Ican’t delete him from my cell phone. I haven’t tried to dial the number because it would be sad to hear a disconnected recording. I already know the number won’t work, or maybe someone else will answer, a young mother, frenzied and breathless. I’d want to hear him, and I wouldn’t have anything to say. I’d just listen, then wait for her to hang up.
His, theirs, was the second phone number I memorized, the one I could always dial and expect an answer. Because as far as I knew, other than visiting me, my paternal grandfather, and his beloved wife, my grandmother, only left the house to buy groceries and yarn on Austin Street. Occasionally, they’d slip beyond Forest Hills in search of puffy liquid stickers for my collection.
My father’s parents loved me in a swollen way—in the call collect anytime way in which we all want to be adored. I treasure most how they loved me for simply being born. For being theirs. I didn’t need witty banter, no awards of recognition, no proof. I was their conversation with strangers, their brag. They were proud of the way I slept. All I could offer in return was me. A call, a visit, a letter. We should all be loved and love like that.
My maternal grandparents are the other kind, the type who’d rather. Rather dance, rather fix a few rounds of margaritas, rather love from a distance. I get it: I’ve wiped my fair share of asses; I’m done. Instead I’ll play with you when you’re dressed in your Sundays, and how nice, your parents already gave you a bath. Then, I’ll go keep my plans and talk about you as if you’re news. "The grandchildren are visiting." Saying it aloud is like a declaration against lonliness. Some grandparents simply don’t love in the details. They love in setting up an easel and handing over a box of crayons as they read a magazine.
Truth: as a mother, I am sometimes that kind of grandparent to my children. I want to get things done, and sitting still knowing all that I’d like to do, makes me restless sometimes. I just have that gene—my mother’s "roadrunner gene." But when I’m aware that I’m doing it, not slowing down and paying attention, I stop and realize these are the details I’m going to miss one day.
There’s something so storybook about the love between a grandparent and their grandchild, so romantic about the way mine made me feel that I was the most important person in their lives, because if it were a movie, Grandma would be knocking down walls and getting vaginal rejuvenation. In a movie, she’d create a rich life, full to the gunwales with friends and a frenzied schedule, having her grandchildren rearrange their schedules to accommodate her film therapy class. She’d have spent a home life with a spatula in hand, and now, with an empty nest, she’d be ready to fly, not wanting to fill it again with the next generation.
There are grandparents like this, with their own vibrant lives, stuffed with curiosity, carpe diem-ing their way through happy hours, dinner parties, and line dancing. But ask them to be a guardian in your will, and they’ll politely decline. Or, they’ll say, "Of course!" But if the shit came down, they’d look for a loophole. They’ve already been there, wiped that. As far as they’re concerned, their life is theirs again. To live the life they’d always imagined, the one they wish they had more of in their parent-teacher conference life, the one spent running errands, driving to ballet–a life of carpooling and compromise. They would rather live it than watch someone else living it for the first time. They’d rather do and go than stay and be.
I genuinely wonder which I’ll be. I know there’s a loaded "wrong" when we think of the grandparents who’d rather. That they should know by now what matters in life: family, a legacy, spending our time sharing our wisdom. Ideally you can have it all, can have an abundance of girlfriend grandmother getaways and also be the first call when there’s news, good or bad, in your grandchild’s life. I don’t know which is more important because I haven’t lived it yet.
A lot of elderly people get depressed because they lose their curiosity. They’ve outlived their friends, their rabbi, and the family doesn’t get together every Sunday anymore. So they live life waiting, not trying. They live life for the collect calls, meddling even when they know they shouldn’t, because it gives them something to do.
Right now, as a mother, as a granddaughter, as a mother with children who have grandparents, I’m siding with the "you are my brag because you were born" as being what matters most. It all goes by so fast. You have to squeeze it, and lick up every moment by paying attention.
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