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I Will Never Be a Grandparent

I Will Never Be a Grandparent

Published March 21, 2023

Writer Barbra Williams Cosentino

It's no secret that grandparents are extraordinary people. They can magically convert a couple of cardboard boxes into a medieval castle, make spaghetti and meatballs out of a misshapen lump of play dough, handle the intricacies of pandemic Zoom school, or calm a sobbing artist whose green crayon has broken at just the wrong moment.

I am not a grandparent, and sadly, I will never be one.

It's 1990. I am at a party with a roomful of five-year-olds. My good friend is the birthday boy's mother. A clown is making the children laugh. They stuff pieces of birthday cake in their mouths, and Josh rips open the paper on his presents and says "thank you" just as he's been taught.

I don't have children, and now, I don't have grandchildren. It's the grief that keeps on giving.

Half an hour into the party, I am standing next to a woman with a diamond the size of a large walnut on her finger. As we look at the little ones scampering around the room, she says, "They are so cute! Which one is yours?"

"None of them are mine," I answer. "I don't have any children." There is an awkward silence. "Well, you probably get lots of sleep, then!" she says brightly, and I politely chuckle. No one knows what to say when I tell them I don't have children. It's okay. I'm 38, and I'm pretty used to it.

It's no secret that grandparents are extraordinary people.

Now it's 2021, in a backyard at a still somewhat socially distanced birthday party. The guest of honor is three years old and bright as a copper penny with a smile that could light up the darkest room. Her mother runs around like the proverbial chicken, doing the things moms do at backyard parties.

An older woman stands next to me. We watch a chortling toddler spinning in delirious, delicious circles. "He's so cute," the woman says, adding, "My granddaughter is over there," as she points to a pigtailed munchkin wearing a flowery dress and high-top purple sneakers. "Which one is yours?"

I don't answer. The lump in my throat is too big. None of them are mine. I don't have children, and now, I don't have grandchildren. It's the grief that keeps on giving.

And I didn't realize that not being a parent meant I would never become a grandparent.

Why don't I have children? The answer is complicated — a marriage that ended in divorce at 33, a long period of being single during my prime getting-pregnant years, and a second happy marriage to a man nine years my senior who couldn't envision having a child in college when he was nearing seventy.

A Complicated Answer

We didn't try to avoid getting pregnant, but we didn't try all that hard to have a baby. There are, of course, other reasons so poignant and confusing that I can't even articulate them to myself, let alone to anyone else.

The bottom line? I didn't have children because I didn't want them enough. Not enough to go through the hurts, disappointments and indignities that others who didn't get pregnant the easy, old-fashioned way went through.

Not enough to have infertility workups or to bombard my body with drugs and needles, to go through intrusive adoption home studies and mounds of paperwork. Not enough to convince my husband that we would make wonderful parents even though we'd be older.

I did none of these things, and then it was too late. And I didn't realize that not being a parent meant I would never become a grandparent.

Our friends are married or coupled, single, straight, gay, childless or parenting. We've laughed and cried at their children's weddings, admired pictures of their grandkids, and tried to ease their sadness when they couldn't be with them during the pre-vaccination COVID days.

One of our friends never had children but married a man with grown sons and became a grandma to two smart, much-loved girls. Last January, my friend Paula became Nonna to tiny Jack, her daughter's first child, finding herself madly, deliriously in love with "this little dude who just lights up my life."

Sandy watched her granddaughter's Zoom wedding and sobbed through the whole thing because she couldn't kiss the bride. Another friend spent an entire year pushing her grandson Mason through virtual first grade, comforting him when he begged, "no more Zoom school, Me-Ma."

The Human Emotion of Envy

Envy is not a pleasant emotion, but it is a human one. I sometimes envy my friends' lives; their Facebook-perfect holidays spent with their grown-up children and their not-so-grown-up grandkids (even though I know and love many of these children and grandchildren.)

Envy is not a pleasant emotion, but it is a human one.

I envy grandparents who receive sticky-fingered kisses and crayoned cards that they plaster all over their refrigerators. I envy that they get to hug their grandbabies, swing the little ones high into the sky, or proudly show off their tween granddaughter's award for first place in a citywide essay contest or their grandson's newly sprouted facial hair.

They deserve, rightfully, to celebrate the unique joy of loving the child or children of their children. "The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time," writes Douglas Wood, a children's author and songwriter.

I have had a wonderful life with abundant riches, even though children and grandchildren have not been part of the package. It's been way too easy for me to focus on the things I don't have instead of on the many good things I have.

I am trying to be mindful, to be thankful, and to develop the gift of gratitude. Finally, now, it's time for the grief to end.

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