When my grandson, Owen James, entered the world three years ago today, I was in a hotel room in Westcliffe, Colo. I got the news of his birth via a text from my sister, Jeanne. “He’s here!” she wrote, sending along a fuzzy photo of a brand-new Owen, lying on the chest of his mama, my girl, Jess.
I cried with joy–and with guilt. I was supposed to be in the delivery room, taking photos and supporting my daughter, not here in a hotel room, alone, nearly a thousand miles away. But I went to Colorado because I knew I was to attend a writing workshop there with Abigail Thomas–and I knew Owen would not come early.
I got one of those right.
Owen showed up 11 days before his due date. If memory serves me, he got to the planet around 5:20 a.m. Central Time. The news reached me about 20 minutes later. While I gazed at the picture of my grandson, I imagined him asking me one day what I was doing the day he was born. I couldn’t tell him I got the news and went back to bed. So I decided to get dressed and go for a run.
This is not normal behavior for me–then or now. But there I was, running in the morning darkness toward the stunning Sangre de Cristo mountain range. As I pounded the pavement, I pounded myself: “What kind of mother isn’t there when her first grandchild is born? What kind of mother isn’t there for her child, who’s only 19 and giving birth for the first time? And I was supposed to take pictures! Now there’s only blurry cell phone shots of him.” On and on and on… The self-flagellation continued until the sun was coming up and my sides were throbbing.
“Enough, Annie, enough,” I had the good sense to tell myself.
On the walk back to the hotel, I noticed a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, its wings stretched out against the early morning sky. Watching it soar, I thought about the strength it takes to bring babies into the world, the strength it takes to enter the world, and the strength it takes to live in it once we get here. For a few flickering seconds, I set aside my guilt and acknowledged my courage. I had listened to my inner guidance. I was where I was supposed to be. And I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.
My not being there for Owen’s birth proved prophetic. I haven’t been physically with him for most of his three years. When he was just six months old, I rocked him in the same rocker I used to rock his mama and dampened his baby hair with my tears as I said good-bye before moving to that little town in Colorado. As much as I wanted to stay, that inner voice was telling me I was to go.
I’ve since moved to North Carolina. I see Owen every four months or so. He’s funny and smart and independent and curious. He knows his letters and many numbers. He’s talking more and more and making more and more sense. His mama, a single mama, is largely responsible for all that he is.
Today I’ll watch my grandson open his gift from me, a Fisher-Price trike, via Facebook from across the country, not from across the room. I’ll be glad that I can at least see his face, but I’ll feel guilty that I’m not there to kiss his little frosting-coated face or to help him get his bearings on that new trike.
I’ll never really get used to this–this version of grandmothering that I never imagined for myself. Guilt is still there. But so is the deep knowingness, just like on the day Owen was born, that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
Happy birthday, Owen James. Nana loves you. But then you know that.