In a recurring fantasy, I am my daughter’s grandmother. It’s not that I want to spend less time with her; this fantasy is about the quality of the time we spend. My only child deserves grandparent attention—the kind that is focused on her because survival is not a preoccupation. She deserves to be stared at over the tops of reading glasses.
In my grandmother fantasy, I make time for a daily siesta before I pick her up from school. Because we are not both fatigued at the end of the day, I have patience when she falls out in the middle of the parking lot because I forget to bring the cookies. She wants her snack now. When I am the grandmother, I take note of these preferences and I never leave the cookies. Not even once.
When I am my daughter’s grandmother, McDonald’s is just another building we pass on the way home. Her prepared favorites are warming in the oven—one starch, two vegetables, a protein, and a healthy dessert. We eat dinner at the table with place settings and she has a special plate with sections. I remember that she doesn’t like her food to touch.
After dinner, I bathe her in hypoallergenic bubbles and slather her with sweet smelling cream. She smells like cupcakes and talcum powder by the time she gets into her matching pajamas. I kiss her on the softest places of her face and she giggles and calls me a grandmother name that sounds like a song. I read her stories until her eyes close involuntarily. I don’t rush through Dr. Seuss like a Twista verse; I don’t skip the “seek and find” parts of her favorite book. When her sleep sighs are regular, I pick up her strewn about toys and line up her shoes so that she wakes up to an ordered room. She wakes up to an ordered life. There are no job applications to finish after I put her to bed, no papers to grade. (Did I mention that I am retired in this fantasy?)
During the morning drive to school I remind her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I say this with conviction, having achieved my own goals. I never worry that I won’t (can’t) become the person I want to be. I am that person.
In my fantasy, I have time to live in moments. I have had twenty five more years of practicing patience. I have learned how to cook. I never forget to season the chicken and I don’t burn the rice. I know how to keep a house company-ready; I vacuum every day. I have known sweet, lasting, romantic love and I believe in it. The best part of my fantasy is that my granddaughter is being raised by someone who has survived me—someone who has learned from my mistakes and mimicked my successes.
But why do I trust this fantasy person to be raising my real-life little girl if I’m having trouble trusting myself? Maybe in my fantasy, I’ve fully digested the notion that an imperfect parent can raise a happy child. In my fantasy, I am one part of my daughter’s complex system of support. I am one member of a village who is raising my granddaughter with love and affection and my daughter continues to pursue her dreams and live her life. This daughter comes to me with her guilt and fatigue and I remind her that the guilt is a slight of hand—a constructed problem with a conveniently expensive solution. This is the way this capitalist system is set up, I remind this competent and well-raised girl. It feeds on guilt and sells happiness. I tell her not to buy the bullsh*t. She is tired, I remind her, because her life is full. I tell her to rest. I remind her that I will always be with her like the ones who have raised me are always with me. I tell her to look in the mirror and see us all standing behind her, leaning posts for the journey ahead.
Perhaps I'll save the grandmothering for her little ones after all.