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.