I was sitting on the couch holding the newborn who was trying to fall asleep and burp at the same time. The gentle rocking wasn’t helping, but the soft humming I was doing seemed to soothe him, at least for now. My left arm having fallen asleep, I switched him to the right arm which caused him a moment of alarm, but eventually he snuggled up in that crook nicely, too.
The toddler came along just as the newborn, still snuggled up in my now very numb right arm, finally burped and promptly fell asleep. As he toddled over to give his brother a soft kiss on the head, his squeal of delight at the thought of giving said kiss erupted into shrieks of sheer joy which grew louder with each step he took closer toward his target.
The baby screamed. The toddler cried because the baby screamed. I’d run out of working arms, so I tried to soothe them both with yet another round of singing “Hush Little Baby” replete with made-up verses, because for the life of me I couldn’t remember the exact words at the moment.
Looking down at the once-again sleeping newborn and the toddler, now sitting quietly next to me playing with his stuffed puppy, I sighed. I half-smiled to myself, giving a rare atta-girl in my head.
And then I realized I had to pee.
But I was trapped by a sleeping baby held by very numb arms and a contented toddler glued to my side.
My mind started racing, trying to figure out just how long I could manage this scenario before one of us exploded. It was no longer funny. I was overwhelmed and started to panic.
As I tried to execute a very strategic plan to untangle myself from the toddler and bring the newborn in with me — because, of course, the baby seat was in the other room — I realized I’d been here before.
Trapped. Paralyzed by that feeling of “never enough of me to go around.” Of not having everything figured out — every scenario, every move, every counter-move — none of it figured out ahead of time. I was too stupid and not experienced enough.
For them. For my husband. For me.
At that moment I had a flashback to 29 years ago. Two children under two and a half years old with another on the way, five years into our marriage, overwhelmed, always trying to figure it all out, because I was a mom and I should know these things. I expected myself to be prepared for every possible scenario.
The truth is I didn’t have it figured out then, and even now, as I have entered into my grandmother-hood with these two amazing littles, I still don’t.
Should I though?
I have the wisdom and insight gained from having raised our three children, seeing them launched into successful adulthood, with one of them now in the throes of his own parenthood. But young humans are complex wonders who are ever-changing. So if I’m being completely honest, sometimes I still don’t have a clue what to do. When to do it. How to do it.
If my motherhood left me feeling like a failure, my inner critic began assuring me my grandmother-hood would mean more of the same.
When our son and his wife announced they were expecting, my heart exploded. After struggling with my own motherhood — feelings of inadequacy and chronic illness that left me exhausted most days — this news brought me something I hadn’t dared to believe I would ever receive.
Another chance to get this right.
I would read the books without worrying about the laundry. I would play with sidewalk chalk without worrying about pants and hands getting dirty. I would sing all the songs even when my eyes glazed over from the boredom of hours of repetition. I would take the slow walks, letting this little guy stop and look and touch every last leaf, flower, rock and crack in the sidewalk if he wanted.
The dishes would wait. The tantrums would be handled with patience and love, not frustration. The meals would be healthi-er. Bedtime would be a slow, sweet end to a day filled with joyful moments of delight, wonder, and bursts of energy expended on a dirt pile with dump trucks and fire engines and anything else my grandson wanted to bring outside.
I’d help him know God the Father. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Scripture and the Saints. We would pray. Together. Out loud. Everyday. He would know I love God, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Saints, too. Because I would tell him. I would show him.
I wouldn’t be too ill to come to his games and I wouldn’t be too tired to stay up late and help him with his school projects. I wouldn’t be too anxious about having to get all this right.
I would be a better grandmother than I was a mother. I would do all the things I wanted to do with my own children but didn’t — out of fear, out of exhaustion, out of not knowing I could.
It was, after all, a chance at a do-over.
In a word — nope.
Grandparenthood isn’t, nor should it be, a do-over. Those babies are not yours. They belong to your children, those people you raised and parented. There is no doing over what was or wasn’t done all those years ago when you were raising them. These babies? They are a clean slate, so there is nothing to fix. There is nothing they need done over by you.
So, if it isn’t a do-over, what do you get?
My experience has been that it is something way better.
You have the opportunity to be who you are now: the better, improved, wiser person you’ve become. And here’s a little secret — that’s what your kids want, too. They want the best version of you for their children because they deserve it, and you deserve it.
You also get a front row seat to see all the ways you were a good parent but never gave yourself credit for. For me that has been the greatest gift yet.
It’s a gentle unveiling, these things I am getting to see now. I notice where my son is not me, in all the right ways — where he is patient and loving when I was not. He has developed a beautiful sense of humor about his parenthood, laughing at his mistakes or mishaps, really enjoying his sons; I was overly sensitive to anything I didn’t get quite right and it made for a lot of sharp edges and brittle emotions. He is confident in his fatherhood; I doubted my abilities to be a good mom most days.
But I also witness the beautiful ways that my son cares for his wife and his children. The things he says that I used to say and do to make the other feel known, seen, and loved. I am seeing the best of my husband and me in my son as he parents his own children.
I’ve almost missed these insights; that’s how strong the hold of my inner critic has been over the years. But I’ve got the receipts that prove that voice wrong. There are pictures, real and in my kid’s memories, that tell a different story than the one that my inner critic has created.
This is what I’m clinging to; this is what grandparenthood has given me. The chance to see where I succeeded in my motherhood. That’s not a do-over. It’s grace.