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For Seniors : 'Grandma' Puts Things Into Perspective

March 27, 1994|LINDA FELDMAN

The telephone rang at 5:30 a.m. The voice at the other end said, "Is Grandma there?"

With those words, my status in life changed forever, and my DNA stretched a little farther into the future. Truth is, I'm a bit stunned by it all.

Kaya (middle name to be announced) Mendelsohn was born March 2, with a full head of black hair, a round face like her mother's, and ears that stick out like her father's. She was born at home, in Santa Cruz, Calif., in the presence of her father, a midwife and her assistant, and a dog named Bear.

My daughter, Julia, gave birth to her child the way she wanted. She is a feminist, and that's what the whole thing was about--making choices.

The problem is that sometimes the choice isn't yours.

When she told me she wanted to be a midwife, I was ecstatic. When she told me she wanted to have a midwife deliver her baby at home, the muscles in the back of my neck locked and are only beginning to uncoil. I wrote her a letter expressing my concern.

That's what I do with both my children. (My son is a second-year student at Lewis & Clark Law School in Oregon.) The opening sentence is: "This is a letter of concern." I write what's on my mind and then never mention it again.

They can do with my concern what they will. My daughter disregarded it. I'm not surprised. She was raised to have a mind of her own.

My mother raised me to be tough. Julia was raised to be courageous. My mother is of the generation that gave you the answers to problems you didn't know existed and then made sure they did. She's always unanimous in her own opinion. My mother suffered through her marriage; I divorced out of mine, and Julia. . . . She and Joseph are getting married in August.

They are the children of divorce. They live far away from their parents. He makes beautiful glass dishes that are exhibited in galleries and fine stores. She managed a health food store and was studying midwifery. She's a university graduate, and he's still doing homework. They take getting married very seriously. They take each other very seriously, which is why they announced that they didn't want the "elders" to visit until two weeks after the birth, so that they could bond with the baby.

That included me, the grandma.

When I explain to friends my age why I didn't go to see the baby for two weeks, they said things like, "Are you crazy?" or "If it was me, I'd be up there no matter what they said," or, "You couldn't keep me away for two weeks." It's as if I have violated the first rule of being a grandma: Rush in and take over; show the kids how to do things.

My younger friends say quite the opposite, especially men: "You're doing everything perfect. The worst thing was having my mother-in-law with us those first couple of days. I was an alien in my own home. And now I don't want her back."

When I announce that I'm a grandma, people respond in odd ways. "You're not that old" is the most common. What's old? I'm a grandma of the '90s. I work. I still like rock 'n' roll. I date. I can use three different word-processing systems. I wear a size 8.

And I try to get the pronouns straight in my head. This is "their" baby, not "my" baby. This is "their" life, not "mine." I say how wonderful it is that my daughter can talk to me in a loving way and know that it's not about hurting my feelings but revealing hers. I'm relieved. I admire her.

My mother, Julia and I each had our first child at age 27. I feel a new closeness to my daughter now that she is a mother. I loved it when she asked me, "When do you stop staring at the baby for 24 hours?" I love the wonder in her voice when she describes the child she has brought into the world and the responsibility she feels to bring her up with integrity.

I love the conversations we have every day about things intestinal, and breast milk and diaper-changing. And I love what she said to me when I suggested she get some rest: "There's no rest for me, Mom, for a long time."

Oh, how the arrival of this 6-pound, 2-ounce girl has put things into perspective.

My daughter, Julia, the sweetest girl that ever lived, is a mother. My little girl, who was not allowed to have a Barbie doll because her mother took feminism so seriously, has a baby. She delivered her baby in the safety and comfort of her own home in the presence of her loving partner with the help of two women who knew exactly what they were doing every step of the way. Julia was in charge. This is the life she wants to live. What more can I do for her as a mother except be there, on call, whenever she needs me?

I admire Joseph too. He's doing everything for Julia. He cooks, he cleans, he does the wash, and he comforts her. He gets up with her during the night, and he holds the baby when Julia needs privacy. I spoke to him during one of those moments, and he said Kaya was a little fussy so he was going to play some Miles Davis for her.

The wedding is Aug. 21. On the beach in Santa Cruz. I'm the mother of the bride and the grandma. I bought Kaya a white cotton dress with a tiny pink satin bow at the collar, tiny white satin slippers with a row of pink satin flowers around the rim, white lace tights and a bonnet with streamers coming down the sides. She's the flower baby. I'll hold her during the ceremony. All of my friends are coming to celebrate a wedding, a birth and most of all, love.

And they're coming to check out what this grandma thing is about.

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