The Nana Chronicles
First time grandmother Judy Gruen finds out that looking after a newborn is harder than she remembers.
It was a case of love at first sight.
Holding my first grandchild in my arms, I was enraptured, smitten, awestruck. Barely a week old, Ahuva was rosy-cheeked, exquisite, and in perfect health, thank God. Naturally, she was the most beautiful baby ever to be born in all of world history. My husband and I had flown across the country to meet this inaugural member of the next generation of our family. I planned an extended stay to help take care of Ahuva and her exhausted parents.
Unlike these newbie parents, I knew a thing or two about newborns.
My son and daughter-in-law were relieved to see me, which gave me an instant infusion of nachas. While they are less than half my age, they were ten times as tired. After all, it’s one thing to have heard that newborns require 24-hour continuous caretaking. It’s another thing entirely to live in that endless loop of real-life feeding, holding, changing, burping, bathing, and bonding. That’s real knowing. I smiled benevolently in my new role as Nana. Unlike these newbie parents, I knew a thing or two about newborns. I rolled up my sleeves and settled in for a week and a half of a labor of love.
I was surprised to discover that one of my first tasks – changing the baby’s outfit – tested my maternal mettle. I had changed baby outfits at least a thousand times, but it began to seem a lifetime ago. I had shooed my daughter-in-law off to rest, assuring her I would not only take care of Ahuva, but also do a load of laundry and make dinner, too. It was an absurdly ambitious agenda, revealing a serious case of amnesia. On the other hand, I only had nine days to bond irrevocably with my granddaughter, and I jealously guarded every opportunity for cuddling, rocking, snuggling, and kissing her. I skillfully eased her tiny limbs, hands and feet out of her “onesie” like a pro. But she kicked strongly against all efforts to gently coerce her into a fresh onesie, even though it was a present from me, a sweet lavender number festooned with colorful balloons. She was, keynain ahora, a strong girl. I tried to convince her that the lavender onesie was just her color, but as often happens with girls, she resisted couture advice from older female relatives. Also, I had also forgotten about all the snaps. Baby clothes have more snaps than Estee Lauder has lipstick colors, and it takes skill and patience to get those snaps in perfect alignment when a newborn is wriggling in protest. While Ahuva alternately frowned, looked surprised and finally smiled, I managed to wrestle her into the new onesie. However, I was chagrined that the procedure took more than ten minutes. Happily, when I changed her again a half-hour later I improved my time by forty-two seconds.
My next grandmotherly feat was trying to make dinner single-handedly. By “single-handedly” I don’t mean without any help from my son or daughter-in-law. I mean with one hand. I wasn’t trying for any maternal multitasking awards. I kissed Ahuva and laid her down in her car seat, explaining I wasn’t abandoning her, but preparing a nourishing dinner for the family. She immediately pouted, then furrowed her emerging eyebrows. Obviously she was as crazy about me as I was about her, and refused to cede any opportunity to have me hold her. I couldn’t risk having her cry and wake Mommy, so I picked her up and joggled her gently as I carefully bent down to take vegetables and a package of chicken out of the fridge. I couldn’t figure out how to do the rest of dinner prep without the use of my other hand, or without the sudden appearance of a sous chef. After some discussion, Ahuva agreed to sit in her plush-lined car seat for up to ninety seconds at a stretch before scowling and threatening to cry. During these ninety-second intervals I furiously washed, chopped and sautéed vegetables, and then resumed bonding with the baby. Amazingly, I had dinner ready in less than three hours. During my first two days helping out the new family I had done more bending and lifting than in a month of Pilates.
I had no idea that becoming a Nana would be like a stint in an Ironman event, only with less Gatorade. In one week I logged three trips to Target, four trips to the grocery store, one midnight run for diapers and pacifiers, while also helping to cook, clean, do laundry, reassure her parents that everything was normal, and convince Ahuva to sleep for her first three-hour stretch of sleep – a major triumph. I realized a profound truth: the smaller the human being, the more adults required to care for her. With effort and concentration, I continued to improve my time in the Ahuva-changing event, achieving a personal best of six minutes and twenty-two seconds.
Taking care of babies on a long-term basis is meant for the young. Holding small seven-pound objects for extended periods of time, no matter how adorable, can put a crick in your neck when you’re over a certain age, especially if you are simultaneously cooking, cleaning, and throwing laundry into the machine. One day, when both Mommy and Ahuva were napping, I snuck out to a chiropractor, who repositioned my own not-so-tiny and not-so-young limbs back into their upright position. This allowed me to stay on the job and not get fired.
As my stay drew to a close, my son and daughter-in-law looked decidedly more perky. I had bags under my eyes. Yet I hated to leave, even bursting into tears the night before my flight. Every day, Ahuva was revealing more of her personality, her awareness, new and even more adorable expressions, and beginning to lock eyes with her parents and grandparents. How could I leave?
On the flight back home I relaxed and reveled in my new status as a proud and grateful Nana. I know my seatmates on the plane enjoyed the many pictures I showed them of Ahuva sleeping, frowning, yawning, wearing a bunny jacket with ears, and looking alert and brilliant. They agreed that she was the most beautiful baby they’d ever seen. So you see, I’m not biased.
For any of you considering becoming grandparents, I highly recommend it. But a word to the wizened: try to get in shape before you visit.