I pulled up his Facebook page, just to see if I could connect. I did, at least to the page of pictures he had posted. He stood several inches taller than when I had last stood beside him three years ago at age thirteen. He had his arms around a pretty dark-haired girl about his age. She looked happy within his embrace.
As happens with grandmothers, it took me back to the day after I’d heard he was on the way. The news still sinking in, I headed to my teaching job. It was like every other day, yet unlike any other day; I was going to be a grandmother.
As I passed the science classroom in the early-morning hush of the school, I poked my head in the door to see if Ms. Hop was in. She was.
Head bent, she was polishing lesson plans, but glanced up when I appeared. “Good morning!” she said in her usual cheery tone.
I stared at her, mute. She looked puzzled. I tried to speak, but my throat seemed to be closing up.
A small, anticipatory smile, “Yes?”
Tears filled my eyes and the look on her face turned to concern. I choked out, “It’s happy news.”
She laughed a bit. “OK.”
I took a deep breath and announced, “I’m going to be a grandmother.”
Her eyebrows shot up; she leapt from her chair and threw her arms around me. “That’s wonderful news! Um, why are you crying?”
I didn’t know then and I’m still not certain. It wasn’t that I felt old; age has never been a concern for me. It wasn’t surprise; my son and his wife were hoping for a child.
Looking back, I think it was the huge life transition that was pulling me along, ready or not. And, silly as it sounds, it was worry about whether I would be a good grandma.
I had told my older sister Nancy about it. Nan loved kids; she had five of her own and had been a grandmother for several years. When I told her my worries, she assured me, “I’ll show you how to be a grandma.” Yet, two weeks after Pauly’s birth, Nan died suddenly of a heart attack. She never got to hold him. I never got to hear her advice on how to be a grandma.
Two weeks after Pauly was born, his maternal grandfather passed away in France. My daughter-in-law flew there to attend his funeral. My son’s job took him far from home almost every day, so I temporarily moved into their apartment to care for Pauly.
His mother had left detailed instructions regarding his newborn care and it came back to me readily. Caught in the whirlwind of bottles and burping, changing diapers and soothing baby tears, often it was early afternoon before I realized I hadn’t gotten dressed or brushed my hair! How wonderful it all was.
One afternoon, after Pauly had been bathed and changed and fed and burped and tucked into tiny navy knit pants with matching socks and a gray knit top with black cartoon squiggles on it, I settled with him into the big rocker in his room. As I eased back, his head fell heavily onto my shoulder, his baby breath soft on my neck. Little feet dangled against me, and tiny hands rested on my shoulder, unmoving, yet seeming to claim me for his own. Lids closed heavily over baby blues, pudgy cheeks pursed tiny lips, in perfect peace.
As I gently rocked, my brain flashed onto auto-pilot. I should put him in his crib so I could do laundry and dishes and empty trash and brush my teeth.
Then something odd happened. Something that had never occurred to me when I was a new mother. I realized I didn’t have to do any of those things. They would all get done eventually, but I may never again have a chance to cradle my grandson, soft and warm, collapsed on my shoulder, as if it would always be his favorite place in the world. I knew I shouldn’t do anything but stay exactly where I am and love him.
Way too soon, he’d be crawling, then walking, then running through his life toward school and girlfriends and career. But at this moment, with his mother and father so far away, with a grandfather and aunt he would never know, with laundry and dirty dishes and burgeoning trash baskets, it was just Pauly and me.
Just as I suspected, the years flew by. I don’t see Pauly or his family anymore. Sometimes things just happen to divide a family. I may never see him again. But I will always have that afternoon when Pauly laid his head so contentedly on my shoulder.