Becoming a Grandmother Made Me Rethink My Ambitions

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By: Judy Gruen

I am on a slow excursion around the block with my granddaughters, Leeba, 2, and Ahuva, 4. I also brought along my very elderly dog, who is 103 in human years.

Just imagine how slow we are going with this crew.

Ahuva abruptly drops the handle of the red wagon she is pulling to scamper onto a short wall. Leeba ditches her plastic car, saying she is too tired to pedal. What was I thinking when I set off with two little kids, a dog, a wagon and a kiddie car? I am out of hands to deal with it all. 

I set the kiddie car in the wagon and scoop up Leeba in my left arm. Ahuva grabs my skirt for security as she walks the narrow ledge of the wall, and then I give her the dog’s leash. She pulls herself up to her full 42 inches in recognition of this responsibility. 

It’s a beautiful day in May, and flowers are blooming, so we play “I Spy”—a fun way to reinforce their knowledge of colors. Meandering so slowly, even my centenarian canine, years past his youthful vigor, tugs at the leash, giving us a look. “What’s taking so long?”

Leeba and Ahuva are my eldest son’s daughters, and we are lucky that they live just a few blocks away. Our house is their home away from home. They come over several times a week, often for entire afternoons when their Mommy, a night-shift nurse, sleeps. I am an active, on-duty Nana, which I had not expected to become. It has made me reconsider my sense of ambition and how it has changed over the course of a thirty-five year career.

I married at 27, with a master’s degree in journalism and a good job in Corporate Communications at a Fortune 500 company. When my first child was born, I quit, and have freelanced ever since. Over the decades, I’ve written about 1,200 articles, more or less, and five books. I still love my work. 

Raising four kids close in age, I often despaired: Will I ever finish picking Lego off the floor? Shooting stain removal spray on those tough grass stains that are the subject of detergent commercials? Would I ever stop being a referee in the arguments among three rambunctious sons? When could I sit at my desk in peace and write, other than in the quiet of the night? Often I’d think: One day, I won’t have to carve my work around being a mom. One day, they’ll grow up, move out, and I can “get back to work” in the way I wanted.

I never regretted putting motherhood first. Not every woman has that opportunity, and it was a privilege I tried not to take for granted. Now that our kids are grown, I am doubly sure my focus has paid off. But the funny thing is, now that my time is really my own, I want to spend as much time as I can with my grandchildren. My car is once again fitted with a car seat. I am once again well-stocked with strollers, kiddie toys and fat crayons. Being a Nana is very different than being a parent, and I revel in its joy and opportunities.

Ahuva shares secrets with me that I am not to tell her parents. Mostly they involve the hiding of chocolate chip cookies in a pocket. As I once heard calls of “Mommy, watch me!” when my kids were climbing the jungle gym, now it’s “Nana, watch me!” as I watch and clap for their children. In the secular world, young adults are marrying much later—the average age for a woman is now 27 and for a man, 29. I know many people my age who pine for their kids to marry and have kids of their own. We won’t be middle-aged forever. We want to enjoy them while we can still sit cross-legged on the floor and build blocks and take them on piggy-back rides.

My creative energy is still strong, and after all these decades, I am still excited to see a new byline. I am still professionally ambitious.  

I didn’t expect that my ambition would stretch to also being an eager and active grandparent. But as Leeba and Ahuva grow up, I hope they’ll still love coming to Nana and Papa’s house. It won’t be for the stories or for making pancakes anymore, but I hope it will be that warm, cozy, loving place to hang out, do homework, maybe even confide secrets more significant than ones about hiding chocolate chip cookies. I want to be the kind of Nana who offers a listening ear when they may doubt whether Mom and Dad will understand, because even though they have wonderful parents, all kids go through this stage.

My two sets of grandparents were instrumental in helping me define my identity, and even my choice to live a Torah-observant life. Grandparents can be a fantastic source of love and encouragement, offering a trusted perspective on life, and perhaps more time to listen than parents, who live harried lives that are of necessity focused on career responsibilities, carpool schedules, supervising homework, and at least one hundred other things. We can offer the kind of spoiling that we didn’t have the patience or money for when we were those harried parents. 

So many things come full circle in life. A generation ago, for Mother’s Day, I got those sweet little handprints on colored paper, my child’s name written in a big, haphazard scrawl. Now I’m hoping to get them again—from my grandchildren.  

 
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Judy Gruen

is the author of five books, including most recently The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith (She Writes Press, 2017). Her other books include The Women's Daily Irony Supplement, Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping, and Carpool Tunnel Syndrome. Her columns and features have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Aish.com, Jewish Journal, Jewish Action, and dozens of other media outlets. Judy is also a popular speaker, book editor and writing coach, and can be reached at judyrgruen@gmail.com

Rochel Lazar