Babies, Apple Dumplings, and Midlife Reflections


The nurse waved me over.

“It’s okay, you can come closer. Come say hello.” The doctor set the squirming baby on his behind under the warming lamps, supporting his head. The baby blinked two or three times, arms wide and fingers flexing. He opened his mouth, the shock of unexpected red hair still plastered to his scalp. I did my best to stay quiet, calm, and out of the way throughout the labor but seeing this beautiful, miraculous new person who had just been pushed into the world released all my emotions.

He cried, and I cried. The nurse patted me on the arm. “Aww, it’s okay, he’s just fine. You’re a grandma!”

Grandson #2 had arrived.

Welcome Tambourine Boy!

Welcome Tambourine Boy!

 

He’s been nicknamed Tambourine Boy for Ye Olde Blog. Musician Daughter’s first birth had been a harrowing experience. Destined-To-Be-A-Musician, now a precocious three year old, had been in some distress, as had his mom. We prayed this delivery would not be a repeat and our prayers were answered. Everything happened as it should, and the family was now a quartet.

I’ve been ‘Nani’ for a few years now, so I’m not a grandparent novice. I’ve spent wonderful times with DTBAM, and for two weeks before little brother made his debut I was blessed with daycare duty. We had great, exhausting fun doing things like: making apple dumplings, watching SpongeBob SquarePants, coloring, hanging superhero action figures on yarn, chasing each other on the playground, and eating too many Happy Meals together. Now I can have exhausting fun with Tambourine Boy, too.

Somehow being in the room at TB’s birth stirred up memories and emotions I didn’t expect. Time, that once moved so slowly during diaper duty, midnight feedings, flu frenzies, and teen angst, was in fact a fleeting twinkle. The beautiful swirling chaos that is parenting children had slipped through my fingers like a powder of snow during a sunny January thaw. On quiet afternoons now when I’m alone with a book and a cup of tea, I suddenly think “Stop, stop, I want to get off and do (almost) all of it again, so I can stop being so busy surviving it all, and pay attention”. I want to chronicle in my mind the smell of no-more-tears in wet hair, the sound of giggling under a blanket tent, the touch of a chubby hand clasped in mine.

Now my daughter gets to make her way through the beautiful swirling chaos, and I’m so proud and happy and feeling fierce about who she has become, how she’s conquering life, making family, and living her truth unapologetically. But I’m not in the swirl anymore. I just get splashed from the edges. I’m still coming to terms with not being the one who make the decisions, the protecting mother lioness. I have to stand aside and let her make the choices, let her feel the happiness and the pain, live life. She calls, shares, asks my input concerning the children. But will there come a day when she won’t?

I wonder if this is how my grandmother felt when she became a grandmother. She had four granddaughters. I wish I could ask her now. She wasn’t one to talk about such things. Maybe my mother had some similar feelings when I made her a grandmother. I’ll have to ask her. While I still can. Time, if nothing else, is relentless in its greediness.

Memories of my grandparents, now gone, and the things we did when I was the grandchild rose to the surface of my mind. Flashbacks of fishing, gardening, snakes and strawberries, cuddling baby chicks, and tire swings. Digging potatoes, making jam, and homemade bread. Pony rides, hay wagons, and raising the flag on a steel pole Grandpa built next to the well. Saturday nights watching Lawrence Welk and Mitch Miller. I spent every summer with my grandparents until I was 14. They, and the laid back country life they lived, stabilized my erratic girlhood as a child of divorce and a city kid. They both lived long lives, and blessed me as a source of wisdom, humor, and encouragement for close to half a century.

What will DTBAM and Tambourine Boy remember about me? Will I be here until they are adults? How can I make the most of my time with them now? How can I make sure I influence them positively, and not pass on character flaws or family baggage?

