After several months of processing - and grieving - the closing of my school a new event happened in my life: I became a grandma. I had been patiently waiting for this happy event, wistfully watching other women my age find their feet with their grandchildren and hoping I could get the opportunity to do the same. Well, we finally got the happy call that my daughter was going to have a baby around September (of 2021) and I was over the moon with excitement!
I want to take a few posts to process what this meant for me as I learned many new life lessons and found out that becoming a grandma was harder than I thought it was going to be - and as wonderfully joyful as any big life event could be. There were many decisions to be made and a whole lot of processing, but eventually I discovered through a process of trial and error, who I was to become in this new season of my life.
I was now Jo Jo – my grandma name!
The first big decision, with my daughter’s input, was to go to Australia (where they lived) for a few months to be there for her third trimester, the birth and for a few months afterwards. There were several reasons behind this somewhat huge move. First, I do not think you can have a truly close relationship if you are not physically nearby. I know many people, especially grandparents, have “zoom relationships” with their grand babies. If that is all you can do, well that is all you can do - I get it - but a baby needs to be quite up close and personal in their interactions to build their relationships. Older children do better with screens, and thanks to all those techies out there that gave us a way to interact with our grandchildren when we live far away, but it is different with babies who do not yet have the capacity developmentally to understand why grandma and grandpa are “in that black box”. They need physical touch, and close personal attention to form that attachment. Second, I wanted to be a support to my daughter in a practical way which of course meant being there in person to do what needs to be done: laundry, dishes, housework, cooking and that meant going to where she physically was. And third, I have spent several years now processing some significant childhood trauma and reclaimed a “new me” in the process. Tearing down years of brokenness also meant that at some point you have to rebuild; and my daughter thought it important that the rebuilding process happens while her children are very small when the healing really matters for them. It was a time of transition for me anyways – so I prepared to spend a significant portion of a year in my daughter’s home.
The second big decision was when to make the trip. Unfortunately, the timing of her pregnancy and the birth meant that I was traveling during Covid (June 2021), when the Delta wave was blowing up Australia, and Australia’s response was to close borders and impose strict lock-downs. I ended up in quarantine twice, once in a Medi-hotel in Sydney for two weeks, and then another two weeks not able to leave my daughter’s house for two weeks. It was hard but worth it, for I since then have talked to many people who didn’t get to even meet their grand babies for a couple of years! I was thankful that I made it happen, persevered through the isolation and the separation from my husband for six months (who as a non-citizen ended up not even being allowed into the country until December of 2021), in order to be there for my daughter and her family at this important juncture in their lives.
The third big decision, or I should say several decisions, was working out a living situation for us. We settled on renting a house and sharing the cost: rent, utilities, and food expenses. Happily, we found a nice biggish house that was a lovely location, a short walk from a gorgeous beach and across from an area of natural scrub for beautiful nature-walks. With a bit of negotiation and loads of patience, we actually did quite well in this multi-generational living situation. Moving forward into retirement, we decided to spend half our time in the US (where our son lives and our home is) and half our time in Australia. We will be following summer, which makes us snowbirds, I guess, except we will travel further than most US snowbirds do. Thankfully, it works out since the seasons are upside down from each other. This seems to be a good solution for the problem of having children that live on two different continents!
I have to say, it took me a while to find my feet as I felt my life was turned upside down by all the things that were moving across the world stage, and in our lives. But with lots of processing, and loads of understanding and patience from my daughter, I eventually figured out how to live in my daughter’s home without disrupting it too much, establishing my residency for the next few months, driving on the other side of the road...and becoming grandma to a beautiful baby girl!