A few years ago, my sister had her first grandchild. Shortly after she had held him for the first time, she called and told me about the baby’s weight and who he looked like and how exciting it all was. But mid-way through a sentence, she stopped, overcome by emotion and said, “My baby had a baby.”
Now I’m in the soon-to-be grandma seat. My son is expecting his first child, my first grandchild. They’ve decorated the nursery and selected a name (it’s a secret, don’t ask, I don’t know). They have been showered with gifts and have struggled putting together the crib and the glider rocker.
One day he asked me to give him some idea of how much his life would change. I laughed and said something like “It will be a long time before you sleep all night again” and “You think you’re busy now, you have no idea how busy you will be.”
But there was so much more that I wanted to say.
It’s not just the lack of sleep because a baby wakes every few hours. You won’t sleep when, as an adolescent, the child first spends a night away from home. You’ll worry and fret and want to be ready for that phone call asking to come back.
You won’t sleep when that child is a young teen, going to parties with people you don’t know. Or to a summer camp where you worry about strangers and dangers of all sorts.
Having a child changes the way you think. You will be more sensitive to the violence and destruction of the world.
Every news story of a child stuck in a well or drowned or beaten or kidnapped will make you worry and wonder “What if that were my child?”
If you hear about a house fire and your child is staying with a friend, you will go crazy to make sure it’s not anywhere nearby.
Diapers are nothing. One day your child will want to go to the bathroom alone, in a public place. And you will quiver in fear of making that decision. And like your mom, when you were small, you will stand right by that bathroom door and dash in if it takes too long.
You will do a lot of things that your parents did, that you hated. You will say things that your mother said that you swore you would never, ever say. And you will do things that your father did, that you swore you would never, ever do.
I don’t know why, it just happens that way.
You will go to work with baby spit-up on your shoulder, you won’t even notice. And when someone points it out, you will just go into the restroom to clean it. And you will know everything about poop.
You will become one of those parents who shares stories about your child that likely bore every other parent. But you just know your child is different, even amazing.
You will find a heretofore unknown joy in your baby’s smile, laugh and first step. If making a funny face makes your baby smile, you will make that face over and over and over again until your muscles ache.
That joy will continue in the first at-bat in Little League, at kindergarten graduation, the first bike ride without training wheels or a dance recital.
You will make mistakes and you will worry about the impact of the mistakes you made. Sometimes right away, sometimes not until years later. But it will never leave you.
You will do everything in your power to protect your child. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll think about calling your mother and saying “sorry” for everything you put her through. For all the times you didn’t listen or were bothered because she clung to you like sweat.
And then, one day, your baby will have a baby and you will fight back tears wondering where the time went and wishing that you could do it all over again.