An Unexpected Experience
“What is it like,” people ask, “to be a grandparent?” My first answer to this question is a very truthful, “I don’t know.” Because like many novel experiences in life one has to live with the novelty for a time and allow the experience to unfold. After all, grandparenthood is not a thing like a new smartphone.
Like parenthood, being a grandparent is, in every sense of the word, an experience. Ask a new mother, for example, what it’s like to be a mommy and you are likely going to get an answer which is directly influenced by whether or not her child is hungry, wet, napping or cooing gently in the playpen. Maybe when the children are grown and setting upon their own lives that mother might be able to articulate a small portion of what it is like to be a “mommy.” Or not.
So, just as I have known as a couples therapist, I am unraveling the experience of grandparenthood. In couples therapy, what is processed is the experience of the two partners. Experiences are distinct from events in that an experience is dynamic and on-going. Experiences require making sense of them. They are then, by definition, complex and dynamically unfolding. It is for this reason that couples therapy takes time. There is a lot of unraveling of an experience that must occur before sense of things is made.
In the unraveling of my brief four month experience of “grandpa-ness,” I stumbled upon something recently I never expected when my grandchild was born. At the moment I encountered it or rather it encountered me, I was almost breathless. A rare and surprising moment of clarity. I had to take a second or two to make sense of it. When I did, I felt a pride that I had not felt for a very long time. “What is this, this thing?” I asked myself at the time. What “it” was was not a “thing” at all. At that moment, I was bearing witness to my child, my daughter, being a “mommy.”
I was watching a woman. A woman who once was a little girl who waited for dad to come home so she could excitedly open and close a music box that played “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” over and over again. I saw the little girl who made sure her little brother’s head never got too big by finding clever ways of knocking him down a peg or two from time to time. My little girl. She of the floppy left ear and crooked smile. My little girl now moved before me and deftly cared for her own. Her and her husband’s little James.
In those moments as I sat quietly and watched my daughter I felt, I experienced, a quality of pride that I never experienced before. “This must be what it’s like to be a grandparent” I thought. I thought that because I still don’t know what it’s like. Being a grandparent, that is. My experience is still unfolding and maybe with age has come some wisdom. Maybe it doesn’t matter if it makes sense. Maybe all that matters is the joy that comes from being connected and knowing my life now bridges more than just two generations. Maybe in the end, all that matters is experiencing connection.