About six years ago right after my daughter got married I went with a group of girlfriends
to Paris to celebrate our friend’s 50th birthday. We had a lovely time soaking in all that is Paris from the art to the wine to the cheese to the markets. One particular day while shopping in an outdoor market I saw this purple one-piece footed sleeper for a baby decorated with
some bubbles and French words referring to the bubbles. I snatched it up. It was not the cutest sleeper in the world, but it was purple (my daughter and her husband both had recently graduated from TCU and the team colors are purple) and it was French, a place I love. Yet deeper than its color and origin was a way for me to show to my daughter when she announced at some unknown point in the future that she was pregnant how excited I was about being a grandmother.
I was a very young bride, 19 years old when we married, and a young mother, just 22 when Katie was born. When I announced my plans to marry my mother was horrified! I believe she was
worried my life would turn out like hers. My mom married my father at 18 and less than 20 years later she found herself divorced with three young children in the 1970’s. She never finished college so she supported us on the salary of legal secretary with little to no help from my dad. Putting myself in her shoes I can only imagine her fear when I came home and told her that we were getting married at the end of my sophomore year in college. I can’t say that I was the most mature of 19 year olds either. Even my friends told me not to get married, which likely escalated her anxiety, but we did anyway. While our lack of maturity was a problem early in our marriage we grew up together and are happily married 33 years later.
My daughter married her high school and college sweetheart. After Katie graduated Patrick talked to us about marrying Katie and we were elated. Many friends asked me at the time if I was worried that she was too young, but I always answered that Katie and Patrick were friends first and their love was strong. I pointed to Russell and me as an example of those of who can get married young and make it work, and said there were plenty of people I knew who waited yet their marriages ended in divorce. We certainly don’t pretend to have the all the answers to making a marriage successful, but I feel strongly the age you get married is not what makes the difference. The answer lies somewhere in commitment, trust and respect.
A little over a year after Russell and I got married I found out I was pregnant with Katie. It
was a surprise to us. We had planned to wait. I still had another year of college and I was determined to finish. This was 1984 and while many women were finishing college and going on to have careers at this time there were also many holdovers from the previous generation who chose an MRS degree over a BA. Once again when I told my mom she was horrified. This time though she said it was because she was too young to be grandmother and she still had a child at home, my sister. Likely that was not all there was, but I was young and scared and really needed her support. I still remember how much her response hurt me.
Consequently, 25 years later I found myself buying a
one-piece purple sleeper in a small Parisian market. My intention was not to be that mother who constantly nagged about grandchildren, but to be that mom who was supportive no matter what. I always say to my friends when they ask how I feel about becoming a grandmother that this is not about me. My age and readiness are irrelevant because this is about Katie and Patrick.
My mother was so overreaching into my daily life that I often struggle with how to be available without being a helicopter. While I think I often fail, I keep trying to find the right balance of showing my love without being overbearing. A good friend told me that she had kept something at her house for the time when her kids came to announce the “big news” so my plan was this Parisian footed sleeper would be my little something. This sleeper was an attempt to show my availability, my excitement, my love.
The road to pregnancy was not easy for Katie. There were tests, shots, several years and many tears by all the interested parties before we found out there was to be a baby. There never was the surprise announcement or an opportunity for me to pull out that secreted gift and share that story of why I bought it and when. I do remember telling her about it one day when we were talking on the phone before there was a baby, but by the time we found out she was pregnant we knew all the steps that had been taken so we sat on pins and needles waiting for a phone call, quietly praying and trying not to seem too anxious or nosy.
Yesterday was Katie’s birthday. Last night her friends hosted a baby shower for her and
Patrick. This time next year she will be a mom and fairly experienced at changing baby’s diapers and understanding what each grunt or cry means. I wrapped up that purple sleeper and left it in the large pile of gifts that would take several car loads to get back to their house. I whispered to her that I had left the sleeper in the stack of goodies and reminded her that it was not that cute, but it was what I had bought in Paris years before. The significance is likely lost on her. It is not particularly special after all. It’s just an ordinary purple, footed sleeper. She has been out of college for many years so purple is probably not that big a deal to her anymore. It was not an heirloom, but a simple sleeper purchased in an outdoor market from among a pile of sleepers meant for young Parisian mothers to buy. A simple sleeper, amid gifts that will be more useful like a high chair, baby bath or car seat. It is likely the least in value, but one day when this baby reaches a certain age and tells her mother she will be a grandmother soon, Katie will understand.