I thought that being young was just who I was, like my brown hair and hazel eyes. After all, I was the girl who could ride her bike around corners with no hands. I could twirl around the uneven bars, first try. I climbed all the trees faster and higher. Later, I could do anything with a baby on my hip. And I always sat on the ground, so that older folks could take the seats. I walked for hours. And my stomach was iron. My motto was everything is better with hot sauce. Especially breakfast. I would stay young forever.
Well, we all know how that story ends.
These days, I’m cautious. I always take the longer, less steep path. I know what a fall feels like. I’ve had sprained ankles. I never sit on the floor. And if I have to, I pray that no one is watching as I got through the multiple and possibly comic motions involved in getting myself up again. These days I plan my meals based on their potential for inciting heartburn.
But I don’t want to talk about any of that.
I want to talk about meaning. And joy.
Years ago, when I was thinking about retirement, my husband asked me…“So, what do you want to do when you retire?”
My answer surprised me.
“I want to be involved with grandchildren. I don’t want to play golf, or travel, or take art lessons. I want to be involved with my grandchildren.”
“Involved?…Ah…what does that mean? Does that mean we can’t head off in the motor-home for six months?” he asked plaintively.
“They’re not out of college yet.” I reassured him. “They might never even have children.”
He had a point. After leading ordinary lives, we deserved a retirement full of adventures. And, of course, it’s true that I don’t really take to children.
But, still, I realized something after having those children, my children. It was that my ordinary life suddenly didn’t feel ordinary. Watching my children develop was fascinating to me. Every day. And there’s another secret about children. Shhh. Small children, your own small children, love you with an intensity that no one else ever does. They liked to listen to my stories each morning about the night’s dreams. They asked me questions and listened intently to my lengthy, over pedantic answers. They cried desperately when I left the house. For a brief shining moment, I was a god. I mean, my own mother loved me…sure…and so did my husband. But, not uncritically. Not like my toddlers. It was a rush like nothing else.
Like my youth, it didn’t last nearly as long as I had hoped. Argumentative teens grew into snarky young adults. But although I had never done anything earthshaking, I could always console myself that I had amply served the world simply by birthing those three beautiful, clever, good children. They gave my life meaning.
These days, now that I am retired, I am actively looking for meaning. I have time and choices. The world has officially given me leave to do whatever I want. But I need to convince a harder boss, myself, that what I do matters.
So this article is about grandchildren. And meaning. And joy.
And, of course, how I was right. I’m involved. It’s what I want to do. They are fascinating, annoying little creatures who provide constant fodder for my writing. All I really ever want to do is talk about them, repeating their latest triumphs or misdeeds, and speculating about who they will become. The grandchildren listen to me talk about my dreams. They like my long pedantic answers about everything in the world. They cling to me and beg to be picked up when I arrive at the house.
But the best thing is how they make me feel. I watch my crazy one, Death-wish Auggie, at gymnastics. He runs, and runs, leaps for the bars, falls, and gets up and runs again, with a grin the size of Rhode Island. He climbs higher and better than anyone, and as I watch I remember the feel of a tree trunk on my toes. Ryder, now the middle child, wants to be in my arms all the time. And I remember his mother, and a time when I believed that a baby on my hip would always be a part of who I was.
As it turned out, I never was going to be forever young. But when I watch my grandchildren, I still feel young. They give my life meaning. And joy. Lots of joy.