“Will she go or will she stay?” Recorded by the group, Journey, these lyrics from the song, Never Walk Away, are about impetuous young lovers who married quickly then realized they didn’t get along. That situation doesn’t apply to me but the question is one I’ve been asking myself for nine months.
When I found out that my first grandchild was on the way and shared the news with close friends, they were quick to ask, “Will you move back?” Family members in the U.S. wanted to know the same thing.
To be honest, the possibility hadn’t occurred to me. I relocated to Bali when I retired and my life there suited me in ways living anywhere else never has and never could. But the question, heavy with expectation, sat like judgment in my conscience.
As the months ticked by, anxiety grew.
Now in addition to asking about moving to be near my new grandbaby, people were telling me: Grandchildren change you! I wondered if I would suddenly morph into a different person, one who gushes over infants and pinches a toddler’s rosy cheeks. Would I go into a state of perpetual mourning or separation anxiety if I chose not to rent an apartment in the same block or move into the spare bedroom beside the nursery?
Significant mental space devoted itself to pointless conjecture while I awaited the birth. After all, there would be no way of knowing for sure how this baby would impact me until she was born. But that didn’t stop me from pondering the pros and cons of uprooting from paradise.
Three weeks before her due date my daughter called. She was in labor. My plan to be with her in the birthing room was thwarted. I rescheduled my flight and rushed to be with them.
To say it was love at first sight would be an understatement. My response was primal. If anyone sneezed within 20 feet of that bundle of perfection I fought the urge to strong-arm them out of the room. I carried the bottle of antiseptic hand sanitizer with me and shoved it between visitors and sweet baby Hadley if anyone made a move to touch her.
With hawk-like intensity I hovered over my daughter and son-in-law as they cared for her, scrutinized their parenting skills, ready to pounce at the slightest hint of insecurity. These uncharacteristic behaviors took over, although no one but me seemed at all surprised.
The first few weeks flew by and we relaxed into a familiar routine. Our roles emerged. For Hadley, Mom meant food and Dad with his tickly whiskers and big voice meant fun. When handed to me, she dropped instantly to sleep for hours, curled warm and kittenish on my chest. My quieting effect on her was the envy of all and an utter delight to me.
But two-thirds through my six-week stay the question reared its head once again, this time with a twist.
“I have to admit, Mom, I’m a little upset that you chose to live at a point on the globe about as far away from us as possible.” My daughter’s words, delivered in a peevish tone, caused an instant emotional seize-up. I sucked in my breath and waited as she went on. “I selfishly want you to be here, to be involved in Hadley’s life. Could you see yourself taking care of her maybe two days a week?”
There it was: a direct question from my direct daughter that required a direct answer. My heart pounded and thoughts spun wild circles looking for a place to hide. I’d had plenty of time to process, but knowing she wanted me near tugged at my common sense and my heart.
“I love Hadley more than I imagined possible,” I began as I tried to sort through what I wanted to say next. “But you have a big life here and I have a big life in Bali. If I move away from that it will mean starting over, finding new friends, carving out a place for myself.”
I studied her face out of the corner of my eye. She had the stubborn, determined look that meant she was hearing but not liking it. I plunged on. “Frankly, honey, I’d be lonely. I can’t recreate the same kind of life here that has made me incredibly happy there. You’ve never been to see me, but when you do… (Okay, a tiny below-the-belt dig. She’s the only daughter that hasn’t visited my island home!)… you’ll see that my door is wide open all day long. People drop in because that’s the culture. The weather’s always warm so I’m never cooped up alone, never isolated. I miss my family here, and I’ll miss Hadley terribly.”
There was a lump gathering in my throat. I swallowed hard and looked sideways again. Her expression had changed. My voice softened as I said what we both knew. “Most of all, I’ve learned that if I take care of myself, I’m happy, and if I’m happy, my daughters are happy. In Bali I’m happier than I’ve ever been.”
She smiled half grudgingly. “I know, Mom. So when will you come back? Every six months? Let’s make a plan.” We laughed and I teased her about wanting to plug me into her spreadsheet.
How good it is to be loved! In two more weeks I’ll go home and start planning my next visit. The way I’m feeling right now, every six months may not be often enough.
What do you do to keep in touch if you live far from your grandchildren? Have you considered moving to be closer to them? If you did move to be near grandchildren, what was your process? Please share your story below.