A recent article on Grown and Flown hailed grandparents as the unsung MVPs of raising teenagers. Among the article’s salient points were how grandparents can see your teen through different eyes, remind you of how far you’ve come as a parent, and offer the perspective of someone who saw you through the teenage years long before you raised a teenager yourself.
I nodded and smiled as I read the essay. Then I closed my laptop and cried.
Grandparents are a mystery to me. Three out of my own four grandparents had passed long before I was born. My remaining grandparent- my mother’s father – lived with us until I was 14 when he died of massive heart attack in the back seat of my parent’s station wagon on the way to the grocery store.
So, my teen years and early adult years were absented of grandparents to tell me stories of my own folks, or applaud at graduation or pose in wedding photos. To this day I’m fascinated by people who got to keep their grandparents well into their 30s or 40s or even longer. For me, grandparents were those people who existed only in black and white photos in the old albums in the basement.
If there was one thing I wanted if I was ever to become a parent myself, it was to see my mom and dad go deep and long into the grandparent game.
But history, as it tends to do, repeated itself. My father died when I was only 23 – long before I became a mom. My mother did live to see all seven of her grandchildren born – but passed away when the oldest was 21 and her youngest, my daughter, was only eight. Her four-year cancer battle meant that my daughter essentially only knew a grandmother who was sick and in nursing homes, she didn’t remember the woman who had read to her as a toddler or rocked her as a baby.
Now, for the past 15 years, since my daughter was five, she’s been raised in two loving homes with a big blended family of two parents, two step parents and a wealth of grandparents (both biological and step) who form her biggest fan club. And I am truly grateful every day for my ex-husband’s terrific and involved parents and step-parents, his wife’s loving and supportive parents, and my wife’s folks who absorbed her into their own large collection of grandchildren without a second thought.
As far as grandparents go-my daughter has an embarrassment of riches and I couldn’t be happier for her.
But none of them belong to me.
None of them can say “I remember when your mother was your age she went through that.”
None of them can tell me I’m doing a good job or remind me that I used to be scared to even put the baby in the car seat and now that baby is driving the car.
None of them can show her photos of me and my siblings and tell her embarrassing stories.
My father, who instilled a love of theater in me, isn’t here to applaud my daughter’s acting career. My mother, the strictest teacher ever to walk the planet, wasn’t there to approve of the report cards, the top ten class rank, and the scholarship awards at graduation. They’re not here for me to call when she makes the Dean’s list or when she’s lonely and I’m not sure how to help her.
They can’t wear campus grandparent swag and visit on family weekend or send her random $5 bills in cards like my father used to do for me. And even though I’ve lived nearly 30 years without my father and 11 without my mother, I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to their absence from the life of their shining, brilliant, sarcastic, talented granddaughter.
I know I’m not alone in being a parent-less parent.
And my heart goes out to all those other moms and dads whose teens who don’t have grandparents to be there during this very unique time of life. I can’t fill the space their loss left in our lives – so instead I remind my daughter that somewhere in a place we can’t see, there are two wonderful souls watching her journey and beaming with pride—as only grandparents can.
Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college sophomore. Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.