By Mimi Hecht
It’s barely two days into my month-long stay back home in Seattle and my father is crying. His hand presses my seven-month old son’s cheek against his face, his eyes brimming with fresh tears. In a soft and serious voice he looks at me, but seems to ask himself, “What am I going to do when he goes?” Once again, I feel that jabbing pain from facing the reality that I raise my son on the opposite coast as my parents. But seeing so clearly how attached my father is to my son, watching the connection they have built, forces me to respond with a smile. I remind my father that we have so much time this trip and we will undoubtedly make it worthwhile. Indeed, I was bustling with excitement to be afforded the precious opportunity to spend time back at home with my child and give Zaidy and Nona the chance to bond with their first grandson.
As soon as my husband and I touched down in Seattle, my two parents became that village they say is essential to raising a child. They wholeheartedly assumed the parental role and providing everything essential to my child’s physical and emotional wellbeing. My mother had decked the house with tons of toys, an entire cupboard of baby food and so much baby paraphernalia that I almost thought she herself was pregnant. I thanked her profusely, but quickly learned she did none of this for me per se. Her baby was home.
At first I was blown away by my parent’s helpful hands. They insisted on taking the baby while I slept or worked, and when I was done they’d give an enthusiastic report on their time together - a program of feedings, diaper changes and, in my father’s case, a detailed tour of the house. It was heartwarming, but also a little strange. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the idea that my parents – who raised seven children and are now enjoying a more restful period of their life – could so naturally and joyfully slip into parenting-gear, something that demands so much energy and focus.
They were unstoppable. When my mother went on a walk, she insisted on taking the stroller. Every time she wanted to hold the baby for “just a second” he would suddenly be enjoying a treat outside his strict seven-month old diet or be undressed and splashing in the bath. When my father had some free moments, he whisked the baby away to play him music and tell him stories. One morning I woke up to find him giving the baby breakfast, both still in pajamas.
And then there was the time I heard the baby upstairs and, after following his chuckles and scanning the floor for his roly-poly crawling polkas, I also found my father on all fours. Yes, my father was having a crawling play session with my toddler. “Sorry for interrupting,” was all I could say. It was official; my parents needed to have another baby. But when I suggested that to my mother she laughed and reminded herself of the task of raising teenagers. I couldn’t help but think to myself, just one more reason to treasure these poop-filled, tear-soaked and sleep-deprived days of baby-raising.
You always wonder what it was like for your parents to raise little kids. How did they talk to you? How did they feed you? What activities and moments really made them smile? Up until now, I have only heard the memories, being left to imagine my folks as youthful parents. But now, having brought my child home, I have been given an inside view into my parents’ joy-filled days raising children. My mother always told me that caring for us as babies was the best time of her life. But she doesn’t have to say it. I see the same delight every moment she’s with my son…and the lesson is indispensable.
I now know what grandparents are for. They’re not there to share a burden. They don’t exist to spoil your kids. And while it’s always accepted, their primary role is not to dispense advice. Their purpose is more in-between the lines. Seeing a couple who are no longer raising little ones enthusiastically kick into gear and embrace the responsibilities of parenthood when they have absolutely no obligation – and seeing them do it with the elation of a lottery winner – well, that’s just something you can’t ignore. So here’s to the best Zaidy and Nona. Thank you for teaching me to approach parenthood with zest and joy. Thank you for reminding me that, years from now when I am beyond my childbearing years, I will look back at this time and wish it hadn’t passed so quickly.