May 20, 2024 Paige Nolan

A Different Kind of Love…


We are standing in a little clump in the kitchen doorway, watching a young Ryan and a young Mimi (my daughters) toddle up and down the stairs, when I ask my mom and dad:

        “Do you like grandparening because it reminds you of when you raised your own kids or because it’s a totally different thing?”

They are too captivated by the twins playing to be looking directly at me, but with the sound of this question, they both whip their heads around and answer in unison: “totally different thing.”

        It is significant to see them turn together and hear them answer with the same cadence of the same words at the same time, the shared conviction of their response compelling.

        “Why?” I ask it like ‘whoa’ – I had no idea they were going to feel so sure.

        My mom has a quick response, “Because when you’re 40 years old, you’re so busy with what needs to get done and you care if you get invited to the party or not.”

              My dad thinks for a moment, “I was so consumed with work when y’all were little.” He looks at the girls, smiling. (Still, he is smiling when they are around.) “I can enjoy your children in a completely different way at this stage of my life.”

For the past 13 summers in a row (minus last year), I’ve taken my children to Louisiana for a month to live in my childhood home with my parents. I can say from those weeks under the same roof – with my parents’ grand parenthood on full display – it’s no wonder there was no hesitation in my parents’ answer that day. It’s no wonder they agreed so wholeheartedly. The way a grandparent loves a grandchild is, indeed, a totally different thing.
It’s really hard to be a parent right now. It’s really hard to be a parent always. And in today’s world – as parents, we are navigating so much novelty: between a virus + and all its variants, handheld devices that change the way we live and get information, social media platforms that impact the way we relate, and culture wars – some days, it feels our society is on the edge of being unrecognizable. Maybe every generation of parents before mine has felt this way – certainly, every generation has had its challenges. And our challenges come with a whole set of decisions parents before us never had to make – the vulnerability of these choices weighs on us, exhausts us.

I arrive to my parents’ home this summer carrying all of them.

And guess what my parents are carrying when we see them on the front porch? Nothing. They’ve put it all down to be able to greet us with open arms. What a difference!

A few days later, when my mom gifts my son with a virtual reality headset for his 12th birthday, the house erupts in total joy. Myles is so happy he looks like a beam of light. Each one of my children straps this white lens thing on their head and moves around the room engaged in a private world playing out in the front of their eyes alone. This is a novelty I can appreciate – its certainly more exciting that wearing a mask to school – but I know my smile is half-cocked.

I will have to enforce rules around this device.

I wonder if there are groups who join this virtual reality thing. Will he need a password? Can we make his account private to protect him from the adults trolling for young people online? Will he become less open to trying new things in real life because he’s tried them virtually?

Just curious. Just worried. Just dealing.
You know, just feeling – the responsibility of it all.
And as I am breathing deeply, there is some serious laughter going on.
         
My dad is taking pictures of the children, texting the images to his sister. He is giddy. My mom has the giggles. Smart kids. Silly kids. Look how quickly they figure it out. Look how they play. Look how they learn. Look at this wacky world – their world – this beautiful, wondrous world where these grandchildren of ours get to grow up and experience new things.

What a love! This grandparent kind of love – a yes kind of love.
I see it so clearly every summer. I paid closer attention to it this year – because the reality of mortality is ultra real these days and I think, also, I need this love. I want to know this love, whether I become a grandparent one day or not. I want to able to give this kind of love. I want access to it even if it's not all mine.
It's a generous love.
A healing love that is grown from some well-earned perspective, a love that doesn't just know fleeting – a love that has lived fleeting. It's unique in this way. While other loves heed the warning of the mind – “don't miss this part” – this love is already loving this part because it's heeding the heart.

It's not that my parents don't worry about their grandchildren, they do. But as grandparents, they've loosened their grip. The love they express to my children is easier going, it yields, it responds with less attachment to outcome. It's a kind of love that doesn't glean power from being in charge over another. This kind of love is all-powerful because it stays in step with, close to, another. It doesn't turn away. It doesn't argue or bristle. There is an abundance of pure presence that flows from this love to awash any tension of authority. The very nature of the potency of this love commands respect, so it never has to demand respect.

Of course, this love has guidelines and limits, as love requires, but it's a wide open field – wide wide open – with a million soft blades of delight and a thousand open petal faces of joy leaning into the sun of right Now.

It is a place to be free.
The gift of this summer was this kind of love, this totally different thing that brightened my outlook – because it widened my outlook. If this kind of love has a signature sound – it is laughter, some serious laughter coming from the other room. Something I need to do more of as I navigate the newness of all of it, the decisions of all of it, the precarious nature of it all changing again tomorrow.

If it does, that's all right.

This love has taught me – nothing stays the same, it's all stages and phases that pass in the end.

It's our job as parents, as people, to reach for a wiser perspective, take some time on the field, even before the exact view of end-of-life comes into focus – we can learn from the ones who have been through most of their journey and who live the Now with their whole hearts. We can be amused. We can laugh. We can admire.

We can love our children and I believe we can even love each other, with this kind of love that is more complete, vibrant, far-reaching into the moment.

Even for a few moments at a time, we can let our love be grand.