Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996
Contractor’s news first: He’s coming back! Tomorrow! (Unless his name is “Godot.”) Something suggestively ominous in his telephone message, though–is he planning to pass us on to someone else? Someone less desirable? Are we about to be rejected? He’s never seen us dressed up, for instance–is that the trouble? Is it that we don’t look middle class enough in our old sweatshirts?
Meanwhile, I have evidence that there are actually four Readers of this “Diary.” I, of course, am not one of them. (I do own a modem, but it’s under the dresser.) It turns out that my State College, Pa., daughter has been reading these sketches; and, I think, even my son-in-law; and a Boston nephew (well, he’s a computer genius and could probably download e-mail from Mars); and, unexpectedly, a friend in Philadelphia. (I can never think of that city without remembering the inscription on W.C. Fields’ gravestone: “I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”)
My daughter, who generally doesn’t read me in print, even when I dedicate a book to her, is excited about reading me on a screen. (That should encourage the editors of SLATE!) “Write about the baby!” she appeals. This isn’t easy for a long-distance grandmother to do. Samuel is now 9 months old, and I haven’t seen him since July, when he was just back from digging at Megiddo. (His parents are Near Eastern archaeologists. One of them is Middle Bronze Age, the other Early Bronze; sometimes I forget which is which.) I did a bit of excavating on my own, and dragged out my daughter’s old toy piano, and gave it to Samuel to play with. He instantly began chewing its leg. Then I set him on the piano stool and showed him the real piano, and played and sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb”; he liked that. After that, when I handed him the toy piano again, he happily pounded the keys; he’d learned that’s what they’re for. But he went back to eating the leg anyhow.
All that was months ago. Nowadays, I’m told, he’s crawling, and enjoying his autonomy. He claps hands and says “Ma-ma” (but he says this to his daddy too), and he loves mashed bananas and Cheerios; he won’t touch vegetables. He’s ravishingly beautiful; he has four teeth, two above and two below; his eyes are green-gray and jewel-like. Most of this, I admit, is hearsay. “My wonderful baby boy,” says my daughter. She says this every day: “He’s wonderful!” Or, “He’s the most wonderful baby in the world.” Or, “I love him, you can’t believe how much I love him.” Or, “He’s my life.” His tall father lifts him high and turns him upside down to make him giggle. His father says, “He’s a delightful little boy.”
Well, here I am, waiting for Godot; but I’d rather be in State College, Pa., seeing Samuel crawl.
Pause. Is that the absolute truth? A confession: I uttered it out of grandmotherly obligation. I’d really rather be reading old novels and trying to write a new one. The friend in Philadelphia, a retired editor, describes herself as “one whose only discipline was the deadline.” “Now,” she says, “my only deadline is death, I think.” I think the same. Grandmotherhood underlines that fact: that Prime is waning, that the Generations are lengthening. How shrunken the span left for the life of language!
At my back I always hear
Time’s wingéd chariot hovering near.
Samuel, lovely and resplendent, small scion of light, who rides the chariot of Timelessness! Samuel, I will one day write a poem for you; many poems. At first you will eat them. And then, I hope, you will read them. And then will you forgive me for being an unnatural grandmother?