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I got pregnant with my firstborn the year we lost my sister-in-law to a long, drawn out battle with cancer. She was only 44 and it was a devastating loss for all of us, but especially for my mom and I as we’d both grown close to her. That year was a roller coaster, whipsawing us back and forth between hope and despair until the final plummet to the bottom when it all screeched to a stop and we got off the the ride a little wobbly-legged and disoriented.

It’s weird when someone you love dies and the rest of the world just goes on like normal without pause and you’re kinda standing there thinking: No, actually, stop! Nothing is normal right now, dammit. I hate all of you.

But, life does go on. And, yet, it changed me in a lot of ways. For one, I stopped waiting for the “right time” to do things because I didn’t know how much time there would be for me.  That was the summer we drained our saving account to put in an in-ground pool (f*** it, let’s do it!), that was the year I did another marathon (f*** it, it won’t kill me), and it was the year after 7 years of marriage that we decided to start a family.

I still wasn’t sure. I had no idea how I was going to manage a demanding job and a baby. I wasn’t sure I’d be a good mother (I have almost no patience). I didn’t know how I was going to pay for a baby or daycare, or where this child would sleep, but…..f*** it, right?

My mother had always told me that she’d raised her five kids and she wasn’t going to spend her golden years taking care of her grandchildren five days a week.  Don’t misunderstand: She loved her grandchildren and babysat plenty, but she had zero intention of a second career as a daycare provider.

But I think Grace’s death rattled my mother a lot, too, reinforcing the truth that family and spending time with them is a precious gift.

I couldn’t have been more surprised when, after we announced Kelly Grace was on the way, she offered to babysit a couple days a week, preferably just two.

I managed to work out a deal with my wonderful boss (a mother of five) in the marketing department at the newspaper to work at home twice a week. This was in 2001, so it was long before remote working was accepted or standard for anyone. But, my boss let me create a schedule that worked for me — four ten-hour days, working at home for two of them.  Yes, she was (and still is) amazing. I am lucky to have had the right boss at the right time.

Anyway…between working at home, Mondays off, and my mom babysitting on Tuesdays and Fridays and my in-laws on an as-needed basis, we had it covered and Kelly spent all of her early years in the care of family.

She quickly became a grandma’s girl. We realized early on that it was easier for everyone if she slept over at grandma’s on the night before her day there. I’d run her over at bedtime and put her to sleep (or leave her to watch TV with grandma for awhile) and then I could get up early to get a run in before work while Grandma and Kelly slept until a more reasonable hour.

It’s not easy to care for babies/toddlers and my mom was in her 60s then (although that doesn’t seem old to me now), so when Lauren came along two years later, I fully expected mom to bow out. Thankfully, she didn’t and just made room for one more. She’d handled five once, what was two?

But, yet, there was a special bond between Kelly and grandma, maybe born of those years alone with each other, but more likely due to Kelly’s nature. She’s quiet and obedient, kind and sweet and thoughtful. She’s an easy kid.

When she was mad at me, toddler Kelly would demand to go home.

“You are home,” I would say .

“NO, my OTHER home. My home at gammas!”

I’d just laugh. “That can be arranged, kid.”

“I go live with gamma.”

****

Today, Kelly is a 19-year-old college freshman with a job and her own car and whenever she’s late coming home from work, I don’t even have to text her to know where she is. She stopped at my mom’s, probably to watch some trashy Bachelor or reality show that I can’t tolerate and they both love.

Last week, she had a free evening and wanted to go out to eat.

“Can’t. Lauren has a swim meet,” I said.

“Oh, OK,” she said.

“Why don’t you call grandma? She likes to go out to eat,” I said. “You know she’ll go.”

“Yeah, but I feel bad because she always pays.”

“Well, tell her you’re paying. That you want to take her out to eat.”

A couple of hours later I was sweating my face off (you know what’s even more fun that sweating in the stands at a swim meet, doing it in a mask. yay!) when I got a text from Kelly.

“We went to O’Charley’s,” she said, and sent a photo:

kelly and grandma

I posted it to Insta and FB with a comment about how all that babysitting was finally starting to pay off for grandma.

But it’s probably Kelly that’s the big winner here. Some kids never know their grandparents. Some kids live far away from them. Some kids can’t call their grandparents up and take them to dinner at 4 p.m. on a Monday. Some kids wouldn’t dream of hanging out with their grandma watching trash television. Some kids would do anything to bask in the unconditional love and attention of a grandparent who has plenty of time to go to dinner or listen to long-winded stories or offer a second “home.”

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BTW, the girls are close to their other grandparents, too, thanks to weekly Friday night gatherings at the Cass’ — year-round, every Friday night, like Sunday dinner but with chicken wings and beer. That’s a story for another day though, kids.

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About Just Write: Just Write is my adaptation of free writing, a technique in which a person writes continuously and quickly without little regard for spelling, grammar, or topic. It helps writers overcome blocks of apathy and explore everything from meaningful topics to mundane observations with the same effort and without the pressure of crafting perfect prose. I just start writing.