I haven’t had time for writing or anything else since she and her dad came to live with us five months ago. Caring for her has stirred up my world in all sorts of ways, and nothing has really settled yet. The past, the present, the future swirl around in my mind, some bright and sweet, some dark and scary.
I love her beyond words and we are very close, maybe too close. What will happen when she and my son move out? Last week he took her unexpectedly for the day and my home seemed so empty and I felt so lost. I didn’t want to do anything—not write, nor read, nor clean, nor paint, nor walk, nor just sit and think, alone, undisturbed—all the things I wish I had time to do when she’s with me. I couldn’t wait till she came home so I could scoop her up and feel her small, sweet body melt into mine.
We spend our days playing and singing and dancing together. It’s filled with sweet cuddles and kisses, silly games puffing our cheeks and popping them together, playing with puzzles and legos and coloring and reading stories. We swim and pick roses and watch Disney movies together. Making up stories and pretending to be kittens and crocodiles. She loves to play hide and seek, where she hides in plain sight and I pretend I can’t find her while she laughs and giggles, and when I do find her, she demands—AGAIN!—and hides in the same place once more.
But by the afternoon, I’m tired. I’m wishing for a few moments alone. I’m wishing she could play by herself for longer than five minutes at a time, stopping her play to look for me, to demand to be held, to read a story, to come back into the room where she’s playing.
I try to get her to nap, but too often it’s late in the afternoon when she does, at 3 or 4 or 5, when I know doing so that late means she won’t want to go to sleep before 9 or 10. More often she doesn’t nap at all.
“Grandma needs quiet time I tell her,” time away from her is what I mean, but she doesn’t understand that, doesn’t understand that demanding my constant attention frazzles me as the day wears on. Even sitting her in front of the TV to watch cartoons (bad grandma!) doesn’t help as much as you’d think—every commercial she looks for me, and it’s the same with movies. “Come watch with me, Gwamma,” she says in her sweet, tender voice, pulling at my arm. My heartstrings tug, and my nerves tighten.
And then there’s the tug-of-wills, where she tests my boundaries, doesn’t listen when I tell her to leave something alone, to not go in there, not do that. I haunt parenting advise forums on the internet looking for ways to discipline, to cope, to mellow.
What did I do when my children were young?
I don’t remember my daughter ever wearing on my nerves with the demand for constant attention, or defying my will the way my granddaughter does now. My son defied my will on a daily basis, but he wasn’t as demanding of my attention as she seems to be. Still, we had our tug-of-wars too. I remember one dark day when I needed him to take a nap so badly and he simply refused to stay in his room. He’d come out, I’d put him in, he’d come out, I’d put him in, over and over again, like puppets in demented play, him crying and me yelling at first, then me crying and him yelling. I thought I was losing my mind. We were stuck in a hysterical repetition, like a broken record that would not stop. I don’t remember how it ended.
I do remember that I let him play in our fenced backyard by himself for long periods of time when he was a toddler, where he had a swing set, and sand box, and lots of toys. Something I can’t do with my granddaughter where we live now. Even so, he “escaped” several times, wandering off down the street—three years old—to visit grandma five blocks away, or to visit the little green store across a busy street.
Once a police officer brought him home to me. I hadn’t even known he’d gone missing.
I was a bad mother. If that had happened today, I would have been arrested. But things looked different back then. Children were encouraged to spend the day outdoors playing, to be independent. Little boys wandering off with a penny in his pocket to buy candy at the neighborhood store was “cute.” It showed his independence and adventurous spirit, not my poor parenting.
The thought of my little three-year-old granddaughter doing something like that today horrifies me. The thought of her living alone with her father on a busy street with chance of unlocked doors giving her access to the great outdoors makes me want to keep her here at home with me forever.
And yet, and yet, the other day my nerves were so frazzled I wanted to lock myself in a closet just to have a few moments alone without her, without hearing that sweet, tender voice calling out, “Gwamma, where are you?” And I wondered: Is this what drives some parents to lock their children in closets? The thought was so mind-chilling I wanted to sit down and cry.
Instead, I gathered my granddaughter in my arms and let her melt against me.
“I didn’t know where you were,” she tells me frowning, holding my face between her small hands.
“Don’t leave me,” she says, as she does several times every day.
“I won’t, baby,” I tell her. “I’m not going anywhere.”
But I will leave her. Or rather, she will leave me eventually, when her father finds a place for them to live that’s closer to town, closer to his work. Will she think I abandoned her, betrayed her?
Part of me longs for the peaceful life we had before they moved in. And part of me is terrified at the thought of them leaving.
Treasure what you have now, I tell myself. Don’t think about the past or the future. Now is where we are. Where my arms and heart are full. And while my poor nerves may get frazzled at times for want of the peace and quiet I sometimes crave, it cannot eclipse the wonder and joy of this child and how she fills my heart with light.