More and more, I like to imagine that Peter and I could someday be good grandparents together, but we still need some practice with other people’s children first. And we are very fortunate that there are wonderful people in our lives willing to share their children with us. I am quite happy to take on the role of an adjunct grandmother, and for now it gives me the greatest pleasure to simply watch Peter with some of the very small people we are fortunate enough to count among our friends.
Being with these very small people naturally evokes many memories of the different times and phases and situations of life with Christopher and Paddy over the past twenty years. From the beginning, I have always been especially grateful to Jean for sharing with me her experiences and reflections on raising two English-speaking sons very close in age in Austria. Watching Henry and Orlando grow up always provided a source of encouragement for me and wonderful role models for Christopher and Paddy. I see that as a kind of gift that I would like to pass on, but I think I still need to practice finding the right measure – what is meaningful to pass on, when am I talking too much.
I’m afraid I also still need to practice finding the right balance between sharing memories and maintaining some discretion.
When human beings are still very small and have not yet developed extensive verbal skills, the temptation to interpret their actions and characters on the basis of one’s own preferences and prejudices is great – and not always entirely misplaced, I think. This becomes a source of potential conflicts, however, as small human beings become bigger and more articulate and begin to obstinately insist on interpreting their own actions and characters. And sometimes these respective interpretations clash. When Christopher reached an age where parents necessarily and inevitably become embarrassing, for instance, I decided that since there was no way for me to not be embarrassing, I might as well embrace the situation and enjoy indulging in the luxury of being quite uninhibitedly embarrassing. Christopher put up with this, because Christopher has always good-naturedly (occasionally less so) put up with a lot of things all his life. Paddy has generally been less indulgent and seems to have somewhat stricter notions about what is or is not acceptable behavior on the part of his parents, although he can also be incredibly kind and gentle and competent in a crisis, as I have had reason to appreciate. On the whole, I have the impression, although I may be mistaken, that I may allow myself a greater scope of interpretations when recounting my memories of my children in conjunction with interpreting human beings who are very small now. I have an uncomfortable suspicion, however, that the boundaries may shift depending on the context, so I’m not sure how much freedom of interpretation I may justifiably claim, when it is a matter of my meanwhile grown sons constructing their own identities.
For example, now, while Paddy is happily exploring Japan, where the vividness of his impressions appears to have left him bereft of all punctuation apart from exclamation marks, his girlfriend joined us last night for dinner to celebrate my birthday. This is a lovely young person, who is obviously interested in Paddy, who clearly enjoys hearing about Paddy. So how many stories is Paddy’s mother allowed to tell then? How do we determine the boundaries, where my memories might conflict or at least not entirely correlate with his current self-representation? I remember being quite fascinated, for example, by his penchant for developing entire, elaborate imaginary worlds and trying to grasp some idea of his motivation for doing so. The imaginary worlds developed by a four-year-old or a seven-year-old might be astonishing, though, in ways that are inappropriate to the world of an eighteen-year-old, even though someone especially interested in Paddy might be quite interested in hearing about them. I’m afraid there are boundaries involved here that Paddy and I still need to negotiate.
All of this is still going to take some practice yet.