E’s grandfather (my father) is staying with us this week. He’s in town to teach a course, but he came in a few days early so he could help Q. out with a couple of jobs around the house, and so he could spend some more time with E.
E. LOVES my father. I mean loves him with the fire of a thousand suns. Loves demanding that he read him stories (or the same story over and over and over again). Loves roughhousing with him and trying to flatten him like a pancake (given my father is 6’5″ and E. is maybe 34″ watching him attempt to pin down his Grandpa is hilarious). The look of glee on his face when he wakes up from his nap and sees that Grandpa is still in the living room?
Melts my heart.
And my goodness is it ever wonderful to have a willing grandparent around in the late afternoon to play with E. Making dinner? Takes SO much less time. Amount of fussing? Drops to virtually nil.
I know it is important for E. to learn that he can’t expect to be entertained every moment of every day, and he is generally very good at playing by himself when Q. and I have other things we need to do. And I’m getting better (and braver) at including E. in the tasks I need to do. I can vacuum the whole house with him in tow now as he is happy to just potter in and out of the various rooms, occasionally patting the vacuum or just giving it a general look of reverence. I can do much of the dinner preparations with E. standing on a chair next to me, supervising and snacking on any stray veggies that come his way. He helps me dump the dishwasher, painstakingly pulling out one dish or bowl at a time and handing them to me with enormous care and evident pride. We baked a zucchini bread together again this week, and E. didn’t try to take all of the dry ingredients out of the bowl like he did the last time. He did spend a bit of time spooning the wet ingredients into his (empty and clean) snack bowl, but when it was time to add the wet ingredients to the dry, he watched me carefully and then tipped his own bowl’s contents into the big mixing bowl.
But there are days when I feel most of the day required E. to amuse himself or to follow along behind me as we kept our household functioning. So it is lovely to have a few days where he can have an extra dose of one-on-one attention at a time of day when he almost never gets it.
And it is wonderful to watch my father play with my son.
I was skypeing with my sister the other day and she asked me what was E’s first word, because she and my other sister couldn’t remember when they were discussing it with each other.
“It was Daddy,” I said. “We eventually got Mama or Mummy too, but Daddy was first. You know how he says it- with that sing-song cadence: DA-dee!”
My sister nodded but she looked confused. And later, I realized the issue.
She doesn’t know how E says “Daddy”.
She moved out of the country just before E’s first birthday, long before he had any spoken words of his own.
My other sister, who moved out of the country when I was still in my first trimester, has been, because of visa issues, unable to come back to Canada for this entire year. She is hoping to get home for Christmas. She won’t have seen E. since last Christmas.
She never saw E. crawl (other than on skype and videos I’ve posted), and when she next sees him he’ll be running.
Q’s grandmother passed away on Monday. It was not unexpected, as she had been declining for some months, but the end came faster than anyone was really anticipating.
Friday Q. leaves to make the long flight down under. He’ll be gone for a week. Despite the pleas from E’s aunty, we felt it would be just too much to subject E. to that flight and everything that comes with a fifteen hour time difference, especially for such a short time.
She met E. when we were there in July. She had one of her most lucid days of the past few months when she saw him. She knew exactly who he was, and she could still assess what he was doing from her perspective as an early childhood educator.
He will never know her.
One of Q.’s sisters has been in the U.K. for close to two years now. She wasn’t back home when we visited in the summer.
She has never met E.
Having a child changes your perspective on your family. It changes how you view your own parents, and your relationship with them, but it also changes your perspective on your extended family, on your ancestors, on your place in the world. Or at least that’s what I’ve found. I find myself drawn to our family history, wanting to quiz my grandfather and my aunt (who are the respective keepers of the family lore on each side) about the stories I know, and the ones I don’t. Over the last year and a bit I’ve found myself choking back tears at the most unexpected moments, looking at my father and realizing that he once loved us and nurtured us as Q. loves our E., and imagining what it must have been like for him when my mother said she wanted a divorce and he saw us only on weekends, and sometimes even less than that when his career took him across provinces and overseas. I walked the floors with a sleepless infant and understood, at last, some of the things my mother said to me. I thought about the cruel words I hurled at both parents during my adolescence when I was still so angry about the destruction of my family, and in my undergraduate days when I knew everything, as only young adults can, and I regretted them.
