Starting Over: When Mama is Nana

by Linda DeMers Hummel September 08, 2017

A lady and a child touching head, lady holding bowl

Last fall, my friend spent Tuesdays in a utilitarian meeting room sitting on a folding chair while “experts” expounded on topics like bonding, sleep patterns, and infant milestones, information she didn’t need since she'd already ushered her own children into adulthood. The good part was that there were other grandmothers in the class who told each other their stories. Tuesdays also brought paperwork and state mandates and social work regulations. Her new normal – the one she never saw coming – had just landed in her lap.

When her grandchild was born and it was clear the birthparents could not be the caregivers, my friend began to quietly text the baby’s temporary foster parents in another state. She relished the photos they would send her. She would comment on “the sweetest little hands.” That text would, the next month, turn into “the cutest smile ever.” She sent books and clothes and every age-appropriate toy she could find.

It made sense that she’d be invested in giving this baby the best start she could. After all, she was the baby’s grandmother. I figured her role would be filling in the gaps until “real parents” could be found as soon as the court ruled the adoption could go forward. Then, I thought, the social worker would consult the list of couples yearning for a baby, and a whole new family – a young family – would be created, and those parents would take over.

I was fooled. Partly because my friend carefully skirted the issue of the baby’s future. She’d indulge me in phone conversations that began with me saying things like, “I know this is sad, but there’s a young couple somewhere, just aching to have a baby and soon they’ll have one!” Looking back now, I remember her soft silences in response to my enthusiasm. She was probably averting her eyes too, but I couldn’t see that.

I believed that in her life, as in mine, it would be unthinkable to dive back into the grinding mechanics of caring for an infant 24 hours a day, much less summoning the reflexes to prevent a three-year-old from darting into traffic. Or sitting, albeit proudly, in the audience at your kid’s high school graduation when you’re in your 80s.

When she finally told me she was beginning adoption proceedings, I told her all the reasons she was making a terrible, immutable mistake. I warned her that once the baby arrived in her home, no matter how difficult the going got, she would never be able to turn back to her old life – her sane, comfortable, predictable life – with me as her sane, comfortable, predictable friend.

“How fair is that?” I asked. Not fair to her and not fair to her grandchild, not when there were prospective (young) parents, waiting so hopefully in the wings.

She approached my logic with statistics about the numbers of babies who have been rescued by willing grandparents: 2.7 million nationwide. She told me about her distrust of the system the baby would be thrown into, even for a short time, and the damage that could be done. Then she refuted my logic with emotion. The term “grandfamilies” has entered the lexicon. The baby was part of her extended family. That baby was her family.

Her mind was made up, and I was left to look at what my rational arguments said about me. I wanted our two lives to stay on the intended arc we envisioned together, the continuation of everything we’d shared. We always had each other as we parented our young children. Then came the teenagers and the college years. We hosted weddings, then baby showers. Now we were supposed to be free to go out to lunch, learn to play golf, discuss politics, or gossip idly without any interruptions. What about our bucket lists?

It turns out her baby loves eating in restaurants, watching people go by, sampling new foods, and playing peek-a-boo with the waiter. I look at my friend, enveloped in all of it. She’ll be called “Nana,” she tells me. The baby is beautiful.

There are all kinds of bucket lists.

Linda DeMers Hummel


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