Thanks, Hilary, for putting a human face on such a common quandary. We may not all be presidential material — for some of us it might only be a question of becoming senator or CEO, or maybe just picking up an Oscar for lifetime achievement. But which of us doesn’t identify with Hilary’s predicament?
Just when the stars might align to give her a shot at the White House — and we’re talking the big desk, not the namby pamby family quarters — her only child goes ahead and…well, goes ahead with her own timeline, her own life.
It is easy for Bill to say that he only wants to live to be a grandfather; he already has had his turn as leader of the free world. For Hilary, as for so many women, that career trajectory may have been delayed by Mommy-tracking, or the long slow rise of confidence- or skill-building. Which of us doesn’t have her own version of the health care disaster? Or hasn’t spent some piece of her best years wondering: hair band or no? Being Secretary of State was ok, but darn it, we still have plans!
But the if-ness and the when-ness of our grandmotherhood is totally beyond our control. It’s the Zen lesson of the universe.
That said, we can’t help but wonder: if all works according to plan, will Hilary find room in the Oval Office for a porta-crib?
I call it The Big Disconnect. The prestigious “Lives” essay spot in the back of the New York Times Magazine not long ago included in its writers’ guidelines this helpful hint: “No grandmother stories, please.” Which would lead you to think that, because so many people considered their grandmothers such a big influence, the world was already inundated with grandmother tales.
I am still looking. I do hear the stories, lots of them, from my cohort — the new grandparents, the seasoned ones, the breathlessly waiting and hoping. And we know how much this little affair can mean over time. If we are lucky, our kids had significant relationships with their own grandparents, or we did with ours, long gone.
So where do we see this reflected around us? I count just one website devoted to grandparents, and a few gushy blogs. Even the denture commercials show us “glam” old folks mostly gardening and going out to dinner. Or, if we are very fortunate, taking in the moon from the deck of a cruise ship.
But our hearts tell a different story. We lucky ones know that the grandparent-child bond can be bone deep, and forever long .
Why do we see so little of it?
Just asking. If you have any thoughts on this, do send them my way.
It’s called The Grandmother Hypothesis, and it was first posited more than half a century ago. The idea is that we post-menopausal dames might have played a really crucial role in the development of the species. Long ago, when our ancestors were tending their fires and sweeping out their caves, proto-human survival was very touch and go.
Who better to help the little ones than their dear doting grandmothers? We who were no longer burdened by pregnancy and nursing could keep those toddlers from wandering away from camp, or falling into the fire. We could gather more nuts and berries, and make sure the small cave kids ate their fill.
This allowed more of us to survive, and more portions of our brains to develop. Also, this model of having several small children and at least a couple of caretakers promoted a model of “shared intentionality.” Anthropologists argue that this has helped humans to work together to achieve common goals.
More recent research on hunter-gatherer tribes has found that “modern” grandmas still play the same role — hunting tubers and feeding them to the young.
Go grannies! We knew it all along.