The Final Woman's Day Column

My last column for Woman's Day is in the July issue (that's why you can't find me in the August issue)-- I'm sorry to say. It's funny that I posted what I thought was the last one on facebook last week, but it wasn't-- I wrote the columns four months ahead, so it gets a little confusing. Also, blog readers will no doubt recognize this story, as parts of it were written here, first. That said, I loved writing the columns, and it has been a very good two years, but there is a new publisher with a new direction for the magazine, my editors have left, and since my contract was up it was a good time to part. That's how it is in the magazine-newspaper world these days. Change is the only thing you can count on. I wasn't quite sure how to tell you, but there it is. I do like this last column, though, and it's nice to go out with a good one. What I love about writing regular columns, is that if you write a sinker, you can redeem yourself next time, and over a few years, readers get to know you and don't mind too much if you are having a bad day. I will miss that relationship, but in the meantime I'm right here, and I have a book to finish, and, today, an obituary to write. Thank you very much for reading my Woman's Day column, and for sharing it with friends, and hopefully I'll get another one, someplace, soon?

I had trouble linking the column, so instead just reprinted here:

 The Grandma I Want to Be

When, at two in the morning, after about five hours of real labor the nurse said that my daughter Stoli was ready to push, I was so relieved I burst into a big smile. Before that, as my son-in-law Nels put it, I had been “kind of worried.” I’m willing to admit that was an understatement.

This is their first child. They do not know how much can go wrong. Nels hadn’t even noticed the alarming diagrams on the wall above the fetal heart monitor, but I couldn’t help but read the instructions for resuscitating an unresponsive infant.

Before I could dwell on that possibility, Nels pressed Stoli’s back, I held her hand, and she groaned deeply, straining with her whole body. Suddenly, the baby was on her belly instead of in it, a bluish-wrinkled-old-woman-alien, all smeared with the white grease of the womb. Stoli was tearfully wide-eyed. Nels beamed. I scanned the faces of the professionals in the room and they were all smiling, too. I was the only one, it seemed, who was a bit concerned. 

The fact is, I’ve been worrying for almost thirty years about my own children and I’m not about to quit on my grandchildren. It is my job. 

When the baby girl squawked I let out a huge sigh of relief. 

In spite of my fears, all was very well. As the doctor attended to Stoli the nurse lifted the little baby they named Lani, who grew prettier by the second, to the heat table. I was told to rub feet smaller than my thumbs. Her skin flushed pink from her dainty ankles to the scalp beneath her lovely black hair. Everything got blurry, but I quickly wiped my eyes. I needed to keep watch, so Lani wouldn’t accidentally be switched with another newborn.

Stoli never worries, which constantly amazes me. Could it be that the upside to worrying all night about your children is that they, at least, sleep soundly? 

My daughter, my youngest of five children, lives in the moment, just the way we all say we should, but most of us do not. When I asked her if she was concerned that the labor could stall and she’d have to have an emergency C-section, she said, simply, “No.” 

“Didn’t you read the labor and delivery section of What to Expect When You’re Expecting?” I gave her the book and had my own well-worn copy on the night table. 

“It was too scary, so I kind of scanned it,” she said. What? Is this my child? 

Stoli’s pregnancy was as relatively easy for her as the birth. 

It was a tad more challenging for me. For starters, it was a surprise, and one that prompted her to decide not to finish her junior year of college. I had so wanted her to graduate. Secondly, she was single and just 21. She has since married her boyfriend, with my blessing. But they are so young. (Never mind that I was 22 when I got married. That was totally different.)

Because it was me. 

Later that morning, after we had all napped, I remembered the worried look on my mother’s face when I told her I was pregnant that first year of marriage. Then, I hear myself telling Stoli what my mother told me before my baby was born: “Sleep when the baby is sleeping.” If I didn’t, she said, I could get overtired, which would lead to all kinds of woes from post-partum depression to mastitis.

Stoli looks up. “Mastitis?”

“It’s an infection in your milk ducts that is very serious.”

“Mom, I’ll be fine.”

I start to remind her not to let anyone near the baby who hasn’t sanitized his or her hands.

But then I look at my daughter’s peaceful face, and at the perfect baby, which she produced in spite of all my fretting, and instead I share something more helpful that my mother taught me after I had given birth: that used tea bags in the breast pads take the sting out of nursing. 

My mother died when Stoli was a teenager. She will never rock this great-grandbaby, but she is here, in the room with us. You’d think I have been around long enough to know that worry does not make the world turn, love does. You’d think. 

You’d think I have been riding up and down and around on it long enough to know that worry does not make the world turn, love does. You’d think. 

The afternoon of Lani’s first day her great-aunt Tanya came to visit, scrubbing her hands well before reaching for her (and endearing herself to me forever.)

I was still groggy from the early morning birth, and thought at first I was dreaming as Tanya floated into the room, all joy and praise. To me, she declared I must be Stoli’s sister. I was too young to be a grandmother. (Honestly, I did not look my best. A daughter’s labor adds years to a mother’s face.) To Stoli, who was puffy-eyed and tired to her marrow, she exclaimed that she never looked so lovely. It was impossible, Auntie Tanya said, that she had just given birth—“Impossible!” To her nephew she said, “Oh Nels, oh Nels, oh Nels! How lucky we are!” Then lightly, reverently, she pressed the baby to her heart and they waltzed across the linoleum. “The world is so beautiful,” Auntie Tanya cooed as she swayed. -“You are so beautiful. We are so lucky.”

That’s when I decided what kind of grandmother I will be. I will be more like Auntie Tanya. I no longer have to worry. That is Lani’s mother’s job, although that seems unlikely. Good for her, the new me says.

This is the reward for surviving my own childrearing years. This is the secret that no one tells you about being a grandmother. It is not the old joke that grandchildren are great because you can play with them and then give them back to their parents to change and feed. It is that you are no longer the chief worrier. You are now the good cop. A mother must say no, but from the beginning a good grandmother get to say yes.

Yes, little darling, you are beautiful and brilliant. Yes the world is wonderful. Yes, everything is OK, and yes, there is nothing to worry about because your daddy is kind and your mama is happy and your grandma is right here. 

Heather Lende, for Woman’s Day magazine, July 2012














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