40 Versus 62: Repeat
A mother's final, best lesson: Part 11

The grandmother gene: Repeat

category_bug_journal2.gif 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.


Hello Ronni,

I just discovered your weblog. I like reading your fotolog entries--and I enjoyed this latest weblog entry--for two reasons: 1.) the content is interesting; 2.) your entries are well-written.

I am also glad to hear that you have made a couple of friends who happen to be "young people." They are demanding, there is no doubt about it, but they have a lot to offer and can be very instructive, enjoyable companions.


Tim aka Hamlet

Hey, Ronni . . .

Delightful post. Us males have a comparable Grandfather gene that emerged with me in 1997 as this poem relates:


of late
on streets
or in crowded malls and parks
now that Spring begins its hallowed bloom
my eyes--which used to longingly linger
scan quickly over suave 40-somethings
or chic shapes still from the retro-60s
of my rapidly graying generation

instead my sight locks
on the small bright faces of toddlers
squirming giggly in parent’s firm grasp
full of translucent shining wonder
reaching out and evoking
a deep embrace of mysterious life

is this some male clock for progeny
biologically ticking for expression
don’t think so
with my oldest at 29 and my youngest 16
i have no wish to emulate Picasso or Thurmond
no my energies are stirred by other pursuits

must be some awakening in my psyche
to be called “Grandpop”

April, 1997
Northport, NY

Wow, thomas - you wrote that in 1997?! So I'm right!!! There IS a grandparent gene. Ha. I love it.

Maybe instead of a "gene" thing it is more an appreciation of the cycle of life, which is hard to see when you are 30 and in the trenches of motherhood.

Good observations, Ronni et al! Unfortunately for our kids, some of us who have children of our own are much better at grandparenting than we were at parenting (well, I hope that was the case with me). I think it has to do with the absence of the 24/7/365 duty cycle. Some of us were so overwhelmed with responsibility that the stress made us crazy. With the next generation the stress level was 'way lower.

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