A parent primer — without advice

A parent primer — without advice

Merrill Silver
Merrill Silver

I’ve been waiting 66 years to shout from the rooftops, “I’m going to be a grandmother!” Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but it does feel like a long time. And shout from the rooftops? I’m more like Hannah in the Book of Samuel, in the haftarah read on the first day of Rosh HaShanah. Hannah talks to God from her heart, with her lips moving soundlessly. She asks for a child; I ask for a healthy grandchild and a healthy new mother. I’m beginning to appreciate why my father always prefaced important future events with “God willing.”

God willing, my husband and I will acquire the much-coveted membership in the grandparent club. And my son and daughter-in-law will become parents. Although saying the word “grandparent” does makes my heart soar, I realize that it is the word “parent” that gives me goose bumps. How can two syllables encompass so much hope, challenge, and love?

I want to give my kids some advice about being parents. But my friends who are already members of the club are aghast! Apparently, this is the absolute worst thing I can do. Of course, they are right. Friends, doctors, and the internet can educate the new parents. Common sense, intuition, and trial and error go a long way in raising a child, too. Let’s not forget luck.

Anyway, what do I know about raising a child in the 21st century? When I look back on my son’s and daughter’s idyllic early childhood years, they seem as uncomplicated as episodes from “Leave It to Beaver.” Waving goodbye to them as the school bus disappeared around our corner, I never doubted I would see them intact at the end of the school day. Did I ever worry about our democracy for future generations? I don’t think climate change and the future of our planet were topics of conversation at the dinner table.

Clearly, I am ill-equipped to give advice to today’s parents. That’s OK, because what I really want to do is share some timeless parenting moments with my son and his wife. Like a pregnant woman with a craving, perhaps I am craving one last look at my early parenting years before I relinquish the role to the next generation.

For them, the miracle will start in the delivery room, or at the elevator in their apartment building if the baby is in a hurry to make his or her debut (that’s what actually happened recently to good friends of theirs). They will fall madly in love with this “stranger,” as they count the tiny fingers and toes. When they give the baby both a Hebrew and an English name, the stranger suddenly will become the next generation in the family.

I wish I had the vocabulary to describe how it feels to hold a smiling infant or toddler who is wearing fuzzy onesie pajamas and is still warm from the bath. It’s like holding soft, yeasty challah dough or a giant candy “Peeps” in your arms. In other words, it doesn’t get better than that.

Until it’s time for bedtime stories. As the new family cuddles under the blanket, Curious George and Madeline will be the most important characters they have met all day. Patting the bunny and saying goodnight to the moon will be the only things in the universe that matter.

I wish I could prepare them for how time will fly. Birthdays and special occasions, along with the most mundane moments, will disappear like the bubbles you blow with a plastic wand. If I were allowed to give advice, I would say, “Write everything down so you have a record of your own family history. The written word has more gravitas than your memory. Inhale these moments and thank God for them every day.”

But of course, this is an impossible task. New parents are busy changing diapers and cleaning spit-up off their collars as they race to work. They’re too exhausted living parenthood; they can’t always reflect on it.

Aha! Maybe that’s the role of grandparents — to be both insiders and outsiders, to participate and pause, to offer perspective without giving advice.

But honestly, “we” wouldn’t mind some advice. How do you fold and unfold the stroller? Do we need to develop engineering skills to figure out the intricacies of the car seat?

God willing, as our son and his wife embark on their new and humble journey as parents, my husband and I will begin our new adventure as grandparents. With stroller and car seat manuals in hand, a Tdap vaccine, flu shot, and much gratitude, we will welcome a new generation to our family.

Merrill Silver is an ESL teacher at JVS of MetroWest in East Orange.

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