the girls' parents. The good news is that ever since I began practicing the Golden Rule of Grandparenthood — "Keep Thy Mouth Shut and Thy Opinions to Thyself" — I've been having a ball. As Lois Wyse wrote, "If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I'd have had them first."
Here's what I love most about being Nonna — as I am known to Isabelle and Azalia.
1. I feel joy, pure and simple. There's nothing like spending the day with a young child to make you remember why it's thrilling to be alive. (Of course, later be sure to allow time for a nap.) Children are indiscriminate, nonjudgmental lovers of just about everything, and their joy is contagious. I recently spent time with 2-year-old Azalia, whose response to Elmo, hot dogs and her white plastic pony was uniformly ecstatic. "I LOVE it!" she yelped to each in turn.
2. I'm living in the moment. Adults spend hours doing yoga and practicing meditation in order to feel truly present, while kids, whether they're happy or sad, live in the here and now. They make great role models (except when they're throwing temper tantrums), and spending time with them offers excellent training for grandparents. We simply must be in the here and now if we hope to keep up — and keep them from eating dog food (my son's favorite) or running out the front door.
3. I'm no longer in charge. Being somewhat of a control freak, at first I thought this was the bad news. And though it took time for me to accept that I have no say in anything — including where my grandkids live, which is an ocean away — not being in charge frees me up. Unlike their parents, I don't have to multitask and work, pay bills or do the laundry while also trying to spend quality time with the girls. And I don't have to worry so much about whether they go to sleep at night (often they don't) or if they refuse to eat dinner. (I still worry, just not so much.)
4. I come and go as I please. This is one of those rumors about grandparenting that turns out to be blissfully true. I treasure my visits with les petites, but I'm a better Nonna — and a happier camper — when I pay attention to my own limits. There's a reason why most people have babies in their 20s and 30s, not at age 58 or 63.
5. I'll learn from my grandkids. Even though Isabelle and Azalia are still quite young, I can see that they will be my window into a future that is unfolding at lightning speed as they grow older — and I do, too. Already, 5-year-old Isabelle, who attends bilingual French-English school, is helping me to brush up my French vocabulary and poor high school pronunciation.
6. And they'll learn from me. In addition to being my granddaughters' living link to one branch of their family tree, I aspire to be a role model for them — of ethical wisdom, emotional intelligence, generosity and kindness, respect for the environment, acceptance of life's inevitable imperfections and challenges. Being one step removed from the front lines of child rearing, we grandparents have a precious opportunity to transmit the values we hold dear, with less risk of backlash. We also won't be the target of teenage rebellion — another big plus.
7. I know what's important. I don't really care whether my grandchildren get into the Harvard of preschools — or the Harvard of Harvard, for that matter. Yes, I value education, but more than anything, I want the girls to be happy, healthy and live productive, richly satisfying lives. The addition of the prefix "grand" to "parenthood" means fewer expectations and agendas — as well the tensions that often go along with all those expectations and agendas.
8. They give me a free pass. The lack of baggage, as well as judgment, goes both ways. As soon as I became a grandma, it was as if I'd turned into a character in some kind of wacky operetta — I couldn't stop singing. And unlike other members of my family, the girls love it when I warble to them, usually off-key. Grandmotherhood offers me a free pass to act like an imbecile — a great relief from the grownup, professional world in which I must frequently appear serious and all business.
9. I can share the pleasure. My husband and co-grandparent — aka "G-Daddy"—adores the girls and we take great pleasure in spending time together with them in real life and on Skype. Our experience is especially sweet, since G-Daddy and I never had children of our own, and he didn't enter the scene until my son was 10.
10. It's the purest love. Shortly after I became Nonna, my friend, the author and psychologist Mary Pipher, told me that the affection she shares with her grandchildren has taught her about "pure and nearly perfect love." For all the reasons described here — and others that keep emerging the longer I see the world through a grandmother's eyes — I second that emotion.