Things don’t always turn out as expected. More often than not, I think, the expectations were probably too optimistic in the first place and the surprise is an unwelcome one.
This is a lovely story of the reverse.
We all experience watershed moments in the course of our lives. Days when, from then on, things become notably different. The day you left home, the day you got married (or moved in together), the day you had your first child – all days signifying something important, and probably good, was happening in your life.
Most of us have also experienced watershed moments that signified a loss. The day a relationship came to an end. The move to a new and less desirable house. The death of a friend or – more so – a spouse.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the genesis of the word ‘watershed’. It seems that it was originally a geographical term for a place where water coming off a mountain divides into two separate rivers, in other words, a turning point.
And that is exactly what it feels like, when your life is either enhanced or diminished by some change.
My husband and I have been very close to one grandson by the accident of circumstances. His mother was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer when he was eight months old, her husband (our son) was trying to complete a Ph.D., and they needed a lot of help – and fast. (She eventually recovered, I am happy to say, and is now cancer-free.)
We cobbled together a variety of people to look after the baby, including the other grandmother who came from abroad for the purpose, two outsiders and myself. And somehow we dealt with his various needs for the next months and more.
In addition, we bought a baby bed, a highchair, a pile of nappies (diapers) and all the accoutrements of babyhood so that he could come to our house on short notice. Which he did once a week or so. Sometimes more.
As he grew into a toddler and small child, our house was constantly responding to his changing needs, but it was always ready for a visit. The baby clothes became children’s clothes. We always had his favourite food of the moment.
My son’s old room became the grandson’s room and even my son’s place at our dining room table became his place. He felt completely at home in our house.
His little slippers were always in our front hall.
And then when he was six, his parents decided that the best primary school for his needs was one that was a 10-minute walk from our house (and an hour by bus from their flat). To make their lives easier, we agreed that he could stay over with us on one night each week. And we looked after him after school on some other days, as needed.
In short, this child became part of our day-to-day lives for 11 years. Some of this time was hard work – getting him up for school on days when I dearly wanted to lie in bed, going up the hill to collect him on cold and rainy days, seeing to his needs when I had other more pressing projects and so forth.
But taken as a whole, it was both fun and deeply fulfilling. He was always a very loving child, lively and interesting to talk to and full of opinions.
He filled our house with his enthusiasms. He kept us on our toes. And in some strange way, he has kept us young. Grandchildren often do.
And suddenly, it was coming to an end. His time had finished at the nearby primary school. More drastically, the parents were going to live abroad for a year (with him) for an academic secondment.
This lively grandson would no longer be coming to our house every week. Indeed, he wouldn’t be coming at all for a year.
This was sadness enough.
But I realised that when they returned, life would not go back to the old arrangements. The by-then adolescent would go to a local secondary school, where he would undoubtedly get caught up with friends, after-school activities and homework – all in his local area.
He would come to see us from time to time, of course, but we would no longer have that easy relationship that comes from seeing each other frequently. We might feel close, but it wouldn’t be in the same quotidian way.
I knew that this was all completely right and good for him. Living abroad would be a terrific experience. He needed to grow up and find his own way. It was bound to happen.
But it was definitely a painful moment for us. I watched him being driven home from our house for the last time, smiling in the back seat of the car, with a big lump in my throat.
His slippers were no longer in our front hall.
And then, suddenly, the secondment was over and back they all came last summer (2022). This grandson came almost immediately to visit a few days later.
BUT one very important thing had changed, which I simply had not thought about beforehand. Said grandson was older and had become very independent. He could travel on public transport on his own. Indeed, he could come and go to our house as he liked.
For awhile over that summer, he returned again and again to spend time with us.
And yes, he started going to a local school and yes, he started making local friends and yes, he did have a lot of homework. But he discovered that he could leave his area on Saturday and return on Sunday, doing some homework at our house.
He likes to be here. He likes us, clearly. And although he gets on reasonably well with his parents, like all adolescents he likes to get away from them. And I think he likes the spaciousness of our house, giving him room to roam around and think.
And so we are back to square one, with the grandson visiting us nearly every week and very much part of our lives.
You just never know what is on that path in front of you, just around the corner.
And his rather large slippers are again in our front hall.
Have you had a positive surprise in your recent life? What happened? Why were you surprised?