My new granddaughter was born last night.
Now, a lot of things can happen to you that are really great; finding a $20 bill in the pocket of a jacket you haven't worn in a couple of years; your $1 lotto ticket hitting for $100; the Detroit Red Wings winning the Stanley Cup (OK, so not this year); pulling off the road with a groan when the police cruiser lights go on, only to watch him speed right past you to haul down that jerk in the black Escalade who cut you off a couple of miles back; Snickers bars.
But a few events come along in a lifetime that stand so far above all that other stuff that they make the coolest fireworks display that ever rumbled your chest and made your heart pound seem like a complete waste of time. Having a grandchild is one of those events.
My son emailed me a picture of himself sitting on the bed, looking down at his new little daughter, who was lying on his lap all swaddled in pink and looking right back up at the biggest, most important man she will ever know. I smiled when I saw it and typed a reply to him:
"OK Pat, NOW you understand!"
You see, like most parents, I have tried to explain parenthood to him almost since that day, just a little over thirty years ago, when I sat staring in amazement at my newborn Patrick lying in my lap. I tried to describe the overwhelming familiarity you feel the first time you lay eyes that red, wrinkled little creature, your absolute joy in his first big juicy belch, and why you don't get mad when you pull off his diaper in a careless moment and take a fountain of pee right between the eyes.
I tried to make him comprehend why I was so completely delighted the day we discovered that he had grown taller than me. Or why I cried when I gave his little bike away to the church rummage sale. Or how each time I found myself unable to give him something that he really, really, REALLY wanted, I felt like a miserable, despicable failure.
For all those years he listened to what I said, and he believed that he knew exactly what I was trying to tell him. He apparently took my word for the general concept, because, helped along by the love of his beautiful wife and, I assume, by basic biology, he went ahead and decided to start his own family.
But at 9:09 PM on Friday, April 20, 2012, the true meaning of all those things became truly clear to my son, in a moment that all mothers and fathers know but that words can only attempt describe. At that instant I was able to welcome him into the huge and happy (usually) Club of Parents.
Of course, also at that instant my wife and I became, by official decree of the new parents, "Nana" and "PopPop," which might just be the coolest thing we've ever been called. I sure hope the kid decides to go with the flow on this.
The emotional impact of becoming PopPop has been slightly less surprising than my Daddy moment was all those years ago, but no less intense. There is the same overwhelming sense of love, and awe, and wonder, and frank disbelief that anyone or anything so beautiful could exist.
In a lot of ways, this grandparent gig is even better than parenthood. It is certainly more fun. Neither my wife or I had to participate in the delivery, other than to show up afterward, listen sympathetically to all the details, and make comments like, "Yeah, I remember that," and, "Oh God, I really remember that!"
As PopPop, I can simply gaze in loving wonder at my granddaughter's perfect little baby mouth and not have to worry about how I'm going to pay for her braces. If her diaper suddenly inflates, I can just smile, shrug, and hand her over.
My son never had an opportunity to get to know my wife's parents very well, or to know mine at all. He grew up mostly without grandparents, and I feel like that was a real loss. Caelyn is lucky enough to have a full set of grandmas and grandpas, and all four of us are conspiring to spoil her shamelessly.
So I take it as a matter of personal responsibility to do everything in my power to let my darling little Caelyn (and, with any luck, a whole mess of brothers and sisters) know how much fun it can be to have a PopPop. I intend to at least help introduce her to the wonders of picture books, tambourines, happy books, water skis, bubble gum, sad books, drums, Pixar movies, marbles, poetry books, harmonicas, ice skates, Elephant Ears, finger paints, hockey sticks, and Snickers bars.
In fact, when the time comes, and in the spirit of exacting retribution on my son for every naughty thing he ever did while he was growing up, PopPop might just teach little Caelyn how to play the banjo.
Copyright © 2012, Michael Ball