September 26, 2010

Never a Grandma

My oldest (in terms of how long we've know each other) friend recently announced that she'll be a grandmother early next year, and all I could think was, how could she (and by extension, me) possibly be old enough to have grandchildren? I still remember the day we met, a sweat-sticky afternoon in early August. She was nine. I was almost-nine.

My family had just moved to Georgia. I had met all the other kids on our street, but for some reason I had not yet met Cherie. (She was out of town, or sick, or maybe grounded. I don't remember.) But I had heard about her. Everywhere I went, it seemed, someone would ask her little sister, "Where's Cherie?" And every time, I would think, "Oh, yeah, THAT'S how you say her name--Sure-REE." And then I'd forget again, what, exactly, her name was, only that it was exotic--and that everyone seemed anxious for us to meet, asking, "Have you met Cherie yet?" 

In her absence, she assumed mythic proportions, so that, the day I finally saw her, holding a popsicle with one hand and steering her bicycle in slow circles in front of her house with the other, I was too shy to approach her. She was just that cool. I told myself that I would, you know, just ride BY her on my way to the other end of the street. As I steeled my nerve and pressed my feet harder against the pedals, she braked hard, jerked her handlebars to the right, and leaned over, orange syrup dripping from her chin and running down her arm. And there we were, face to face. We had no choice but to say hello, to become best friends.

Forty-one years later, I still love that little girl, and the woman she grew into. Her news brought both joy and the sudden realization that when my husband and I opted out of PTA and car pools, doctor visits and tantrums, all the challenges and, yes, the sweetness of parenthood, we were also opting out of grandparenthood. I don't know why that came as such a suprise. Not having children was a conscious decision, and it's a decision neither of us regrets. But sometimes I wonder about that particular not-taken road: what kind of parents would we have been? What would our children have been like? Who would WE be, if we had had children? There are no wistful if-onlys in my wonderings, merely speculation.

All of my life I have I lagged behind my friends when it came to rites of passage: drinking, driving, riding a bike, leaving home. I have felt that I didn't know the things that everyone else seemed to know: what to take to the family after a death, how to parallel park, how to throw a party. Eventually, the training wheels came off, I passed my driver's test, I found my first apartment. It's not too late to learn how to entertain, and I can get by without parallel parking. As I approach fifty, I know that I will--like everyone else my age--turn gray, need bifocals, gain weight. I may lose my hearing, my balance, my memory. But I will never wear a puff-paint sweatshirt that says, "Ask me about my grandchildren," or pose in place of honor at my 80th birthday party, and know that many of the people present exist because of me. Sometimes, there's just no way to catch up. 

Take the road less traveled by, or take the first. Either way, the choice will make all the difference.

But you know what? Barbie will never be a grandmother, either.

September 6, 2010

What I Meant to Do on My Summer Vacation

I'd like to take a moment to reflect on all that I accomplished on my summer vacation:


Perhaps I should reflect, instead, on what I didn't do. I did not:
  • ride my bike down to the lake every (any) day
  • go for long walks before daylight (that's really the only time I like walking, and then it's only because it makes me feel smug and superior)
  • attend the weekly brown bag concerts, the farmer's market, the Friday night concerts, or the Venetian Festival
  • finish all those literary journals that seemed to arrive on the same day in May
  • read all (any) of the craft books (The Nonfictionist's Guide, Fourth Genre, Keep it Real, The Art of Writing Creative Nonfiction, among others) that have been languishing on my shelves for lo, these many years like pressed, primped, and aging wallflowers
  • write
That's not completely true. I did do some writing, but not what I had hoped.

As the spring workshops wound down in May, I declared that this summer would be all about the writing.  My own writing, not that of others. Encouraging others to write, that's a good thing. Probably the thing I do best. But, you know, "Do as I do" is really more effective than "Do as I say." And so, as I bade the writers in my workshops "Go forth and write," I might have promised to do the same. I figured that posting to this blog once a month would not be too great a drain on all that writing I was going to do.

Turns out this blog was no drain at all; you can add blogging to the list of things I didn't do.

Frankly, I just don't do summer well. I don't like the heat, and no matter how I spend my time, I always feel as if I'm not having the right amount of fun. Ah, but, that's another season entirely. I have always loved fall: the cooler temperatures, the almost unbearable blue of the October skies, my birthday, college football. School supplies.

By the time that my childhood summers wound down, time seemed to slow, almost to stop, as if the heat and humidity sapped its will to pass. I could hardly bear the anticipation of school and the excitement of buying school supplies--at no other time did we get so many new things at once: a new three-ring binder, pristine, unmarked; an unopened pack of loose leaf paper, unopened, the edges aligned perfectly; crayons; scissors; glue, a ruler; pencil case; and, when was old enough to need them, dividers. The new, unchewed-upon Ticonderoga #2 pencils, with their flat ends, did not seem sufficiently prepared for the work they would be asked to perform, and so I did the only thing I could to hasten the arrival of the First Day; I trooped to our basement, to the yellow and blue hand-cranked pencil sharpener mounted beneath the stairs, and hoped that one would emerge perfect, smelling of wood and school and possibility.

So have a good year, everyone. I'm off to sharpen some pencils.