Essay by Cynthia McDonald, from our March 20 prompt (Barat House)

An Act of Love

I just finished reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Toward the end, the character Mia is thinking about parenting. “Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less.”

I was really struck by the observation. I had never heard or read the exact idea articulated before.

Of course I experienced this with both my daughters. Parenting them as babies, toddlers, children, adolescents, and then young adults, I had to give them their space as the years progressed. As a teenager, one of them rejected me almost completely for a time. The other one lived with me until she was in her early thirties but seemed to want mostly material support—emotionally, she and I were cut off for a long time. Almost no touching.

Now, at seventy-five, I look back at the joy I experienced as a grandparent, helping both of my daughters with their new babies. My older daughter’s sons are now thirteen and fifteen. As infants and toddlers, they were often in my care at their home while their parents worked. I got to be at the hospital at each one of their births, and held them immediately. I worried about the older one’s “cone head” until an Asian male nurse muttered kindly to us all, “Cone head go away. No worries.” When his younger brother arrived two years later, I rocked him in his nursery at home, made up a song for him called “Rhysie Roo”: Hey Rhysie Roo, how are you? How do you do, Rhysie Roo? Rhysie Roo, I love you.

I swam in the comfort of feeling them against me, experienced the physical joy of connecting to them. Now that they are teenagers, I have to be satisfied with sitting in the bleachers and watching them perform as baseball players, football players or wrestlers. Of course, they both hug me and kiss me when we greet and say goodbye, but if I want to connect with them, I have to give them their space. The space, for instance, to make peanut butter cookies Mark Bittman’s way instead of my mom’s way!

When my younger daughter delivered twin boys in her late thirties, I got my chance again to physically bond with babies. My daughter, her husband and step-daughter were staying at my house while they were remodeling theirs, so the two little boys came to my house from the hospital.

When the babies were only two months old, my poor daughter unexpectedly had to have open heart surgery. With the help of friends, colleagues and family members, I oversaw the babies’ care in my home while she was hospitalized and then recuperating. Since the remodeling was completed, I have been helping the au pair care for the twins in their home.

The joy I experience with these year-and-a-half-old twin boys is beyond belief. When I walk into their house, they look out from their gated living room, cry “Grandma! Grandma!”, wish to be picked up, held tightly against me, grab a picture book for me to read, fight over which one I’ll read next. At nap time, I sleep with one of them across my chest; at lunch I wipe their mouths as I feed them yogurt and vegetables, listen to them shout, identify their mouths, eyes, chins, ears, sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish learned from their Venezuelan au pair.

Recently, I have avoided my older daughter’s calls for me to protect myself from the coronavirus by staying home. I do not want to stop going to their house on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from nine a.m. to three p.m. I want to pretend that I can ignore all of the quarantining that is going on around me. But soon people my age will be asked to stay in their own houses to self-quarantine. I do not want to burden my older daughter with having to hospitalize me if I get sick. I do not want to expose her family to the virus.

I have decided not to return to my little grandsons until the crisis recedes.

Image from #atthebirdfeeder © 2020 david e bell