My grandparents’ farm was located about 90 minutes from where Musician Daughter currently lives. Grandpa was a welder foreman by profession at a major company in St. Louis, until a welding accident damaged his lungs and heart. The doctors really couldn’t do much, they said, and advised he take early retirement and disability, and move to a dry climate, maybe Arizona. Instead, he bought some land in the unpolluted fields of southern Illinois, and built a home, brick by brick, mostly on his own. He did this on the weekends, because he continued to work at his welder’s job in St. Louis. After building a house, he built a barn. After building a barn, he filled it with animals. And after filling the barn with animals, he bought a tractor, plowed his fields, and started growing crops. He did all this in the evenings and weekends, because he continued to work at his welding job until mandatory retirement forced him to quit. Every day he woke at 4 a.m. to do the morning’s farm chores, then take the almost two hour commute to St. Louis. I remember sleeping in the back seat of his 1974 Dodge Dart during times we went back home from our visits, the news announcer on KMOX blasting through the speakers so loud it hurt my ears.

No one had been to the farm since they sold it. They had grown too old to care for the place, and needed to live closer to their daughters. I know it broke my grandfather’s heart, because he had poured so much of himself into it. Most of their possessions were sold at auction as well. I have a Fiestaware pitcher set and a ceramic bean pot they saved for me. I look around my apartment and wonder: Will my grandsons treasure anything of mine?

When Daughter found her footing amid toddler play and midnight feedings, my visit drew to a close. I decided to try to find the farm on the drive back to Kentucky. It was out in the middle of nowhere, the only address back in the day was Rural Route #1. I tried to find it on Google Earth but anything recognizable failed to appear. It became more and more important for me to find it. A pilgrimage of sorts, I suppose.

Was the farm even there? Had it fallen into disrepair? Maybe a farm cooperative had torn down the house to make way for soybean fields. Maybe it was too remote for anyone to want to live there. The nearest town still had the same population sign I remembered seeing over three decades ago: 650 people.

It was a little scary driving out into the unknown boonies by myself. But I find I’m more willing to do scary things if they matter to me. It’s that ticking time thing, I think.

I got off the highway exit, and the two lane blacktop looked the same.

As I recognized the turns, and the blacktop turned to dusty gravel at the point I expected, it seemed like three decades had disappeared. The road became a single lane, hemmed in by trees, without a single home for about five miles. I drove faster, remembering how Grandpa would speed up a little at each hill so our stomachs would float in midair as my sister and I squealed with laughter.

road, black and white, 1979, Illinois

road to the farm, taken in 1979 during my teenage fascination with photography period

country road, southern Illinois, photo by kristin nador

the same road, 35 years later

Then I saw it. A familiar whitewashed wood slat fence at the top of a hill. A sound came up in my throat somewhere between a gasp and a cry. The farm, the house, even the flagpole at the well were all still there. Someone had accepted it as their own and had lovingly cared for it. A bigger barn housed a small herd of cattle. Grandpa would be happy about that.

A painted sign on the driveway gate showed that the farm now had a formal street address. Oh, how I wanted to peek inside, but because of the large mastiff looking out from behind the No Trespassing sign and a respect for people’s privacy I reluctantly moved on. I thought about visiting the little cemetery where my grandparents were buried, but changed my mind. This was a much better memorial.

Will my grandsons have a place, a touchstone for their childhood memories of Nani and Gramps? Will we strengthen their sense of self, shape the way they love and serve their spouses, families, and communities? Only time will tell, but I intend to use the moments that I have with them wisely, and reject anxiety about what the future will bring. Studying the past or imagining the future is not as important as living today. More drives to Illinois are in the works, and Skype is a wonderful invention. I’ll make more apple dumplings, watch more SpongeBob, and get splashed as much as I can. It will be fine. I’m a grandma.

One thought on “Babies, Apple Dumplings, and Midlife Reflections

  1. Congratulations to you and Tambourine Boy’s mom! And a warm welcome to the planet to the new little person. Time may be greedy, but in some ways, it’s a good thing we don’t remember some stuff.

    Like

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