On the kind of day when I look out at the rain and mist and breathe a prayer of thankfulness that I have no visitors staying, no children hoping for a visit to the beach or an adventure in the forest, I find myself reflecting - for solace, as it were - on what it is that makes being a grandparent so special. Remember, I never thought of myself as the maternal type - until my first son was born. Then I was maternal, but actually only towards him, and towards the second son who followed four years later. I still found other people's children attractive only insofar as they met my criteria, not simply because they were children, and I taught adolescents in the assumption that they were doing what the name suggests - growing older, becoming people. And I liked people.
So when my sons were men and became husbands and announced that they were to be fathers, I was not at all sure how that would feel. Maybe mothers are always like that; it's not something I've discussed. And then the babies were born and my world was turned upside down for the second time in my life. The connection to these tiny infants was unbelievable in its impact, maternal instinct or no. What today's reflection consolidated was that for almost seven years now I've enjoyed the immense privilege of a chance to experience the uncritical acceptance and love from children who seem to know, whether we meet frequently or seldom, that there is a bond that can be trusted and a love that will never be withheld. I regard it as a unique privilege, even though it is shared by other grandparents, because it is unique in any one life - unique and undreamed-of.
When we are parents, we are so busy being parents that we tend not to notice the passage of time other than in landmarks like walking, talking and teeth. Our own lives are so full with the minutiae of care that there is little time to reflect - and then the time has passed, the children are drifting out of our orbit, sharing their lives with increasing numbers of strangers, becoming people just as we did before them. There is a sense of a faint regret, perhaps, but we are caught up in the amazement that these new people came from us, and the anxiety or exhilaration that surrounds their achievements. Finally, they leave - and I think sons do this more conclusively than daughters - and the cycle begins again.
The grandchildren, that golden second chance to be with children and love them and have them smother you in sticky kisses and tell you they are going to miss you when they say goodbye, come and bring with them that added bonus of perspective. A grandparent knows all too well how swiftly that chariot careers along on its breathless wings; this grandparent has learned that every moment - even the tired, grumpy moment - has to be cherished and savoured like a mouthful of fine wine, like the perfect cadence hanging in the silence that applause will soon break.
And that is why I will walk away from other demands if my family, my two-generational family, asks me to; that is why I defer final commitment to other tasks; that is why I add caveats to most of the arrangements I make these days. For it is a fact that to be a grandmother who can tell interesting stories and supply adventures when asked, I still need to be living my own interesting life - so there are arrangements made, commitments given, and life sometimes feels almost as hectic as it was when I was a young parent.
The difference is that I can lay a great deal of it aside. And when I have to be grandma, I do.