Tuesday, Aug. 20, 1996
Provincetown, brilliant weather, the Atlantic so clear and warm that even I take a dip. That feeling of every little rash and nick being healed by the living ocean.
As I write this sentence everyone else is at the beach, but my middle daughter’s voice rises from the deck downstairs, where her parrot, Maurice, is running through the entire repertoire of dog commands: “Bucket, hush!” “Good dog!” “Catfish, stay!” “Bucket, kennel!” And most alarming of all, “Catfish, go potty!”
The two dogs (black Lab, Boston terrier) used to respond to the bird’s routine, the big retriever looking comically guilty and confused at the bird’s “Bucket, no!” But now, unlike me, they can tell the difference between Maurice’s voice and the real thing, and doze impassively.
There are three daughters here; the middle one and her man have the animals, the oldest one and her man have the baby.
The usual remarks about being a grandparent are wrong, I think. People smirk and say, “You get the pleasure without doing any of the work.” But in fact, that isn’t it–we all fight for the pleasure of wiping Samuel Eli’s ass or soothing him when he fusses.
Then there is Freud’s zinger about grandparents and grandchildren getting along well because they have a common enemy. He’s onto something, maybe, but at four months Sam doesn’t have enemies yet, and no matter what Freud says, the newest generation tends to bring the two previous ones closer together. My daughter the mother confided to me yesterday that parenthood takes the sting out of what she kindly described as the nightmare of hearing herself sound like me or her mother.
I think this I’m-a-grandpa euphoria has to do with time, and with mortality. On a crude level, you get back the almost completely lost adjective “young”; just when that term had seemingly slipped away from me for good, it is restored in sentences like, “You’re a young grandfather,” or (more courtly), “You’re too young to be grandparents.”
On some deeper level, you sense a kind of unaccustomed equilibrium, a nearly peaceful reconciliation with the idea of dying, and the world going on a long time after that without you. “I am well traded!” the father in Joyce exclaims about his progeny–the child is the clock of mortality, but the grandchild is more like a little friend or ambassador to a time unthinkably, preposterously, absurdly beyond your own. That slightly Hindu vision is comforting: a little glimpse of time’s immensity as amusing and appropriate, not just terrifying.