Virginia Ironside writes an advice column for the London Independent and is the author of books including the novel No! I Don't Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year (Viking, 2007) and You're Old, I'm Old ... Get Used to It!: Twenty Reasons Why Growing Old Is Great (Viking, 2010), from which this essay is excerpted.
You're Old, I'm Old . . . Get Used to It!: Twenty Reasons Why Growing Old Is Great (Viking, 2010)When I was young and gloomy, everyone would say, "Donít worry ó soon Mr. Right will come along on a white horse and carry you off and everything will be all right!" They didnít say, as they should have, "Donít worry! If you play your cards right, your heart may be captured by a small red sausage with a wrinkly face, a tiny fellow who will one day call you 'Granny!'" The Welsh say, "Perfect love does not come along until the first grandchild," and theyíre right.
My grandchildless friends think my devotion to being a granny is idiotic. They tell me to "get a life," as if I havenít already got one. They tell me Iím crazy every time I put off going to see some ghastly play at the theater in order to babysit my grandsons. "Theyíre asleep!" they say. "They could get anyone to watch them! Why you?" But I would rather sit downstairs in a quiet house listening to my grandsons breathing on the monitor for hours on end than see some actor enunciating his socks off as Hamlet. Iíd rather know that if my grandsons wake, someone who loves them will be there instead of a responsible stranger. Just pottering about aware that theyíre upstairs sleeping, small fingers stuffed into mouths, gives me a glow that pervades until the next day.
Being needed by anyone when youíre old is a real treat. To be needed because you can look after the delightful creatures who are your grandchildren is a double treat.
[bluebox ironside]It Was So Different Then
Strangely, when I was a young mum more than 35 years ago, I wasnít nearly so taken with life with a toddler. I remember sitting in gloomy playgrounds staring at my watch and thinking that I would rather be dead than spend another minute there. I remember the sheer grinding misery of getting up morning after morning at the crack of dawn to give the screaming child his breakfast. And when my son cried, Iíd be tortured by feelings of being a bad mother who never should have brought him into this cruel world.
What is so immensely rewarding and fulfilling about being with my grandsons is that my love for them is pure and clear, unclouded by all the guilt, panic, and anxiety I felt with my own son when he was tiny. I donít have that sense of "Oh, Lord, heís tired and listless, he must hate me." Or, "Oh dear, if I do this or donít do that, it will ruin him for life." If by chance one of my grandsons suddenly starts crying or yelling his head off, Iím guilt-free. Experience tells me that his fears are only tiny clouds in a fundamentally blue sky, and they will, with enough kisses and cuddles, pass.
Now I find myself, with my grandchildren, with all the time in the world. Iím happy to walk at the pace of a snail. When we go to feed the ducks, I grind up some bread, then put the crumbs into a plastic bag and off we go. I watch the youngest giving out the bread. First he puts his hand inside the bag, then clasps the crumbs, not letting any spill. Then he withdraws his hand and turns in the direction of the ducks and ó this is the clever bit ó he releases his fingers as he throws the crumbs in their direction. He can feel, he can grasp, he can hold, he can gauge the right direction, he can release his fingers, and he can throw. I mean itís just brilliant, donít you think? Heís so clever. And heís so kind ó he wants to feed the dear little ducks. Heís clever and kind! What more could you want?
[poll]Look at Me Now
Grannydom flung me into the world of knitting. It threw me back into toy stores where I could browse for hours and find that books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Cat in the Hat were still going strong, which was rather a relief. I collect bits of candy wrappers, feathers, and colored straws so that we have enough material for collage and painting sessions when my grandsons come to visit. Itís got me digging out old recipes for gingerbread men, cheese straws, peppermint creams, and scones. The whole house often smells of baking these days.
I feel an unaccustomed joy with my grandchildren, a joy that Iíve not had in any other relationship ó and Iím not the only one. No cowboy was ever faster on the draw than a grandparent pulling a baby picture out of a wallet. And fellow grannies agree that the experience is astonishing, as marvelous as finding, in winter, a solitary rose blooming on a withered branch. (Actually itís a lot better than that, but you get the gist.) The realization that life is just a string of people, generation after generation, going on forever, suddenly comes home to you in a way it never could without a grandchild.
Small wonder that these days I start calling my grandsons by my sonís name, my son by his fatherís name, and his father by my grandsonís name. We all seem to be floundering around in one big familial soup.
My grandson once crept into my bed at five in the morning, claiming that he had woken early because he had had a "deem about piders."
"Granny? Granny?" heíd said, when heíd finally managed to wake me up. "I got good idea. You go down the end of the garden and be monster, and I get my sword and I be knight and come and kill you!"
And a little while later as I stood, waiting behind a tree shivering in my glamorous dressing gown in the cool dawn light at the start of a long, long day, while my grandson charged toward me with his plastic sword, I realized I was happy.
Isnít it great, being old?
Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from YOU'RE OLD, I'M OLD Copyright (c) Virginia Ironside, 2010.