“Mom, Mom!” my son Rick shouted. I fell slowly to the ground, as I twisted my foot. “What’s with these stupid sidewalks?!”, I yelled. I was convinced it wasn’t a unique accident of my own making at 64 years old. I hobbled back to the house. That’s when I broke down and sobbed.
“I didn’t want to be a burden to the two of you. I just wanted to help. I wanted to prove I could manage being here when the baby comes. I don’t want you to think I’m feeble and can’t help you. I just want to be loved.” My son was grabbing the ice, Advil, elevating my foot and finding an ace bandage.
I fell on the fifth day of my visit to see my son and daughter-in-law Melissa before their first child, and my first grandchild, would be born. I had flown out to Colorado where they live to attend the baby shower and help with those nesting chores expectant parents do before the baby comes.
I had been nervous about the trip. Soon my son was going to be a father and I wondered what it would mean for our relationship as he began his life as a parent. Would he still need me? In what ways? Would he and his wife accept me into their child’s life? Suddenly my parental identity was shifting from influencer to permission seeker. I was feeling a little lost. As Rick and Melissa were shifting from those “it’s all about us” years to “it’s all about the baby”, I was changing too. From influential parent with a modicum of control to an aide and observer.
I thought about what I wanted the baby to call me. I’m no Granny. This was the one choice I actually had some control over. I chose to be called Mutti, an homage to my mom who survived the Holocaust and died when I was just 12 years old. It means “mother” in German.
Once I arrived at their home, I was determined to be as helpful as possible. I was sure that was the ticket to being invited back to help when the baby arrived. Over the next few days I laundered the new baby clothes and organized them neatly in the baby’s room, I made meatballs in sauce and Lemon Chicken for the freezer, and homemade breakfast burritos neatly wrapped in plastic wrap and foil for easy heating in the microwave on those busy mornings ahead.
At the baby shower I watched Rick play “future dad puts the diaper on the baby doll, with his eyes closed”. Cookies and cupcakes lovingly (and professionally) decorated as foxes and owls by Melissa’s mom and there’s a cheese dip in the shape of a hedgehog. I was touched seeing my son with his wife, surrounded by their friends and her family, laughing, smiling and excited about what’s to come.
The next day, Rick and I walked side-by-side with their well-trained dogs on leash ahead of us. “I want to be a cool dad,” he said confidently. “A dad that my daughter won’t be embarrassed to be around when she’s older.” It made me wonder how I may have embarrassed him when he was a young boy. “How are you feeling about holding her for the first time, about having a baby in your arms?”, I asked. He thought a minute and then offered, “Friends of mine have told me that it seems you can never do enough for them, you just love them so much.”
I looked up at him and smiled while we kept our strides. “You know, that never changes. You’re 31 years old and I still feel that way about you. That’s why I’m here, doing the first load of clothes for the baby, making meals to freeze for when the baby is here and you don’t have time to cook, doing your food shopping, organizing the baby’s room. I love you so much, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for you.” I paused a moment. “But it’s not possible to do it all, nor is it a good idea. It’s just that you want to do everything possible for your child, no matter how old they are. It’s love.” Rick looked at me and I could tell he got it. In that moment, we came to an understanding about the awesomeness of being a parent, 31 years in the making, now realized.
The night I fell on the sidewalk, my tears just kept coming. All that pent up worry, feeling like I’d been auditioning for a seat at the changing table. The tables had officially turned. I needed my kids’ approval, their love and their permission instead of them seeking mine. My injury threatened to make them believe that pitching in would be too much for me. That I would overdo it and risk hurting myself in the process.
“You’re always welcome here mom. We love you. But yes, you’re doing too much and we can’t have you overdoing it when you come here and end up needing us to take care of you too.” I knew he was right. No one asked me to go crazy cleaning, cooking and organizing. Did I really need to be the Marie Condo of grandmothers? Why was I so insecure?
I was sure it was just a bad sprain. After staying off it for a couple of days I was able to walk through the airport to get home. My son drove me to the Departures level. I realized that the next time I would see him, he would be a father. “I love you mom,” he said as he got out of the car and fetched my carry-on. “I love you too, I’m so proud of you.”
As I entered the terminal, I worried that I’d blown it. I so wanted to be invited to help out as soon as possible after the baby was born. Just then I got a text. “Mom, we’d love to have you come out and help after the first two weeks.” All my fears melted away. Maybe this was always going to be the case, maybe not. Maybe all the work I did proved my value. More likely though, it was all in my head. I was still mom and now grandma too.