The level of connection I feel to them now is astonishing. It is an ever-present weight, like the comforting pressure of a heavy blanket that you’ve draped over your legs on a chilly day.
I have always loved my parents, and I have always felt relatively close to them. But becoming a parent myself has changed things more than I could have possibly imagined.
I spent five years living overseas. During the years we lived in Q.’s home country, the time difference made it a challenge to stay in touch with my parents. I had to call on Saturday or Sunday mornings, and most weeks I had co-curricular commitments on Saturdays for the school where I taught. Sunday morning was a special time for Q. and I, and I was reluctant to let other obligations intrude on our delightful routine of croissants and newspapers and long walks, particularly not phone conversations with my parents who have never mastered the art (as Q.’s mother has) of a brief chat.
The result was one of my sisters telling me, “The parents both told me that they feel very disconnected from you. They don’t feel like they have much of a sense of your life.”
At the time it didn’t much matter.
When we moved back to Canada, Q. resumed phoning his mother on a weekly basis as he had done while overseas for graduate school. I admired his consistency even as I knew it would never work with my family, since I had two sets of parents who both tended to expect hour-long phone calls. Being back home made it much easier for me to reconnect with my family, especially with my sisters who both ended up in the same city as Q. and I. It was the first time in a decade all three of us had lived in the same place, and we really took advantage of it. They were a source of enormous support during the three years we waited for E.
I loved my family. I was close with my family. But I never really sat down and thought about this. It didn’t really matter all that much.
And then we had E.
And now it is physically painful for me to think about my sisters being on the other side of the continent, and Q.’s family being on the other side of the world, and my parents being far enough away that driving up just for a weekend isn’t really feasible.
No one tells you about this when you meet and fall in love with someone from another country. You know, rationally, that someone is always going to be in the wrong country. You understand that one partner’s family is always going to be on the other end of the phone, or the webcam, or the flight path, or at least you think you do.
And then you have a child, and suddenly these familial connections that did not even register before become all-consuming.
It kills me that E. will only see half of his family every couple of years (and it would be even more heartbreaking for me if we were still living in Q.’s home country and it was my family that was so far away).
It kills me that my youngest sister has only met E. three times, and that my other sister hasn’t seen him for six months after seeing him every week of his life.
It kills me that a trip to go and see my parents ends up costing at least $400 when car rentals and cat sitters and fuel prices are taken into account.
My parents raised us to be full of confidence, ready to take on the world. We were nurtured and loved and encouraged to seek out our dreams. We were taught to be strong, independent young women, to embrace opportunity when it came knocking.
I didn’t realize at the time how easy that would make it for us to end up so far apart.
My parents have always been full of pride as my sisters and I won scholarships and landed jobs that took us over oceans and across continents. They cheered us on.
Now I understand how their hearts must have broken a little bit each time we moved further and further away.
Sometimes we came home again, of course.
But not always, and never for long enough.
My dad made an off-hand comment the other night after E. had gone to bed and we were chatting about his grandfather, my great-grandfather, the family patriarch who came to Canada and changed his name, which is why I have a last name of three letters rather than three words.
“I was thinking,” he said, “that when your grandfather was the age that I am now, he had five grandchildren, all between the ages of seven and twelve.”
My father has one: seventeen-month-old E.
My grandfather was 22 when he had my Dad, who was the eldest. Dad was 26 when he had me (also the eldest). I was 31, nearly 32, when E. was born (although I had wanted so badly to have my first child before I turned thirty). Q. was 34. We are by no means the oldest first-time parents of our friends.
It occurred to me as I lay in bed that night, listening to Q.’s steady breathing as he slept, that if E. has his children as late as Q. and I did, or even later, we will be that much older again than my father when we become grandparents.
If the trend continues, it will be only a couple of generations before parents become grandparents at an age that used to be reserved for becoming a great-grandparent.
People are living longer…but not that much. Not so much to ensure that these older grandparents will be fit and active and able to play and cuddle and talk to and hug and advise and teach and love their grandchildren the way that I, the eldest child of two eldest children, was by my grandparents on both sides of my family.
And families are becoming smaller and smaller, so there will be fewer aunts and uncles, fewer cousins, to help make up for the earlier loss of grandparents.
They say it takes a village to raise a child.
The village is shrinking.
And that makes me terribly sad, in a way that I couldn’t have possibly imagined or even understood before I had E.