I’m a Grandmother and It’s STILL Hard to Let Go

I waited until the taxi pulled out of his sight to let the tears fall. I cried for lost time-a la recherche du temps perdu. Past and future.

My first grandchild was born in August of 2005. Now he is in first year of college halfway around the world. For the first five years of his young life, I was his nanny one day a week, boarding a 7:02 a.m. train from my home in the NYC suburbs to his apartment in the East Village of Manhattan.

For nine full hours, I cared for an infant, toddler, preschool child, walking miles on city streets, chasing him around playgrounds, zooming down slides with him between my legs until I trusted him on his own, watching him sleep, feeding him, loving him unconditionally. Almost three years later, his sister came along and I had to divide my time and attention, push an awkward double stroller across uneven pavement, split my vision in two, share my devotion.

I became my grandson’s one-day-a-week nanny. (Photo credit: Deborah Levin)

I treasured every moment taking care of my grandchildren

Somewhere around 6 p.m., I would board a Metro North commuter express train for the 54 minute ride to the station where my husband would be waiting for me in his idling car. I was never exhausted; I was exhilarated. Rediscovering the world through a child’s eye without all the responsibilities of parenthood was an adventure all its own. I treasured every moment.

Elementary school obviated the need for childcare. But there were still weekends and long vacations when they took over our house. It became their reverse pied-a-terre; from their small apartment in the city they could escape to our large house with a basement filled with toys, a library’s worth of books, front and back yards to explore, a beautiful pool where I taught them to swim, and a long driveway where I taught them to ride bikes. I became the matriarch of childcare in those days.

My grandson is now living in Tokyo

Then middle school and high school. Time flew by. And now here’s my grandson, living in Tokyo, and suddenly he’s all grown up, a new language rolling effortlessly off his tongue, guiding me everywhere, navigating the city’s elaborate transportation system with dozens of subway lines, train and bus routes. He’s been obsessed with trains since he was a very young child and Tokyo is a train-lovers paradise. I think, among other reasons, that is why he is here.

When I saw him last, it was in Hawaii, in August, where I joined their family vacation. Then I didn’t know when I would be seeing him again. I felt certain I would never go to Japan; I do not like Japanese food and have little interest in the country-its history, culture, religions, language. Offer me a trip to any European capital whose art and history I’ve studied and long admired, or Africa where I’ve always been curious about the scenery and wildlife, or Australia which has called to me for years since I read The Thorn Birds. But Japan? No thank you.

grandmother and grandson
My grandson is now living in Tokyo. (Photo credit: Deborah Levin)

Why did I come visit my grandson?

Yet here I am. So why did I come? I’ve missed him! But why did I really come? He wanted me to visit! But there was something else. It occurred to me on the flight over that maybe I was trying to prove something. But what? I was the world’s best grandmother, traveling an unreasonably far distance to see her grandchild. I was the world’s best mother, making my son happy and proud that I could provide the time and attention to his child that he couldn’t give just then.

Somehow, I wasn’t allowing myself to remember the effort I put into creating and nurturing the strong bond between us. I seem to have forgotten-or merely belittled-the part I played in the first eighteen years of my grandson’s life.

His actions proved otherwise. When we said goodbye at the hotel and he hugged me once, and then hugged me again and held on tight for a few extra seconds and kissed my head, I felt so full of love and gratitude that I thought I would burst. I stepped into the taxi and watched while he gave the driver instructions to take me to the airport, making sure it was clear that I was going to the International Terminal. He knows I’m more than capable of traveling alone but I think he needed to make sure I was safe.

My grandson loves trains and japan is a great place to see them. (Photo credit: Deborah Levin)

This is the beginning of many hellos and goodbyes

When we had said goodbye in Hawaii, I remember feeling sad and confused, the ambiguity of his upcoming absence in my life a bit too overwhelming to process completely at the time. This time, we do know when we’ll see each other again, in August when he comes home during his summer break. So now I can imagine the time and place of our next hello. But I also realize that this is just the beginning of many hellos and goodbyes in the years ahead. He’s flown the nest, very far away for now though maybe not forever, and I have to let him soar.

I suppose it was just as hard to let my own children go off on their own, but they went to schools on the East Coast, where visiting or coming home was just a car ride away. I could bring the extra winter coat or comforter they needed, and they could come home for holidays and birthdays.

This isn’t the reality with my grandson. Though a generation separates us, making the tether that binds us that much longer than the parent-child one, I still feel its tug. And it’s still hard to let go. I know it’s okay to let the tears still fall. I also know I’ll have to make sure that my passport doesn’t expire.

More Great Reading:

Grandparents are Underappreciated: Here’s Why We Need to Change That

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