Long ago, Betty Davis said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” I remember giggling when I first heard it, but now I understand how true that statement is. Despite feeling thirty-five in my mind, my body begs to differ as I struggle to move, joints riddled with arthritis. Before slowly crawling out of bed each morning, I first must stretch my limbs in all directions. Only then can I make it to the bathroom in a timely manner.
But recently, I discovered old age may be a challenge for something else too.
On April 6th, in the year of COVID-19, McCoy J. Neville, my second grandson, entered this crazy world. Because of the lockdown, I wasn’t allowed to meet this precious child until he was six weeks old. When given the green light to travel, I figuratively and literally flew to Austin, Texas, determined to make life perfect for him, his mommy and daddy, and older brother, Bo.
My grandsons are only 20 months apart, the same spread between my second daughter Jenni and my third daughter, Lauren (the boys’ mother). How I remember the exhaustion back then. With three little girls under the age of four—my son would be born a few years later—I felt as if I was living in a San Francisco heavy summer fog, oppressive and murky, that lingered all day. I was so tired I could never see straight.
But that was over thirty years ago. I’ve had lots of rest since then, so being the “Super Grammie,” I wanted to give Lauren’s family the greatest gift—sleep. I would become the night nurse for McCoy’s 3:00 a.m. feeding. A few days later, I feared I bit off more than I could chew, and sighed, “Caring for small children ain’t for sissies either, especially in old age.” I was fearful this was one promise I would have to renege on.
But on the fourth night, as McCoy cried to be held for the third time in a matter of four hours (and I wanted to cry too), I found myself thinking of my mom and how our lives at sixty-seven were so different. Despite my afflictions, I can do much more with my time and body than she could, and she’d have done anything to be in my shoes now.
My mother was the original baby whisperer. She could soothe and calm any hysterical infant within a matter of minutes. I loved the time she spent with her first granddaughter, my Michelle. Watching them play together with dolls or rock her to sleep was heartwarming. My mom was kind, loving, full of energy, and fun. Many years ago, she was a devoted mother to her own four children and was thrilled to be given a second chance to relive those magical days with her grandchild.
But by the time Jenni was born, things were becoming complicated. My ninety-two-year-old grandmother moved in with my parents and needed constant attention. Dad had a massive stroke, and he also needed all her attention. Soon, her own health began to fail. She was never able to be the grandmother she dreamed of to my other three kids. Her visits became ones of just watching them because the pain in her body prohibited her from rolling around on the floor. As for the rocking, that she could only do for a few minutes at a time.
The clock quickly approached 5:00 a.m. when a tear found its way down my cheek. Sure, I would be tired the entire next day—again—but I realized how incredibly fortunate I was to be in this moment. Cradling McCoy closer, he nuzzled his tiny head into the crook of my neck and breathed ever so gently. Hearing the soft coo, I felt my heart swell with love for him, as well as with enormous gratitude. This time might be exhausting, but it was fleeting too. Staring into his big blue eyes, I reminded myself, “This is the youngest he’ll ever be again, so don’t be foolish and miss it because you want sleep.” Just like with his brother, it wouldn’t last forever.
So, as I spend more sleepless nights walking the halls and rocking him for as long as it takes, I do it for McCoy’s parents so they can build their strength back. I do it to bond with this innocent creature who was a miracle born in a pandemic. And I do it for myself and my mom – I do it for both of us. One day, I’ll be home again with uninterrupted sleep and back to my quiet life, wishing I was here again. Any time with this child, including sleep deprived, is a treasure, and I don’t want to miss a second of it.