Dreams of a Wannabe Grandma

Against my will I found myself reading the book "Huledet savta" ("Birth of a Grandmother") by Anat Harari. Against my will, because the title alone was enough to stir up a certain sadness that's stirred up a little too often anyway. Ever since my children's shoe sizes exceeded 40, 10 years ago at least, they've been claiming that I always bug them, that it's getting harder and harder to walk down the street with me or to sit with me in a cafe - if there's a baby anywhere nearby.

"Don't even look," my son David has been saying to me in such situations he since was about 12.

"We're in for it now - in a second she's going to start talking about grandkids," Amitai murmurs in quiet desperation, either to his brother or just to himself.

Only their assertive elder brother, as usual, is quick to clarify the message with utter directness: "Cut out your nonsense, Mom. We'll never marry, we'll never give you grandchildren. Don't you get that we're too young?"

I vividly remember the first time it happened. "What do you mean 'too young?'" I said to Na'aman. "You're 13 and a half already. According to Judaism, you're totally mature now. When I was your age ..."

"Yes, Mom?"

"Well, I'm not saying that now's the time, but in a few more years, let's say."

More than a few years have passed since then - and still nothing. And rightly so from their standpoint. I have to admit that I didn't start thinking about motherhood until I was some years older than my eldest son is now. But the grandmotherly instinct in me is gaining urgency and clouding my judgment. The truth is that ever since I became a mother, I've dreamed of becoming a grandmother. Grandmothers have it made. They get to cuddle and play with these adorable babies and then hand them back to their parents when it's time for a diaper change or a nap. Grandmothers are fun to have around. They're like mothers but lack the oppressive need to educate the children properly, to set boundaries, to see to the constant upkeep. I look at my friends who are grandmothers and am filled with envy.

It wasn't the same when I was growing up. Many of my girlfriends didn't even have a grandmother around (my own paternal grandmother died years before I was born), and most of the grandmothers we knew spoke with a funny accent and really looked like grandmothers, with print dresses and orthopedic shoes, white hair and lots of wrinkles. All of them also knew how to make a cake from one egg, how to produce "meatballs" from bread and, of course, how to sew and knit.

Granted, my grandmother was different: She spoke an eloquent Hebrew with a teacher's clear diction, on Shabbat she would go to hear lectures, she had memories from the era of the Turks and the British Mandate, and she preferred Tchernikovsky's poetry to that of Bialik. Nevertheless, she was still very grandmother-ish, and looked that way despite her dyed hair. She forced awful folk remedies on us, like carob syrup and baking soda; she taught me how to iron her giant pink brassieres (I would have preferred to burn them), to peel tomatoes for a salad and to rinse around my eyes with disinfectant soap.

That's not the kind of grandmother I wish to be. I want to be a grandmother like my friend Yael, who plays soccer with her grandson (and is quite good at it, so it seems); or like my friend Rachel, who lets her granddaughter play with toys that aren't made of wood and also sneaks her bread made from white flour. Or like Judy, who's introducing her granddaughter to all the best coffee shops in town. A subversive and bohemian grandmother like Nurit, or a grandmother like Manuela, who has deep conversations with her granddaughter about boys and the meaning of life.

No knitting!

To be a grandmother, I'm even willing to develop some hobbies, to learn how to put together a puzzle that has more than six pieces, or to stand over and over again in a defensive position so that the grandkids can practice their judo moves on me. I would even seriously consider wearing a bathing suit and going to the beach. There's just one thing that's out of the question for me: I could never truly become a knitting grandmother.

If I were a man, at my age or even 10-20 years older, I'd have more options. I could have another child instead of waiting for a grandchild. I have several lucky male friends who are currently producing grandchild substitutes. If I'd given birth to girls, I might have been able to dream about being a grandmother when I still had enough strength to move around without any technical assistance.

Perhaps, like the new mothers and grandmothers in the group taught by author Harari, my daughters would have also discovered, through their new motherhood, my greatness as their mother. "Every time a child is born, a mother and grandmother is born, too," says Harari, adding: "The moment you become a mother you learn to appreciate anew the motherhood of your mother before you."

She's right. I remember the awe I felt when it dawned on me one day that my mother, too, the same woman with whom I had so many bones to pick, used to get up in the middle of the night to feed and change my siblings and me, and get us back to sleep. That for about five years she, too, must have asked herself just when she would ever sleep eight hours straight, or take a nice long bath instead of a quick shower. The feeling of admiration that came with this epiphany lasted a good few hours.

As a single, grandchild-less wannabe grandma, I've tried everything. I tried to be a step-grandmother, but I couldn't find the right grandfather. I tried to offer my services as a substitute grandmother to several young couples, but they all replied that they already had more than enough grandmothers in the family (two, three and even four - which is what happens when both Grandma and Grandpa divorce and then remarry). "Yes, I see," I told them, "but still, you don't have a grandmother like me. With grandmothers, it's quality that counts."

Unfortunately, I'm left with no choice but to pounce on orphans and establish the Foundation for a Different Grandmother-hood. To offer my services as an adoptive grandmother for grandmother-less grandchildren. And I won't mind sharing the grandchildren days equally with an adoptive grandfather provided by the foundation - as long as one thing is clear: On holidays, the grandchildren are with me.