By Connie Michalos
TNH Staff Writer
HOUSTON – My mother had ten grandchildren in New York City, where she lived, and two granddaughters in Houston, TX, where I live. We would visit her at least once a year, and she would pass the winters with us. So, even though she didn’t live down the street and they didn’t spend Saturdays together baking and sewing and shopping or whatever, the girls had six months of in-your-face constant love and attention from their YiaYia. I didn’t understand why this wasn’t enough, why my mother kept asking when we were moving back to New York even after it was clear that we had made our lives in Houston. I was measuring for drapes, for goodness sake. What shouts “permanent home” more loudly than drapes? This was before Skype, when cell phones were as large as a grown man’s shoe and did nothing beyond make often unintelligible calls, when people wrote letters using real words on special paper. The girls spoke to her every Sunday – sometimes mid-week if something remarkable had happened – and we sent endless photos. But somehow that still wasn’t enough. And I never understood why – until I had my own grandchildren.
I live in Houston, TX and my two grandsons live in Tucson, AZ. When Dale, my first grandson was born a month premature, I flew to the hospital the next day. He was lying naked on my daughter’s chest – it’s called “kangarooing”. When she threw the covers off of them, there was a little baby who weighed less than a Sunday chicken and whose thighs were as thin as my forefinger.
“Pick him up,” Nicole offered. I was afraid that I would snap him in two. I felt more comfortable when he was tightly swaddled, as if the blankets were some kind of armor protecting him against the world. That would be my job, ever after. I held him for hours, looking into that little face, whispering into his tiny, seashell ears that I would always be there for him, his best friend forever. Those first few days with Dale raced by, and when I returned to Houston, I spoke to him every day. Again, I told him stories, recited nursery rhymes, sang him songs – all so that he would be used to my voice. His other grandmother lives in Tucson, and I was envious of the time she would have with our grandson. I needed a way to stay close to him from across the country, and the telephone call every evening was my way.
Less than two years later, Robert was here, at twice Dale’s birth weight. Holding him was less scary. Playing with him came easier. He just wasn’t as fragile. But he was still so many miles away. The evening phone call ritual continued, but now I whispered into the ears of two little boys.
It worked! When I visited, they may have looked at me quizzically at first, but the sound of my voice was familiar and they warmed to me immediately. The best proof that my evening conversations with my boys were important came during a medical emergency. My daughter has lupus. Both pregnancies were dangerous but relatively uneventful. However, when Robert was five months old, Nicole suffered a still-undiagnosed episode that landed her in the hospital for over a week. Again, I flew to Tucson and, after visiting her, went straight home to her sons. Robert was in his crib and Dale was out back. I was talking to my son-in-law when, suddenly, this little bundle of energy ran into the living room and straight to me, arms up, ready to be lifted to my heart. As worried as I was about my daughter, that moment with Dale erased any fears and confirmed that even though I lived miles away, my boys knew I was their Yiayia.
So we talk on the phone and show each other neat stuff on Skype. They line up the Lego world they have created that week, taking each piece apart and reassembling it before my eyes. They show me their report cards and awards. Sometimes I just watch them play, as if I were sitting in the back yard, while they climb and tumble. I watch their school plays and piano recitals and Tai Kwan Do moves on YouTube. Robert is the talker. We have long conversations about whatever can possibly be on the mind of a nine-year-old. At ten, Dale is a little less chatty. He takes after his father. Our conversations go something like this: “How are you?” “Fine.” What’s new?” “Nothing.” “How’s school.” “Fine.” “I miss you.” “I miss you, too.” “I love you.” “I love you, too. Okay, Yiayia. Here’s Robert,” followed by two kisses on the computer screen. And I love every minute of it.
I visit them in Tucson for Christmas and their birthdays, and sometimes they come to Houston in between. And yet that’s still not enough!
It’s happened. I have turned into my mother. I finally understand why she pressed us to move back to New York; I finally understand why being close by one another beats a phone call or a computer screen. And I finally REALLY understand what she meant when she said, “My child’s child is twice my own.”
Happy Grandparents’ Day!