I’ve noticed as I’ve looked in the mirror lately that I’m looking older…but seriously…do I look like someone’s grandfather? At this point, to ask the question matters not, because I have now become an official member of the “Grandpa Club.” So, even though it feels too early (and, probably always would have felt that way, no matter when it had happened) I guess it’s just time that I earn these wrinkles that I see in the mirror and become the Grandpa that I’ve always dreamed I would be to my children’s children.
After all, I’ve heard a lot of great things about being a grandparent. A lot of my friends have told me that there is “nothing better than being a grandparent!” At the time they said it to me, they just seemed… old… and, like they had nothing better to do than to babysit their grandkids. Now I’ve come to realize that many of them were my age and had plenty of other things to do. I think I’m about to get busier.
On Tuesday, May 25, 2010, I became a first-time grandpa to little Eli David Johnston. I arrived at the hospital just in time. I only had to wait a short time with the others in the waiting area. Many of the others that were there waiting had been doing so for the previous day and a half while awaiting the blessed event. I guess to them it was kind of like waiting in line for the best seats at a concert. You’ve got to get in line first to get the best seats.
After everyone, and I mean everyone else, had their turn holding Eli and welcoming him to this world, I got my moment, and man, what a moment it was! I somewhat expected it to happen, but not to the extent that it did. As soon as I took the bundle of promise into my arms, the emotions came right to the surface and I was taken back to the moment 24 years earlier when I held my first son, Jeremy.
It was disconcerting when I realized that I had completely forgotten how to hold a newborn! I have five children, for Heaven’s sake, and I took the infant into my arms as if he was a trumpet, or some other inanimate object I didn’t know what to do with. I held him right out in front of me to get a good look…with my big hands holding him solid, right under the pits of his tiny arms and so his shoulders were up to his chin and he had no neck to bend and wobble his head about.
I looked squarely into Eli’s little eyes that were still adjusting to the harsh lights of the outside world. If he could see anything at all at that point, I’m sure that I must have just looked like a big blob of fuzz to him…and, maybe that was best for our first encounter…wouldn’t want to scare the kid! Then, it all came back to me as I suddenly remembered instinctually how to cradle him into my arms and tucked under my ribs… kind of like a footballer who tucks that ball in so tightly under his arm for the run to the end zone…nothing’ was getting him away from me now that I was getting my turn.
My son Nick, Eli’s father, had been watching me and laughing at my awkwardness. Nick knew that I know how to hold a baby, but I had never held THIS child, his child, before. It was somehow different. Eli was a beautiful sight to behold after so many months of worrying that everything would be all right with mom and baby. (Just a small note here to other future first-time grandparents: You will worry A LOT MORE when your child is going to have a child than you did about yourself for your own baby.)
Nick is almost 22 years old now, and he is my second child and second son. I’ve had a connection with Nick and each of my children that is different from the others. With Eli, I felt the miracle in a more pronounced way and a new connection to him that I’d never felt with one of my own…not more of a connection to this baby boy, just a different feeling about him and what our relationship would be like.
What is it about newborns, anyway? Is it the innocence…?…the potential...? ...the miracle of it all? It’s probably all of the above and I know that Nick was experiencing it too. As I stood there, I closed my eyes. This little one had worked hard to get here and now he just wanted to sleep and I just wanted to let him.
My mind began to drift back again to 22 years earlier when I held Nick for the first time. I’m sure I had a furrowed brow as I asked myself, “How can it be that it was 22 years later?” It truly seemed in my mind like I was having a moment of time-travel, back through the space and time of my memories, to recall the birth of each of my children and recall how each of their births were unique to them.
Everyone always expects me to cry in these situations, so I did. I gave them the tears that they expected, and that they would surely use as ammunition to tease me later. Then, I took a moment to contemplate this life in my arms and the new chapter that was beginning for so many of us in that room.
Suddenly, I got it! I finally understood why, with even the smallest of inquiry about one of his grandchildren, a grandfather would immediately reach around to his back pocket and quickly draw out his wallet and push its contents at me, like they were in a quick-draw old-west street shootout and had just drawn their 6-shooter. Sometimes it is a single photograph of a grandchild they want to show off and sometimes it is a long plastic accordion of pictures that fall out of the wallet, making me wonder how they had possibly fit them all in the wallet in the first place. I am courteous and show interest about the child in each picture, but the most interesting thing to me about the whole thing has always been watching the enthusiasm of the grandparent as they talk about their grandchild.
Well, now I have Eli’s picture as the screen saver on my computer and on my phone. The picture on my facebook profile is also of Eli. I get it now because each time someone has asked me about Eli’s picture on my computer or my phone or in facebook, I have enjoyed telling them about the baby in the picture and how I am connected to him. If it is a grandparent that I am telling, they just nod knowingly. If they are not, they just courteously nod and smile and say nothing at all. They don’t know… yet… but hopefully someday, they will.
Now, grandparents have a reputation for spoiling their grandchildren and I plan to do my part in following this tradition. I will spoil Eli and I refuse to feel even one ounce of guilt for doing so. Let Nick and Cayce have the tough job this time around and I will just relax and enjoy the little one. There it is again…! Again, I’m having an epiphany of why being a grandparent is so amazing!
I remember now how difficult it was to be a new parent. It was very scary. I had a lot of sleepless nights when they were newborns and then again when they were teenagers and had not come home on time… I still have these restless nights worrying about my children on occasion.
As many parents have done, I’ve often told my children, “You just wait ‘til you have your own kids…You’ll see.” The time has come and Nick and Cayce will find out what it feels like to be told they are mean or too strict because they say, “No.” Somehow the retribution I thought I would feel is not as satisfying as I thought it would be.
Nick will soon find out why I behaved and reacted the way I did as his father. I only wanted what was best for him. It wasn’t about me at all. It was about doing my job to protect him and to teach him that sometimes that means that the answer had to be, “No.” The truth is Nick will learn more as a parent than with any other experience he will have in his life, and he’ll especially have many lessons to help him learn about patience.
That is another reason grandparents are able to enjoy their grandchildren. They have come to understand children’s behavior and the best way to deal with them and connect with them. Grandparents are patient.
That is my goal as Eli’s grandfather, to be patient, take time to enjoy time with him, and to make sure he knows of his great worth. I will to be patient and do my best to let Nick and Cayce find their own way as parents. I promise to bite my tongue when I have a difference of opinion on how to raise their children…Now I also understand why my mother would correct my parenting skills sometimes. She knew.
So, here is a picture of me, the proud Grandpa Doug showing off Baby Eli. I realize that I kind of look like I’m holding up a big fish that I just caught, but that’s kind of like the joy I feel. I feel so lucky that Nick and Cayce and our family have “caught” this little one, and I look forward to showing him off every chance I get.