Becoming a grandmother can make you feel young again
Tracey Hawthorne discovers the unexpected pluses of having a grandchild
We were at the grocery store checkout when the teller, gesturing between my 24-year-old daughter, who was unpacking the trolley, and my two-year-old granddaughter, who I was holding in my arms, asked, "How many years between your kids?"
I didn't get it, probably because I think that we three couldn't look more different if we tried; but apparently the teller saw something in us that I didn't.
"She thinks the baby's yours, Mom," my daughter explained.
I only just restrained my 52-year-old self from leaping across the counter and kissing the teller because, let's face it, "grandmother" carries all sorts of unpleasantly loaded images for women — a basket of knitting, bifocals, audibly getting up out of a chair, a uni-bosom.
But what the teller assumed, flattering though I found it, actually had little to do with what I looked like and everything to do with the fact that women's reproductive years now stretch well beyond what used to be the norm. And this seems to apply especially to us who were born in the 1960s, and who straddle the peer groups between the idealistic Baby Boomers and the ever-youthful, edgy Generation X.
We were among the first to put off adulthood, studying through our 20s and often into our 30s, trying several jobs before deciding what we really wanted to be when we grew up, and generally waiting much longer than our parents to settle down and have babies. One of my friends had her "midlife baby" just four years ago — so the reality is that someone my age can very easily have a very young child.
That said, I had my kids relatively young for my generation — in my late 20s. Almost all my peers' children are still at school; not a single one of my close friends is looking at grandparenthood for at least another decade or so.
That's at least partly why I didn't exactly go into raptures when my daughter announced her pregnancy. With 50 being the new 30, what business did she have forcing me into dotage a good 20 years ahead of my time? "Don't expect me to be the adoring granny," I told her. "And I'm not going to be your babysitter-on-tap."
As it turned out, the same crazy-switch that turns you from a person of average sanity into a mommy tiger once your baby is born gets thrown when your grandchild comes into the world.
block_quotes_start With 50 being the new 30, what business did she have forcing me into dotage a good 20 years ahead of my time?
Overnight, I went from barely concealed disinterest to being smitten on a level that defies description but which enables an otherwise perfectly normal human being with an inquiring mind to be able to simply sit and stare at a sleeping scrap of humanity for long periods in utter wonderment and adulation.
And this grand-scale time-wasting was one of several pluses I discovered comes with grandparenthood.
Freed from the onerous responsibility of actually raising a child (which can be unspeakably draining on all resources, fraying finances, emotions and psyche with equal gusto), I've returned to a delightful state of play with my granddaughter that often involves sitting on miniature plastic chairs at a very small table, drinking water of questionable cleanliness out of itty-bitty teacups, and having engaging conversations with our companions: a stuffed teddy, a dolly in Scottish national dress and a plastic unicorn.
I'm also old enough now to have learnt not to sweat the small stuff, and this translates into more patience for the pointless buggering-around that makes up much of a toddler's existence (and which can drive a stressed, harried, over-busy mother into frenzies of irritation); and very little patience for pointless drama, which strips tantrums (the raison d'être for kids under four) of any power to rattle me.
It makes for a pretty chilled existence, and one I'm hugely enjoying.
Despite my bursting pride at the sheer gorgeousness that is my grandbaby, I try not to whip out the veritable database of photos I have of her on my cellphone, because that would make me that pitiable cliché that people try not to end up sitting next to on planes.
So I was very surprised recently when I went to a 50th birthday party in another city, and reconnected with plenty of old friends and acquaintances I hadn't seen for yonks, who were genuinely enthusiastic about my new life status. These smart, beautiful, successful women, many of whom were dealing in their own lives with the hideousness of their kids' adolescence, were looking enormously forward to the relative equanimity of grandparenthood.
Which made me realise that being a grandmother is no longer about saying hello to handicrafts and goodbye to your thighs: today, it's a state of being, and one you can enter regardless of your age and occupy any way you want.