Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Call me Grandpa…and it’s about time

Pity us poor parents of the baby boom generations, whose offspring have so conspicuously ignored the Biblical injunction: “Go ye forth and multiply.” Of my three children, two appear to have settled for permanent singlehood. And my first-born took ten years of married life before deigning to beget with his mate.

What an emotional cliffhanger! I had to wait 59 years, five months and 17 days to make grandfather. Now it can be told: The waiting has been a semi-harrowing experience.

Toward the end, I took to wistfully stopping by playgrounds to watch the elderly blessed cavort with their offspring one generation removed. The longeurs of supermarket lines evanesced in a wisp of adjacent carts carried squirming children the right age to be my grandchildren.

Sometimes, when grandpaternal control failed, I imagined myself doing a much better job maintaining the discipline which is always at the mercy of wanting the little beasts to love you unqualifiedly.

One of my best professor friends already had two grandchildren, and though his conjugal life was not a very great improvement over my divorced state, I found myself drifting to Trenton more and more frequently to bask in the glow of his grandfatherliness. He had become slightly dotty over the admittedly quirky but beloved behavior of his first granddaughter. Oh, how I envied his indulgence of her.

I returned from trips abroad with absurdly disproportionate numbers of shots of local children. (This was especially true of China and Japan, but even chubby Russki kids, who do not generally rank high in my pantheon of childhoodry.) These shots were derisively referred to as my “grandpaw pix.” I knew indeed what they meant. I hungered for tiny animals of my own to fondle and spoil.

Toward the end, my malaise—grandchildlessness—took an ugly turn. I railed at the barren couple, uttering petty threats. “If you don’t assuage my grandfatherly feelings by such and such a year, I’ll disinherit you.”

They laughed uproariously at this pathetic sanction. Who in their right mind would give up birth control for $1.73?

Driven to desperation, I brandished my ultimate weapon: reproductiveness. “If you don’t pop a perky tot in my arms by such and such a date, I’ll have my vasectomy reversed and go into production again myself.” Perhaps the thought of me absurdly sperm banking at my age put some sense into their heads. They got down to business.

Christmas 1985: The best present I’ve ever received was their joint announcement that they had joined together, successfully, in holy, let-the-genes-fall-where-they-may copulation. July 15th was the magical date they gave me. Their mail began to assume a gynecological cast. They prenatalized. They ultrasounded. (My daughter-in-law apologized that the baby had modestly kept his or her legs crossed when they ultrasounded, so the progeny’s gender was still a mystery.)

Later, she told me confidentially that is would be a girl because its heart beat faster. Boy, did mine ever. But such pagan auguries. Such tealeaf readings. How did we ever manage to foal Michael, bereft of all such high-tech support?

The red-lettered ETA day found me biting my nails. I wanted so badly to call and reassure them about the delay, knowing full well such protestations would be too much, me-thought, only adding to their anxiety. ETA plus one, ETA plus two. I was going to be biting my knuckles from the fingernail side if the suspense lasted much longer.

Then the momentous call: “Hi Granpaw! It’s a girl, Sonia Marie, seven pounds eight ounces. Pat’s fine, and the baby’s an 8!”

What is this, a Bo Derek index? I was outraged. “No, 5 is normal and 10 is perfect.” What do they mean, I fumed, implying that my first-born-grandchild is less than perfect?

A few days later the first batch of images arrived (my son is a photo / movie maker). Sonia touches her mother a few seconds after being born. Sonia nurses. Sonia greets the neighbors. My lord. If I remember, the first photo we took of Michael was at a graduate school picnic when he had to be at least three months old. Media metabolism speeding up. This weekend I was told they were videotaping Sonia. Oh, what a mediated life that sweet child will live.

Son Michael with Granddaughter Sonia

The first person I called, needless to say, was Fred in Trenton. “You’ve lost your monopoly,” I gloated. He was very generous. Told me I’d love the experience, as if I needed to hear that, having watched him on a slow drool for four years.

As soon as I hung up, I sat down to figure out how I could communicate with Sonia in St. Paul. No problem. I’ll write the little blighter a letter, and let her doting parents translate it. I hurried so I’d be the first one to write her a letter.

“Dearest SMO,” I wrote—that’s acronym for Sonia Marie Olson Hazard. “I’m thrilled to hear you made it. Welcome to the world which has been waiting for you to grow in it. And while I watch you grow, you watch this college fund grow and grow so that you can learn a lot when the time comes. Love, Granpaw H.”

And I popped in a check, so her parents can concentrate on raising her. It’s really exciting. I haven’t felt this young in 35 years, since the time I helped conceive the father. Passing it on. Wowee!

From Welcomat, August 13, 1986

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