Because I was thinking a week or so ago about looking grandmotherish, it’s a good time to mention my theory of the grandmother gene.
When I was in high school in the mid-1950s, it was more common for girl graduates to get married and have babies than go to college. Some even dropped out a year or two early to get married and if they weren’t pregnant within a few months of the wedding, there was some heavy explaining to do to parents and in-laws.
A large number of the girls I knew in high school had a serious jones for babies. But that urgency never touched me in the same way. There was so much to know about the world, so many places to go, things to see, people to meet, books to read and I knew a husband and baby would hinder those quests.
When I did marry seven years later, I wanted some time to work out the relationship, find out what sharing a life, forever, was all about before I brought another person - one who would need full-time attention - into the mix.
When it turned out that forever lasts only six years, I was relieved to be divorcing sans a child or two. It was hard enough to start over while confronting all my own conflicts without having to juggle the emotional well-being of kids too. I was 31 years old and I believed I had a long time before I needed to face the imperatives of my biological clock. Plus, the mommy thing still wasn’t registering strongly.
As my life crept toward 40, however, I had to take the baby matter seriously once and for all. After a year of private struggle to-and-fro-ing the issue, I decided against it. There was no one on the near-horizon I wanted to marry and I dismissed the idea of becoming a single mother because I believe, whatever might happen to a relationship later, it’s a good idea to give a kid a shot at both parents up front. And I still wasn't hearing the siren call of motherhood.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the postponement of babies and my final, late 30’s decision was that I didn’t much like kids. They’re loud, expensive, tend to get the sticky kind of dirty and they want you to pay attention - all the time. I was way too focused on me, I believed, to be much good at that and what’s the point of having babies if you’re not going to give it your best effort. I would not feel unfulfilled without a child, I decided, and having settled the issue I moved on without a backward glance.
I have never lamented that decision. I have no doubts that it was the right one for me and I still feel pretty much the same way about kids in general except for the unexpected eruption, about ten years ago, of what I’ve come to think of as the grandmother gene.
Does this happen to every woman? Are we programmed for this even if we skip motherhood? Geez. I spent all my adult life diligently avoiding my friends’ children. I sent gifts. I showed up for christenings and the earliest birthday parties that are for the grownups anyway. I sent money at bar mitzvah time. But baby sit? Not a chance. When I gave parties, the invitations stipulated “no children.”
Then out of nowhere about a decade ago, I found myself going all gooey when I saw a mother in the street pushing a pram. I’d be rushing off to a meeting or a dinner with friends or just neighborhood shopping on Saturday, and when an infant turned up in my view, I’d get all soggy at how cute the kid was. Since this about-face, I’ve discovered all babies are cute and now I’ve even got what I consider a couple of kid friends. One almost-three-year-old in particular, Sophie, is my kind of kid.
I’m still not sorry I didn’t have children. Had I done so, I would have been a decent mother because I was born responsible and I take my obligations seriously. But I would have missed a lot of other things I have done in life and I suspect I would be sorry now about that. We choose different paths, each of us, and I am happy with mine...
...which is why I can’t figure out how this grandmother gene kicked in.