The day my grandmother died, I missed the phone call to tell her goodbye. I’ve often wondered how I would have handled the weight of that moment. Surely many “I love you”s would have been blubbered through tears, but would I have told her what I’d known for as long as I could remember? That if I was lucky enough to have a daughter someday, I would name the baby after her? I’ll never know.
But let’s not talk about that, she would say. This is not a sad story. A year later, I did have a baby girl. And I did name her after my beloved grandma, Corinne.
My pregnancy had been pleasant and uneventful until my water broke five weeks early, dousing the front seat of our car as my husband and I headed home from our first parenting class. Two hours later my baby was out and I enjoyed regaling the tale of our late-night surprise to my family, friends, and even clients via calls, texts, and emails. It was 3 a.m. and I think I was still high on adrenaline and whatever drugs they gave me for the C-section. Initially, doctors said to expect a week-long hospital stay for our preemie. I had only seen her for a second before she was whisked off to the NICU while I stayed on the table to be sewn up.
Eight hours later, with my husband’s coaxing, I finally stood up in slow motion and shuffled my way toward the NICU wing. I stepped into the room and froze. She was tiny. She was hooked up to tubes. She opened her mouth to cry, but no sound came out, a ventilator stuck down her throat. She would spend nearly three weeks gaining strength in the hospital, while I found myself in a dark fog. Even after she came home, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed out on so many “firsts” of motherhood.
Then, something miraculous happened. My dad emailed me a direct line to the past. My uncle had come across a typed essay my grandma, my new baby’s namesake, had submitted to Reader’s Digest sometime in the mid-1960s. It was never published—he also found the rejection letter—but today she may have been a bonafide mommy blogger.
The essay was called, “The Lighthead”. A term used to describe, in her words, a carefree spirit who believed life was a series of dances, dates, and fun. It described my grandma’s sunshine spirit and perennial positivity to perfection.
Her story begins by attributing her “lighthead” status to breezing through a happy childhood and the additional good fortune of meeting her tall, dark, and yes, handsome husband at a memorable college homecoming weekend. She writes about an even more dreamlike existence continuing with the unforgettable experiences of (her) first apartment, first dinner parties, first martini hangovers, and first childbirth. Not even the care and responsibility of a newborn infant could damper the spirits of a “lighthead”.
Now, let’s remember you could smoke and drink the trials of parenting away without judgment back then. But back to her story.
While pregnant with her fourth child (all before age 30), a small lump in her leg turns out to be cancer. Her world is shattered. She has emergency surgery to save her leg, and her life, and it puts her on bed rest for six months. The time gives her much to think about.
When and how does one begin to grow up and give up a dreamlike existence? Does loss of a loved one help? Does sickness hurry it along? Or a sudden deep fear?
But remember, this is not a sad story.
Ten years later still finds me a seeker of fun and frolic. But thank God, because of those precious months of contemplation, I think I have discovered where to find it.
I still love to dance and even enjoy a martini but I also receive a thrill in watching my five handsome boys (and one daughter) indulge in a special meal I’ve prepared. What a joy to have my husband explain that my good leg is still better shaped than most women’s legs put together. Even if they don’t match!
I don’t think it was a coincidence that my postpartum fog started to lift in the days after reading her story.
Does the life of a housewife and mother have to be monotonous? I think not! There is little monotony if you have the joy of living and I sincerely believe we can all have this.
With my own formidable experience behind me, I began to enjoy the everyday moments in my own new motherhood. And as for missing that last chance to talk to my grandma? Turns out it was she, instead, who had one last thing to tell me.
She closed her essay with this quote from Old Yeller, “(life) . . . may seem mighty cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad . . . you understand?” I do.
Excerpts from “The Lighthead” by Corinne MacGuidwin