I know what you’re thinking | Chuck's World
Last updated 9/13/2017 at Noon
A friend of mine is expecting, but she doesn’t know what. Let me rephrase.
A friend of mine is about to become a grandparent. This is not a surprise, or remarkable. She surely understood the trajectory from the beginning of this adventure, that children will grow up and eventually, in many cases, pair up and procreate. This has been going on for a while now.
My perspective as an observer isn’t a surprise, either. I’m aware that I entered this particular stage of life a few years ago, a stage when my contemporaries stop being rational human beings and start shopping for stuffed animals and expensive cameras. This is old hat, to me.
What interested me in this situation was a comment my friend made, an aside in an otherwise routine conversation that turned in an obvious direction. I asked her if she was excited.
This is so obvious that it felt like a rhetorical question. I didn’t really expect an answer, just maybe a grin and a nod. Anticipation of anything is, by definition, an exciting thing. Whether or not it’s a positive thing can depend on the circumstances, but in the case of newborn babies it’s generally considered a good thing, at least in my world.
But this is a thoughtful person, and she’d been thinking. She found it interesting that so many people had been describing to her, in some cases in great detail, how she was going to feel. This is not something she’s accustomed to, and it seemed to fascinate her. My ears perked up.
I’d actually prefer that my ears didn’t perk up like this, by the way. It makes me feel self-conscious. I should probably have it checked out by an neurologist, or a plastic surgeon. At least I don’t have a tail that wags.
My interest is in the phenomenon of people telling other people how to feel. This is a byproduct of basic humanity, I suspect, a projection of our own experiences, and I understand the impulse. It’s a curious dismissal of individuality, though, an assumption that logically has any number of problems. Lives can be so different.
I’ve been the subject of this drive-by projection a few times, most notably when my daughter got married eight years ago. Several people seemed to think that I was downplaying the emotional aspect of this life event, unaware that I was heading into shaky sentimental territory that might blindside me on the big day.
This was nonsense backed up my silliness. I may have many attributes, positive and negative, but no one who knows me even a little should ever doubt my willingness to succumb to sentiment. I’m outrageously sentimental, and I also remembered the sight of my father walking my sister down the aisle, all fancy and formal in his tuxedo and looking like he was in the middle of a serious cardiac event. I figured it would be emotional. People are funny.
And, again, I’ve seen this before, many times. One high school friend, my age, now has what seems to be a dozen grandchildren. Babies are being born all the time in my world, now almost entirely to offspring of my contemporaries. I’ve seen a variety of responses, all unique in their joyfulness.
I also have personal experience, having spent a sleepless night four years ago brimming over with joy and anticipation. In true 21st-century fashion, I became a grandparent via text message, my phone hot and sweaty as I passed the wee hours streaming old sitcoms and marveling at the mysteries and magic of new life.
People had been telling me how I would feel, too, so I could relate to my friend. I understood her confusion, her reluctance to assume and her puzzlement at well-meaning people. I told her I understood.
I also told her they were right, of course.
If I’ve learned anything in the past six decades of life, and specifically the past four years of a very specific life, it’s that we are remarkably predictable creatures when it comes to second chances. And grandchildren are nothing if not second chances.
I’ve spent the past week in the hill country of Texas, in the company of my own genetic destiny, a nearly 4-year-old boy who has always confirmed the cliches. My choices as a parent were influenced by many things, and many of them I’d like to edit in retrospect, but this time it’s all about the love. Fellow grandparents understand. Expectant ones will, too. We know how you’ll feel.
I am a curiosity to this boy, an ancient figure in a life just now beginning to remember the past. I’ve been an active part of his life for the duration, but he knows me best as a face on a screen, video chats being essential to modern grandparenting. We bond not over bedtimes or milestones but toy trucks, skipping stones, telling stories that I somehow retrieve from the dark recesses of an aging brain.
This is what I share with my friend, then. Her journey will be different in many ways, but the end result will always be the same. We’ll still dream of their futures, this next generation, but mostly we’ll wallow in the present, nothing but love and joy. I know how she feels, and how she will. We all do.
Now if I could just get my ears to stop doing this. It’s getting a little embarrassing.