Sometimes things don’t work out the way you wanted. But they may still work out for the best.
When I was younger, I used to envision a perfect future: A great career, a loving spouse, a house in the country. And a happy child. I was uber-committed to my career, but I also knew I wanted to procreate, at least once.
Time went by, and I got a lot of what I’d dreamed of. I’ve been blessed with a successful and fulfilling career, a loving and nourishing marriage, and I’m writing this in a 1931 farmhouse, looking out at an old gray barn and an apple tree, and then fields and woods that stretch to the horizon. But one thing I longed for didn’t happen.
By the time I married Bill, I was 40 and he was 48. He knew I wanted to have a child, and so we tried. But five years and two miscarriages later, it started seeming less and less logical to keep pounding our heads against that wall, and less and less rational to be planning a life that would include a 20-year-old when we were in our 60s and 70s.
Then Bill’s beloved cousin Teddy learned he had metastasized cancer, and died three months later at age 56. It made us both think we should try to enjoy the time we had rather than go on struggling for something the Fates didn’t want to provide. Besides, it was really my struggle, not Bill’s. He already had a grown son and daughter, and they were having children of their own.
Just like that, I had bypassed parenthood, and skipped straight to grandparenthood. This was a bit of a dilemma for me, beginning with what I should be called. With a total of six grandparental figures, Bill’s son Steve and his then wife put a lot of thought into how their kids should address each of us. Bill’s first wife and her husband became Grandma and Pops. The kids’ maternal grandparents became Grammy and Grampy. Bill was Grandpa, or sometimes Grandpa Bill.
That left me, and Steve’s wife had a suggestion: Nana. I think my hair may have actually stood on end when she said it. I could see the logic behind the idea, but I absolutely couldn’t see myself as a Nana. “Minda!” I insisted until it stuck. And so it has remained: Grandma and Pops; Grampy and Grammy; Grandpa and Minda.
That awkwardness over what I should be called was a fitting start to my slightly uncomfortable role as an ad hoc grandmother. Bill’s son Steve and I have always cared deeply about each other–I see a lot of Bill in him, and I think he recognized from the moment we met that I was the love of his father’s life. But we’ve always looked at each over what I thought of as a wide chasm because in nearly every way we come from different worlds. I was a city kid, intellectual and bookish. He was a country kid and an athlete. I make my living by writing books and articles; he makes his by building houses. I love foreign films; he loves NASCAR. I volunteered to create a reading series for local authors at independent bookstores; he volunteers as a chief in a local fire company.
His three kids Callie, Kasey, and Caleb, now 15, 13, and 8, are growing up very much in his world, not mine. I love them, I love playing with them and taking them places. I care that they’re doing well in school–which they are, spectacularly. But I never have missed them when they weren’t around. At least not until now.
When Bill and I decided a year ago to move from Upstate New York to Snohomish, Washington for the benefit of Bill’s musical career, the thing that bothered us the most was moving far away from Bill’s kids and grandkids. We didn’t want to lose that connection and I didn’t want to stop being part of their lives. Come visit! We invited them again and again and, a couple of weeks ago, Steve and his three kids arrived.
For a week, we worked to find activities that would entertain six people ranging in ages from 8 to 63. We filled our kitchen with junk food that would normally never be allowed across our threshold. We confined ourselves to restaurants that served either pepperoni pizza or chicken tenders. (Finding acceptable pizza in Washington when you come from New York is a challenge in itself.) We waited in line for the bathroom and gave up sitting on our sectional sofa, now transformed into a girls’ bedroom. We went to the beach but decided not to swim after we discovered that Puget Sound is ice-cold, even in August.
And we reconnected. We talked, and took stock, wormed answers out of reluctant teenagers, went up the Space Needle, watched “The Office” and “One Tree Hill” and basically discovered that after a marriage breakup and a difficult few years, Steve and his family are doing just fine. More than fine. This is a very comforting thing to know when you’ve moved 3,000 miles away.
And then, on a Sunday morning that arrived way too quickly, we dropped them off at SeaTac. We hugged, they gathered up their suitcases, and off they went for the long flight home. As we pulled away, I spied Bill wiping at his eyes. Though he’s usually the weepy one of us, I found myself sniffling as well. I had expected to enjoy having them stay with us, and I had. But I hadn’t expected to miss them quite so much when they were gone.
I never did have a child of my own, but I did wind up with a family. And though that didn’t happen quite the way I’d wanted, they’ve taken up a huge space in my heart.