By Harriet P. Gross
Everything is a story. This week, mine begins with happiness: I’ve become a great-grandma for the second time. Andrew Robert has joined his cousin, Alexander James, as the first representatives of our family’s next generation.
We are incredibly lucky to be a five-generation family; my mother was the oldest of 12, and her youngest brother is, happily, alive and well at 90. The newbies are his great-great-great nephews.
I took becoming a great-grandma in stride, but somehow I couldn’t believe that my own son was a grandpa. “How does it feel?” That’s what I asked him when “Lex” arrived 20 months ago. Ever practical, he responded, “Well, I have three daughters. I always figured this would happen, sooner or later.”
And now, thanks to a second daughter, he is grandfather to “Gingy,” who was nicknamed — Israeli-style — immediately after birth because of his flaming red hair. Redheads run in our family, at least one per generation, but no redhead has ever had a redhead. When my carrot-top grandson Ben was born, my daughter and I sat down together and mapped out a tree of the family “gingys.” We wound up sliding off our chairs and rolling on the floor with laughter.
When my son graduated from high school, I wrote a column for our local newspaper that remains one of the best things I’ve ever done. In it, I talked about how frightening it was to be the mother of a first child — how much there was to learn, how hard it was to cope with the inevitable illnesses and injuries, how difficult it sometimes was to control waves of anger at “unacceptable” behaviors.
“I had never been a boy,” I said, “and I had forgotten how to be a child.” My refrain throughout was, “Someday I’ll look back on this and laugh.” But my ending was, as the grown young man who towered over me took off for college, “Now I’m looking backward and forward, and I am not laughing at all.”
I read this to him first, asked his permission to publish it and listened carefully to his response, which was “What can I say?” I sent a copy to him when his own first child graduated from high school. I’m hoping now that he’s already passed on copies to his two older daughters, the mothers of his two grandsons — the mothers of my two great-grandsons.
More years ago than I like to think about, I taught Sunday school with a woman who managed to put all kinds of wisdom into a very few words. She had two children, then found herself surprisingly pregnant with a third. She wasn’t happy until after he was born, when she had a “revelation”: “I have the recipe for the perfect child,” she told me. “Have three, and throw away the first two.” That was because, she explained, “By the time the third arrives, you’re done experimenting. You’ve learned what you need to know. You don’t worry. You look at him, and he looks at you, and you say to each other, ‘You do your thing and I’ll do mine, and we’ll get along just fine.’ And you do.”
I don’t know. I never had a third child; just my firstborn son and then his sister.
My daughter’s two boys are so different from each other that it’s difficult to believe they were born to the same parents, grew up in the same house, sat around the same table eating the same food. Differences aren’t always spotted as early as red hair, but inevitably, they emerge.
Her firstborn is now a musician and high school band and choral teacher in Chicago, while red-headed Ben has found happiness as a budding pastry chef in a small Montana town. His mother, herself a kitchen whiz who especially loves to bake, says that when he’s ready to open his own business, she’ll go there to help him. I shake my head. None of them ever learned any of these things from me …
The new cousins, Lex and Gingy, will grow up near each other, celebrating holidays and all special occasions together. I hope to be granted the years to see what their futures turn out to be — to be as astounded as I’ve been by my son and his three daughters, by my daughter and her two sons.
They are the sources of my stories, the pages in the story of my life. And what are any of us if not our stories?