Author’s Note: I wrote this essay as my granddaughter was preparing to live with me for several months during the pandemic. I’d never been alone with her for an extended period⎯her mother, my daughter, had always been with us in the past. I was thrilled but also shy and anxious. After a life of solitude, to hear “Grandma” called from another room is like hearing a rare bird’s song.
IN AN ODD CASE OF SYNCHRONICITY, I was rejected from a writing contest the same morning my granddaughter texted that she’d just received an offer to publish a book.
At twenty-one, she has already published several stories and novellas in small hip online venues with names like Hairpin, Splitlip, and Hangnail Press⎯names I’ve changed, but not by much. Today’s news is different. She’s been accepted by a small publisher that has won many awards⎯one that I might try one day myself. But why should I care about that?
There are probably sentiments more shameful than being envious of your own granddaughter, though I can’t think of any at the moment. But then, I might not be the one to say. My credentials are notably weak.
Writing has always been my personal bailiwick; no one else in my family even likes words. I come from a long line of forthright homemakers and food service workers, silent, mostly kind people who sew but don’t read, eat but don’t drink, sit in the back and never raise their hands, and keep their thoughts tucked into the dark pockets under their eyes.
Women with one foot still dangling in the nineteenth century, plagued with neuralgia and certain nameless longings, a way of bracketing their arms under their breasts, as if to keep themselves from uttering great oaths.
So, I was flabbergasted when my desire to write leapfrogged over my daughter and landed in my granddaughter. I walked into her room one day, and there she was⎯a smaller, bronzer version of myself⎯sitting cross-legged and typing away, verbs flashing in her eyes. That I had ever passed on anything was one of many facts I was able to absorb only in tiny increments, like through a dripping IV. Inside me there was a mangled spot where the maternal was meant to reside. Dusty, dank, and long uninhabited, it held nothing for decades except for rust and rubble and a salty creek of tears.
BACK WHEN I WAS MY GRANDDAUGHTER’S AGE, I’d sat in the same way in front of my vibrating IBM Selectric, writing one tale after another⎯about being an outcast, about the civil rights movement in my small hometown and my brief affair with the information minister of the middling Black Panther Party.
Writing was what bound me together through my teenage pregnancy, and the months I spent in the Friends Home for Unwed Mothers, a religious home run by Quaker evangelicals. The women there seemed eager not only to sink their claws into the likes of me, but to assist me in giving up the fruit of this union.
Eight months later, I staggered from there shell-shocked, back to school in my miniskirts but with a different face screwed on the front of my head. Still, I continued to write.
It wasn’t until college that I began sending out these stories the old-fashioned way, by post. It is hard to convey how central the mailbox was then⎯how it nearly gleamed with possibility. I couldn’t wait to rifle through the stack of envelopes I received each day. Would I be accepted, appreciated, praised? I’d packed all these hopes into my stories, and finally, one day, I was no longer unrequited.
Someone picked me, then someone else. I was a shambling, shattered nobody, yet over time this field of words became my place⎯where I knelt to weed and admire the wildflowers.
I MAY HAVE LIVED IN THIS FIELD, but another event, more astounding, occurred in time: the discovery of the prime mystery of my life, the child I’d never seen in twenty-seven years.
The discovery of my flesh-and-blood daughter was a major revision at the heart of my tragic plot. I’d grown a leathery hide, tough as an elephant’s skin, but it was finally pierced by the particular life in her⎯the bright teeth and articulated knees and the mole on the side of her golden neck. And, as if she weren’t enough to behold, there was my granddaughter, swimming up not much later: finally, a baby I was good enough to hold. The intimacies of grandmotherhood when you’ve never been a mother are hard to fathom: the DNA that rises up to live another day. I studied the two of them as if they were an atlas. Embedded within them both were my known and unknown worlds.
Still, there were painful spots⎯blunders and roadblocks where I found myself bereft on foreign roads. How much did I owe them, and how could I ever pay it? How do you turn yourself inside out, a loving envelope, when you’ve spent your life self- involved and on your own?
I SEE NOW THAT MOTHERHOOD is a region that can’t be entered by simple portals, a province of grit and sinew and the deep imagination.
It’s a place that can’t be glimpsed beforehand. You have to feel it in your face, at the back of your throat, in your groin gone soft.
You have to experience what it’s like to bleed into the distant landscape, while in the front blazes your daughter, full colored and in motion, the focal point of every portrait.
And then with a granddaughter, you move back further. You become a lap, a bird in the evening sky, a perpetually open refrigerator.
This is the stiff new jacket that someone like me wears in awkward gratitude⎯half on, half off⎯just out of layaway.
Lynn Lauber, from New York, is a fiction and nonfiction author, teacher, and editor. She has published two books of fiction, White Girls and 21 Sugar Street, and one nonfiction volume, Listen to Me, published by W.W. Norton. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Boston Globe, and a number of anthologies. She teaches personal writing at UCLA online.
Delmarva Review publishes the best of new nonfiction, fiction, and poetry selected from thousands of submissions annually. The 13th annual edition includes 64 authors. As an independent nonprofit, the literary journal receives partial financial support from a Talbot County Arts Council grant with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. Readers can purchase copies from Amazon.com and other major online booksellers, and from regional specialty booksellers like Mystery Loves Company, in Oxford. All writers are welcome to submit their best work, until March 31, to be considered for the 14th edition. See the website: www.DelmarvaReview.org.
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