I didn’t become a stepdad until age 36 — a biological father until 37 — which means that, relatively speaking, I was a bit late to fatherhood. Like anything else, being an older dad has both advantages and disadvantages. As I prepare for the arrival of my fifth child (whom I’ve taken to calling Grand Finale), anxiety has pushed some of the disadvantages to the fore. I constantly wonder how I’ll find the energy to tend to an infant amidst all the other daily things that my 41-year-old body will still be required to do.
But behind those anxious thoughts exists a confidence I often forget about — one that comes only with age. Because while the physicality of parenting may favor the young, recognizing and interpreting the ways in which children enrich our lives is something more easily accomplished by the wise. And wisdom only comes with age.
Which is why I was so taken by a piece I read today by Sandy Boucher. For she never had children of her own, and only discovered them for the first time in her capacity as the gay grandmother of four. And I found her words to be very wise, indeed.
Boucher’s piece appears over at Salon and describes her atypical path to having a child-filled life. Boucher was once married, yet the prospect of parenthood never appealed to her. She was thankful for that fact once she and her husband divorced and she had “crossed into the great divide” by “deserting heterosexual-land and becoming a dyke.”
Boucher points out that “nowadays lesbians live like heterosexuals, taking straight jobs, getting married to each other where possible, and bearing and raising children.” But when she was younger, lesbians “left it to the heterosexuals to birth and raise the next generation.”
And Boucher had no regrets. That’s why she found it so strange to be unexpectedly taken by four children three decades down the road. For Boucher’s partner is a grandma who is very involved with her grandkids, which makes Boucher a grandma, too.
At first, however, it took Boucher some time to get used to the concept of having children as a regular part of her life. When she and her partner first became an item, there was but one grandchild, a toddler whom she “watched from the middle distance.” And as she watched, two things happened. First, she began to fall for the little tyke. But second, three more just like him came about in rapid succession. And suddenly, the woman who had never wanted kids was the gay grandma of four.
Boucher spends the rest of her essay describing how these four kids have enriched her life and does so with a sage-like wisdom she may not have had 30 years ago. The end result if a poignant essay that anyone who loves kids would appreciate.
“What surprises me is how, as I get closer to them, I come to see my own past differently… I shuttle back and forth from yelling encouragement to a junior acrobat bouncing on the trampoline to my own juniorhood in which I doggedly, hopelessly longed for a trampoline that never materialized… Watching how tenderly these grandchildren are cared for and responded to and encouraged, I feel a squoshy ball of sadness in my chest at the distance my mother kept from us kids, watching from across the room when a hug would have helped so much. And so I coach myself to step forward and pick up a fallen child, even kissing a battered knee or scraped elbow when it feels necessary.”
But of all the wonderful passages in Boucher’s rich piece, my favorite is this one: “I listen to a tiny boy struggling to learn words and piece together language, and I am fascinated at the work and dedication it takes to develop a human being.”
For after reading it, I suddenly realized that what fascinates her is exactly what’s causing all my anxiety as it relates to having yet another baby at the age of 41 — the work and dedication it takes to develop a human being. I’m sometimes scared that my old bones won’t be able to shoulder the load.
Until I go back and re-read Boucher’s wonderful perspective because it serves to remind me of what I already know, but often forget in the face of my fear — the reward for the work and dedication it takes to develop a human being is well worth the effort. The ways in which children enrich our lives are endless. And now that I’m a bit older, I’m able to see more and more of them.