I don’t know whether this is just another of those gender difference stereotypes or whether it’s just another deficiency on my part.
Last week, I was talking to a friend about how our son and his new wife came home with a new baby and three dogs. The baby, Conner, is colicky, like Brian was and it cries a lot at night. But other than that it seems pretty happy. I’d held it a couple of times but didn’t feel I had really bonded with it yet.
“I can tell,” said my friend.
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“Because you keep referring to your grandson as ‘it’.”
Ouch. The observation stung but it was on target. But I’ve never really taken to babies immediately.
Karen, on the other hand, has always been mother/grandmother waiting to explode. like a maternal land mine. When she first saw Conner, it was exactly like when she first saw Brian. Her mouth made the maternal epiphany look in which her mouth is actually capable of expressing every emotion known to humankind -- simultaneously. Her heart seems slither up her throat and take up residence in her brain from which light actually radiates.
When I first saw Conner, my first reaction was to feel anticipatory guilt because I knew that my features weren’t doing any of that. I was going to start acting. Fake it, ‘til you make it. I’d pick up the baby and say cute things to it. I wondered if this was a guy thing or whether I’m just an emotional cripple when it comes to parenting.
But over the weekend, Brian and Melody came over from where they are now living with my sister-in-law. And for the first time, they were going to go to the movies together and leave Conner with the grandparents! Karen was still illuminating herself, so happy to be grand mothering, she didn’t take it personally that Melody was listing out detailed instructions. I was resigned.
Karen fed him, rocked him, walked with him, grandmothered all over him, then put him down on the bed asleep, propped by pillows so he couldn’t roll off. Then she floated off toward the kitchen, her feet not touching the ground. I sat in my recliner and stared over my handheld video game at Conner.
He was asleep. Looking more closely, I could see his eyeballs moving behind the lids in REM sleep. So he was dreaming? What could he be possibly dreaming of? Certainly his dreams were probably less metaphorical than mine. His upper lip moved. She started to wake up, so I picked him up and sat back in the recliner, rocking a little. He opened his eyes, looked at me, closed them again. He was stirring in that threatening way that says, “If you don’t hold me just right, I’m going to wake up completely and start screaming at you.” But I so far I was winning.
This isn’t so bad, I thought. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I won’t be an emotional failure after all. But, pointing the flashlight into my brain and searching around, I still wasn’t finding lots of real emotion. What I was finding were clues. I wasn’t crazy about being 62. How much was Conner going to know me or me know him anyway? When he grew up, I’d just be a vague memory of an eccentric shadowman with a weird sense of humor in the house where they had the really big television.
Then I thought of my own grandfather. His birthday is December 22, but I may not wait that long to tell of him. He was the single greatest influence on me of my entire life. He was Bagman and
Now, in the recliner, it was his voice that in my head, questioning me, “How do you know what role you are going to play in Conner’s life? How can you assume what he will remember? Why do you think you will be less of a grandfather to him than I was to you?”
And although, by now, he was completely asleep and I could have put him down, instead I kept holding him and looking at him until and hour later when Melody came, smiling at me, and picking him up to take him home.