The reluctant grandmother

Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, Francophile and single mother of three young adults. Just as we all ‘learn’ how to be the best parent we can, so the process continues when the grandchildren arrive. She shares her story.


I have never been especially keen on the idea of being a grandmother.

Periodically, my children would threaten me with it just for fun. I’m way too young, I’d say. Turns out I’m not as young as I thought. Or as immune to the lure of a newborn – first born of my firstborn, unwitting trailblazer of a new generation of my family, tiny repository of untold hopes and dreams.

My granddaughter lives 1700 kilometres away. My visit coincides with her arrival home. No mollycoddling for today’s new mothers in a stretched hospital system. I am in the kitchen preparing a homecoming meal. The smell of roast pork is a welcome greeting for the new parents. I wonder what their daughter makes of it.

She lies prone on my chest, oblivious to the weight of expectations.

She can lie like that for hours, happy to feel the beating of another heart. After all, she has only been out of the womb for 48 hours. Into the bright lights and loud noises of the maternity ward, the cold stethoscope and sharp pinpricks that are part of a newborn’s introduction to the world. I watch over her while the rest of the household sleeps.

The next morning, I take her for her first walk in the pram.

We discover a cafe that serves the best coffee and the best muffins in the world. Or maybe it’s the company that makes everything taste so good. I tell the barista this is my first grandchild. He comes from behind the counter to inspect her. One by one, his co-workers follow – young men with muscly arms, soft hearts and young children of their own.

It’s a privilege to witness a son during the early days of fatherhood.

For the first few days, my big, brash, funny boy cries every time he talks about the birth. He is awestruck, amused and engaged by the tiny bundle with the shock of downy black hair he has helped bring into the world. He is a solicitous partner: helpful, good-natured and hands-on. And sleep-deprived. He almost electrocutes himself changing a light bulb.

The new mother is exhausted, appreciative, intuitive. My granddaughter is in the safest of hands. I know that when I go back home, as I must after three days, the fortress will be secure. As it was before I arrived. As it will be next time I come to check the perimeters. The urge to make sure my chicks are safe is strong. It’s a grandmother thing.

Did you embrace becoming a grandparent? Were there ‘rules’ you told yourself to follow?

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