I recently had lunch with some close friends and, as we were laughing about the exploits of our children, one of them blurted out "I really want grandchildren." As soon as she said it, I immediately chimed in, "Oh my God, so do I."
Now my kids are far from getting married, much less having their own children, but this visceral yearning for grandchildren has been creeping up on me. I find myself checking out the Facebook pages of my acquaintances to see if there are pictures of them posing with babies, reading those obsessively cheerful holiday letters for mentions of weddings and grandkids, perusing the Class Notes in my college's alumni magazine to look for snippets about multi-generational families, and generally feeling jealous when I discover that one of my peers will soon be a grandparent.
And I know I'm not alone. Last year, a New York Times article described potential grandparents who were so concerned about having grandchildren that they are paying for their daughters to freeze their eggs.
So why am I, and apparently many others, so obsessed? Well, I suppose there's this deep-seated yearning to pass on my genes, to ensure that some part of me will survive in the distant future, a biological imperative hard-wired into my genetic code. And I know that I loved my time at home with my own children, and maybe I'm longing to recreate the passionate feelings of love and protectiveness I felt as I watched over them, to smell that incredibly sweet baby smell again, without experiencing the downsides of getting up at all hours of the night, changing every diaper and being responsible every second. Being a grandparent is the next logical stage in my journey, and I'm impatient to get there. I want to experience the joys of spoiling a grandchild, watching him or her progress, maybe even spotting a little bit of me in them.
But I suppose, if I'm completely honest, there's a strong measure of fear mixed in with the almost painful longing I'm experiencing. The fear that my children won't be able to have kids or won't want kids, the fear that I'll become ill or worse, the fear that it just won't happen in time. And time is something I am increasingly aware of. The years gone by now greatly outnumber the years I have left, and I hate waiting, particularly because I don't know how long I will remain healthy and active. To have this gaping need in my life that is completely out of my control is scary. I can't make grandchildren magically appear and I truly don't want my children to marry before they're ready. So, all I can do is wait. But for goal-oriented boomers who are told that fifty is the new thirty and that they can control their destinies, having a goal that is both unfulfilled and out of your control is anathema.
So, maybe the question isn't really how to deal with this longing for grandchildren, but how to accept the passage of time and how to reconcile yourself to things you can't control. I found it interesting to read in Forbes that the number of boomers who are volunteering has been dropping, possibly because they want to do jobs that are managerial, rather than mindless work like stuffing envelopes. We want to be in charge; we don't like not being in control. I am hardly an expert in this, but as I fumble along, there are a few things I've been thinking about grandchildren. First, having grandchildren is not really a goal or an ambition -- it's based on someone else's life, and goals based on other people's actions are really not goals, they're just wishes. Secondly, the best way to accept a lack of control is take charge of the things you can control and let go of the others. Figure out something you can do (and don't rule out stuffing envelopes, because with the right people around it can be a lot of fun) and go out there and do it. Maybe more importantly, try not to dwell on what you can't control, whether it's grandchildren or the aging process or the weather. And finally, while you can't stop time, live in the moment as much as possible and do at least one positive thing a day -- whether it's bringing food to a shut-in, sending an interesting article to a friend or just telling someone how much you value them in your life.
And as for that longing for grandkids, it might just be time to get a pet.