If one operates on the principle that everything can be a learning experience, then of course aging needn’t be so painful.
Hear the Wind Song, Haruki Murakami
My granddaughter, Skylar, is a time machine for my heart.
Having just turned one year old a few weeks ago, Skylar has begun sleeping all night in her crib and is now being weaned off breast feeding. Her world, her reality is changing at an incredible rate.
When I keep her for my daughter and son-in-law, I arrive at their house about 6:45 AM, and now Skylar sleeps until about 8:30. So in that quiet time of just her and me, I often slip into her room—even thought there is a monitor—to watch her sleep.
It is then that I am transported back in time.
Skylar, especially while she is sleeping, is the exact sort of heart-twisting beautiful my daughter Jessica was about 25 years ago.
When Jessica was a baby and a child, I often did the same sort of stealthy watching and even eavesdropping. Jessica slept like a brick—an extremely warm brick. I was able, then, to walk into her dark room to watch her sleeping face and also squeeze her tiny warm feet, kiss her face. She would not budge.
Since Jessica’s room was upstairs, I often sat on the steps but out of sight to listen to her play. And she played hard, talking and singing and laughing out loud.
Time has passed incredibly fast, to this point of my daughter a young adult and her glorious gift of her daughter.
Skylar is a walking, babbling bundle of energy, but she remains in the baby phase of fighting sleep. She often cries as she falls asleep and then wakes crying.
While rocking her yesterday—and she never did give into a nap—I kissed the top of her head, her matted baby hair. Skylar raised her head toward me when I stopped kissing. So I kissed again and then over her forehead and eyes.
She was eager to move her head and face to encourage more kissing.
And then I was transported into the future.
I have been gifted life long enough to share adulthood with my daughter. While I desperately miss her as a baby and child, it is a wonderful thing to share adulthood with a daughter.
But the math and life work against me with my granddaughter, and I spend a small amount of my anxious nature contemplating how long I will be here to witness Skylar. I have begun to contemplate not a sadness about my mortality and how that will deny me the long view of Skylar’s life, but an awareness of being human, a state that too often lacks humanity.
Parenthood is spent for most of us simultaneously with young adulthood and early marriage.
While entirely lacking experience in any of those endeavors, we must learn to raise a child, become the person we are or want to be, and manage the nearly impossible task of sharing this world with another.
That magnificent and cruel combination accelerates time to a blur. And we often stumble under the weight of our selfishness.
In the bright and harsh light of hindsight, I see that I did much of those duties badly, with the crippling intensity of a deeply anxious, self-conscious, and insecure human.
The paradox of past-50 grand-parenting is that time continues to accelerate exponentially, but you gain the power of focus that allows you to observe that world as if time has shifted into slow motion.
In these moments of lucidity, time slowed, I have been keenly aware of how all of us who love Skylar behave in her presence—feeding her, changing her diapers, rocking her to sleep, sitting with her sleeping against our chests, listening intensely as she babbles and points, and staying within arm’s length to be sure she is safe.
When Jessica was a small child, she came down stairs one day while I was sitting on the couch. She climbed onto the coffee table and said, “Watch this.”
Before I could even tell her not to climb onto the table, Jessica dove off and into a perfect head roll—spinning up to her feet as if she had been doing such gymnastics for years.
I probably nearly passed out since this all happened so quickly and since my only gear is anticipating the worst outcome for any situation.
Skylar does not only look like Jessica, but also she has the daredevil gene, climbing onto any- and everything, pushing your arm away when you try to help her or keep her from falling.
The one clear good thing I did as a parent is pass on to my daughter that adults should never hit children. Jessica wasn’t spanked beyond a couple early smacks on the leg that came in those early years of parenting and immediately left me feeling less human (I still would take them back if given the option).
So Skylar is being raised in a very kind environment. No spankings to come, mostly very gentle “no’s” that make her smile and then us smile.
And here is my greatest question about time.
When—or better yet, why—do we stop this tenderness about the Other, this compassionate selflessness of raising a baby?
Take just a few moments to watch humans interacting with humans, especially adults with children.
We are often very harsh and impatient, accusatory and condemning.
You are sitting at a restaurant, and a family is nearby eating. Some time during the meal, one of the family’s children spills a drink.
Often, I think, the adults act as if the child has committed a mortal sin.
Now, the same scenario, except only adults are at the table. How does that go?
Why such antagonism toward children? And when do those children cross the line so that we no longer treat them as we do babies?
One day when Jessica was in high school and had just gotten her own car to drive to school, I heard a terrible noise just after she walked out the door to leave that morning.
In a few seconds, Jessica was at the door again, sobbing uncontrollably and looking frantic.
She had just backed her car into mine in the driveway.
Jessica was raised in an incredibly permissive environment, allowed always to eat whatever she wanted and given many, many opportunities to make her own and often bad decisions.
That incident with the cars was predictable because she was always leaving too late and always distracted.
But I hugged her, telling her they were just cars, that’s why we have insurance. (By the way, it is easy for me to recall my good parenting moments as they were more rare.)
Backing her car into mine was just spilled milk; no need to cry.
My granddaughter, Skylar, is a time machine for my heart.
But this world afforded me—rushing me back and forth and throughout time—gives me pause about all of us.
The callousness of being human, and the high cost of forgetting how it feels to treat another human being as we treat a baby.