I never wanted kids, so it went without saying I was never going to be a grandmother either, and that was fine; I accepted both parts of the deal. Then I fell in love with a man who had a seven-year old son, which was OK partly because it was the “baby” part of babies I wasn’t keen on, and partly because I liked the little guy, who lived most of his childhood with his dad and me. One day after he’d grown up and married and moved away, he phoned to say, “We have a daughter.” And a funny thing happened – every cell in my body re-aligned and without ever having been a (real) mother I became in that moment a real grandmother.
My granddaughter is now five years old. Her mother is from Ukraine and the child’s name – Zlata Sophia – means Golden Wisdom in Ukrainian and to my surprise, she is indeed a kind of “golden wisdom” to me. Because they live in Europe, I rarely get to see my granddaughter more than once a year (not counting Skype) but in those precious times we’re together, grandmothering has taught me surprising things. When Zlata asks why I have white hair, for example, or what happened to the dog in the picture on our wall, I explain that I am growing older, that the dog too grew old and then it died, which led to an intense and fascinating (on both sides) conversation about why death, who dies, and what happens after.
As a grandmother, I feel like I know something. As I watch those wide eyes take in the world, I remember newness – how everything was once of dazzlingly equal importance – and I’m happy to give a few pointers in terms of yes, that’s important, and this, not so much. Sometimes we’re silly together, building tents under the dining room table, piling rocks into careful cairns and decorating them with hair ribbons, or pretending we’re sisters. “You be the baby sister,” she orders, “and I’ll be the big sister!”
I also love to watch her get bold. OK, I’m shameless. An ancient feminist, I have already bought her a comic book on the birth of Wonder Woman. I tell her how proud I am when she’s strong, how clever she is when she builds an entire playground on the beach out of driftwood. When we swim – blowing bubbles, opening our eyes underwater and counting fingers – I’m thrilled when she wants to show me how far she can swim, “Further! Further!” as she orders me to move my hand another foot along.
Having a grandchild is so easy. Her parents mind her manners, and I get to play. I have discovered my inner five year old and it is so unbelievably, so magically, so blessedly good!