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Change: a lifelong companion

By Barbara Kazdan


“She applied early decision…We’re planning her graduation party.”

“He got his learner’s permit today! Can’t believe he’ll be driving soon.”
Can these teens be the babies whose faces dot my fridge, walls and table tops?

The ones who, a heartbeat ago, first called me “Grandma”? 

How many visits have we shared since then, in how many places? At their homes and mine, in how many cities? And in places we’ve traveled to – to see a Broadway show, visit Ellis Island, tour the White House, explore the Grand Canyon, and celebrate rites of passage and holidays?  That’s how we roll: “Let’s get something on the calendar, Mom,” my eldest daughter Sandra would say as, bags packed, one of those visits was ending. 

On a recent visit to Sandra’s, a text welcomed my arrival, not from my daughter

but from hers: 

“I’m picking you up! Text me when you have your bag.”  

At 17, no virgin driver, Anna’s taking on airport transport and other tasks with the enthusiasm of a first-timer.  During our drive and throughout that visit the advent of adolescence-capping events like college admission and graduation colored our conversations. Then in a moment alone, Sandra cautioned, “When you send her birthday or holiday gifts, don’t send anything for her room. We’ll have to get rid of all that stuff. She won’t be living here much longer.”

“What about vacations? She’ll be back from time to time.”
“I know her. You do, too. She’ll have plans – places to go, programs that

interest her.”

Oh, how my heart hurt hearing that, even while I hoped that my granddaughter’s bedroom – redecorated now as a teenage lair - would still welcome her home from time to time. I knew Sandra was right to prepare herself.  And unlike me, Sandra’s sees the world through no soft filtering light. 

During our visit, on a picture-perfect autumn day the three of us were enjoying a semi-annual tour of art galleries in their postcard-perfect college town. At one stop, a pottery co-op in a square of freshly painted grey frame cottages with sparking white trim opening onto a shared patio, we were admiring the work in one small gallery when a woman encountered us. “Three beautiful generations! Just lovely.”  A moment in time marking so many times….

Now,  mid-way through her senior year in high school, this precious granddaughter, the one who never ended a visit without asking, “When will I see you again?” did she really say, “I want to visit you in D.C. once more before I graduate.” Once more? Are we down to that? Oh, I hope not. But like her mom, she sees it like it is. I’m the one who dwells in the world of wishful thinking.

And, in a magical mix of strange and wonderful, just months after their “I Do’s” my son and his bride have a baby on the way! How much of her life will I share across the gulfs of geography and geriatric fragility? What’s ahead as I near the starting block in a race between my desire and capacity to engage with her, not as an infrequent visitor but, as with my other grandchildren, a constant, special presence in her life?

Ah, the age of uncertainty, at once filled with welcome surprises and poignant passages – a wedding, a baby, a young woman off to college, a teen driving himself who knows where… And I, now an “active, engaged elder,” I wonder, what’s ahead? Change, the constant companion I’ve called a friend, be kind now.

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