Photo by Cadeau Maestro on Unsplash
By Beth Johnston
“Grandchildren fill a space in your heart you never knew was empty.” ~ Unknown
On December 27th, 2019, my world changed forever. If you had asked me before that date what gave me the most joy in life, I probably would have simply said family and traveling. Little did I know that I would come to prioritize a new joy.
I’m the mom of three boys who are now young men (32, 29, and 27). They’ve always been my world, and still are. All of my friends who have grandchildren told me how much I was going to love being a nana, but I really had no idea what they meant.
My first grandchild was due on Christmas Day 2019. Christmas came and went, and still no baby. I went to a doctor’s appointment with my daughter-in-love on the day after Christmas. They told her to come to the hospital that night to “get things going.” Because baking is one of the ways I express love, I baked chocolate chip cookies the next morning for the labor and delivery staff and our family as we waited at the hospital for baby boy M to arrive. I got to the hospital around 10:00 AM. Things were progressing slowly.
Around 10:15 PM, I was in the LDR room with my son, my daughter-in-love, and her mom. All of a sudden, a bunch of staff rushed into the room — the baby’s heart rate had dropped very low. It was terrifying! My daughter-in-love was whisked out for an emergency c-section.
We all sat anxiously in the waiting room. Finally, at 11:01 PM, we got a group text from my son with a picture of my grandson. Easton had been delivered at 10:55 PM. He was 9 lbs 5 oz, 20 inches long, and his head was huge. The cord had been wrapped around his neck, which is probably why his heart rate dipped so low. We didn’t get to see him until around 2:00 AM. Holding him for the first time was magical; I was instantly in love.
On the way home from the hospital, I was overcome with emotions. I couldn’t stop crying. When I pulled into my garage at 2:30 AM, I recorded a video of myself trying to explain the onslaught of emotions I was feeling. I still can’t adequately put into words the joy and wonder of welcoming my first grandchild into the world. I can tell you that the past year of having him in my life has given me a love and joy I never thought possible. There are so many reasons that being a nana is the best gift ever; here are five that bring me the most joy so far.
Singing Lullabies to Him as He Sleeps in My Arms
When my grandson was a newborn, he would sleep in my arms often. I would sing him a few lullabies that I sang to my boys when they were little. There’s something so peaceful about watching a child sleep, especially if they’re in your arms. The little faces he makes in his sleep, feeling his soft breath and little heartbeat — I could stare at him for hours. Of course, my arms did fall asleep on more than one occasion. Some people think if you let a baby sleep in your arms it will spoil them; I may have even had those same thoughts when my boys were little, but I’m older and wiser now, and I believe that holding a baby while they’re sleeping lets them know how much they’re loved and cared for. He doesn’t sleep that much in my arms anymore, but when he does I cherish those special moments. He still knows our special songs when I sing them. Creating those memories, just the two of us, is priceless.
Smiles and Belly Laughs
In the beginning, I was thrilled whenever he smiled; usually it happened while he was sleeping. Later he began to respond to us as we talked to him and smiled at him. Now, he giggles and has the best belly laugh. One day, we were playing a game where I would hide from him and he would race around to find me. When he did, I’d exclaim “I’m going to get you!” and he would burst out laughing every time. I was laughing as much as he was. Nowadays, there are times when all I have to do is laugh and he starts laughing too. What does love sound like? My grandson’s laughter!
Telling Him Stories
My grandson loves books. His parents have instilled in him that love of reading. As a retired teacher, I’m a firm believer that children fall in love with books because of the memories created when they snuggle up and read with someone they love. My grandson brings me a book and climbs into my lap so I can read to him. It’s a special kind of bonding, even when we read the same book ten times in a row.
Watching Him Grow and Learn
As a parent, I loved watching my boys grow and learn. I was with them every day, so I didn’t always notice the small changes. I also think that as parents we have so much going on that we miss some of the intricacies of their childhood. But as a grandparent, I’m able to focus on the little things. I love seeing the wonder in his eyes as he tackles something new. The other day, I was playing with a toy that you have to turn upside down in order to make it work. My grandson tried to make it work by shaking it, so I took it and kept turning it upside down. Finally he copied me and did it on his own. A few minutes later he tried shaking it again, but I know he will eventually be able to consistently remember to turn it upside down. These learning moments fascinate me. I want to experience every moment, big or small, always.
Holding Hands, Picking Him Up, and Giving Kisses
My grandson is at the age now where he reaches for me, holds my hand, and gives me kisses. He knows me. I can’t express how thrilled I was when this finally happened. One of the most difficult times for me was during COVID in the spring of 2020. I had been seeing my grandson regularly up until my husband and I took a trip to Florida at the beginning of March. When we returned, I was supposed to start watching Easton when my daughter-in-love returned to work. That never happened. We got back and everyone went into quarantine. I didn’t hold him for almost five weeks! It was devastating. I went from seeing him several times a week to FaceTime calls and outside walks just to see him in person. It made me realize how truly precious my time with him is. I can’t wait for the day he actually calls me Nana.
When you watch your child become a father and hold his son in his arms, you witness the circle of life. Being a grandparent is not that different than being a parent; there are diapers to change, stories to read and reread, milestones to witness. So what makes being a grandparent feel so special?
As parents, we’re always multitasking. I was a working mom. I taught elementary school all day and came home at night, when I had to figure out dinner, find time to read stories, give baths, tuck the kids into bed, work on schoolwork, and then get up in the morning and do it all over again. That only became harder when I got divorced and became a single working mom. The responsibility was often overwhelming. But now, I’m retired and I don’t have all the everyday struggles I did as a parent. I’m not thinking of anything else except my grandson when I’m with him.
Besides my responsibilities being different, I myself have also changed. I’m more patient and attentive than I was then. As a parent, I was cognizant of the fact that I was raising my boys to grow up to become decent, contributing members of society; as a grandparent, I can simply revel in being with my grandson. I allow myself to be silly and playful. I spend hours devoting all my time and attention just to him.
There really is no greater joy than the gift of a grandchild. If you’re a grandparent, you know.
Beth Johnston was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI and currently resides in Pinckney, MI. She is a retired elementary educator from Ann Arbor Public Schools (13 years) and Pinckney Community Schools (17 years). She lives with her husband Dan and has three sons from her first marriage (ages 31, 29, & 26), a daughter-in-love, a grandson (who is the light of her life), three step-children, and a rescued German Shepherd named Mia.