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In Praise of Starter Grandchildren

My starter grandbaby is teaching me that children can simply be joy. 
[additional-authors]
September 13, 2023
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“Yay! The letter ‘A’ is my favorite!” Ainsley exclaims with delight. 

We are sitting on my front stoop drawing with chalk. I’d made a gigantic pink “A” and outlined it in bright blue. Ainsley is hard at work drawing her version of the letter. “You have to remember to connect the lines, Auntie,” she says to me with great seriousness, her tiny hands carefully making a dozen vertical lines in yellow chalk and then crossing each one for good measure.

Ainsley, my three-and-a-half year old niece, is often serious about the things that matter: Snacks and monster trucks and the toy chicken that she lost the other day and misses very much. Her seriousness makes her especially thoughtful and wise. But I’m also noticing lately that when she smiles, it’s like watching a sunrise, its warmth radiating on blast, turning everyone in the room into mush. 

If I sound more bubbie than auntie, it’s because I kind of am. Ainsley is my starter grandchild and boy, am I loving it. And I’m not the only one. This past weekend, my teenagers spent an hour playing hide and seek with her, including the 16-year-old with a busier social schedule than a Kardashian; he hid all 5 feet, 10 inches of himself behind the door of his room for 15 minutes until Ainsley “found” him. 

“Oh Ainsley,” we all say, “you are so cute.” 

And she is. But she’s more than that. She’s funny and gentle and wildly observant. “I just heard something,” she said to me out on the stoop, stopping everything, putting her chalk down to listen. 

“Was it the train?” I ask.

She shakes her little blond ponytail, a heart clip keeping the hair in place. “Nope, it’s not the train.” She turns the side of her head up, to hear better.

“Was it a plane?’

Another negative from the pony. “Not a plane.”

“Maybe it was that crow over there?” I say, gesturing to the black bird balancing on the top of a nearby tree.

“Yes!” she says, like I’ve solved the greatest mystery ever. She rewards me with the sunrise and I bask in it as there is no other choice. Ainsley sighs with satisfaction and gets back to her chalk work, “I love crows,” she says maybe to me, but I think maybe just to the universe, or to the crows.

“Me too,” I say. “I love crows, too.” We talk about how crows love their families so much. How they live together in great big ones.

Speaking of family, Ainsley’s mom is my 14-years younger sister, Jenni. She was my starter baby, long before my own kids were on the scene. From Jenni, I learned how much responsibility children were, how they never slept or ate or acted exactly as you wanted them to. And also, how adorable and loving they were. But mostly, as a teenager taking care of her, changing her diapers and lugging her to the park, she was an effective reminder to always use birth control. 

My starter baby taught me that children are a responsibility. 

When my own children came along, they reinforced how much of a responsibility being a parent was, of course, but this time I was sharing that load with my equally devoted husband and it allowed me to relax and enjoy them, too. To fall completely in love with them. To play and listen and dance and be silly. But still, there were (and still are) dishes to be done and places to be driven and life lessons to be taught. After all, we are making people over here and we need to get it right. 

My own babies taught me that children are a responsibility and a joy.

With Ainsley, I’m now peering into the magic portal of grandchildren. Becoming an aunt to her at this stage of my life, as my own children are getting ready to leave the nest, is allowing me to simply be present — for the chalk, the talk and yes, for the crows. 

With Ainsley, I’m now peering into the magic portal of grandchildren. Becoming an aunt to her at this stage of my life, as my own children are getting ready to leave the nest, is allowing me to simply be present — for the chalk, the talk and yes, for the crows. Ainsley has two devoted parents, so all I have to do is love her and watch her bloom right in front of me. And also read books and blow bubbles and run around the grass until we collapse in a heap of laughter.

My starter grandbaby is teaching me that children can simply be joy. 

I’m one lucky mom/aunt/bubbie. I can’t wait to witness all the joy to come for Ainsley. And she’s also made me excited to one day be an actual grandmother — in the very distant future, of course. 

Now if only my knees will hold out.


Geralyn Broder Murray is a Northern California-based writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today and Shondaland. www.GeralynBMurray.com @GeralynBMurray

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