Politics & Policy

Granny!

“Granny!”

“Is she here?”

“Did she bring us anything?”

Molly and Paris crash cheerfully into me, book bags, and lunchboxes banging against their legs, hats damply askew. The schoolyard is thronged with uniformed children milling around and desperate mothers in sundresses trying to corral escaping toddlers. Over everything is the science-fiction thrum of millions of cicadas vibrating high in the trees.

“She is here, she did bring treats, and–”

“Yay!”

“–she can’t wait to see you–”

We jostle past two eleven-year-olds begging a harried mother to let them have a sleepover, please, they will do their homework this time, promise, and you can tell the mother is relenting because she is shaking her head with diminishing emphasis even in the seconds we observe her.

Outside the gate we come across a scene so clichéd it could only be true: A gray-haired father is standing with his arms folded, gazing out across the parking lot. He is paying no attention whatsoever to the small boy stretched full-length on the asphalt in front of him, small hands clamped around one of the man’s ankles. From the ground comes a muffled sobbing sound. “I’m not going to carry you,” the father says, addressing the air. He glances at me. “I’m not going to carry him,” he insists. I smile understandingly, but I doubt it. We know that child.

“Did she bring chocolates?” Molly asks eagerly, then stops, remembering.

I don’t want sweets from Granny,” says Little Paris Fauntleroy, climbing into the car, “I only want to have fun with her.”

“That’s virtuous of you. No doubt you’ll have both.”

“You are not going away!” Molly’s face is suddenly fierce. A white hand grips my arm.

“Oh, but we are,” I say lightly, with a leaden heart. Granny has come to stay so that my husband and I can go away for an unprecedented long weekend to celebrate my–well, my–look, how hard is it to say? As it happens, I’m about to turn–

“Why can’t you have your birthday at home?”

“How old are you, anyway?” Paris asks grumpily, having taken his cue.

I unpick Molly’s fingers from my forearm, and gently push her into the backseat.

“At this exact moment,” I repeat for the hundredth time, “I am thirty nine.”

I do not like utilitarian arguments for the existence of children–that their future tax dollars will pay to support our materially gorged generation, for example, or that without them immigrants from hostile societies will inherit the United States, or that in some misty sense they are “our future”– but it is a fact that children justify themselves in a thousand small ways, not least of which is in providing a humbling sense of perspective to the passing of time. Bumping up against a large-ish birthday, as I am about to do, is only an italicized version of the little homily that children deliver every time they outgrow a pair of shoes. They are getting taller, you are getting older, and no amount of alpha-hydroxy acids can make it stop.

Children are not absolutely required to make this point. Washington cocktail parties will also do the trick. We attended one the other day so packed with surgically altered middle-aged females it felt as though we’d walked onto the set of the Stepford Mothers-in-Law.

Memento mori…” my husband murmured, fascinated, and repelled. Champagne glasses rose to innumerable silicone-plumped mouths set in wide-eyed girlish faces. Loose necks quivered gently above countless pastel distressed-tweed cocktail suits. As with portraits in a haunted house, staring mascaraed eyes seemed to follow us around the room. I left vowing to greet each birthday with noisy insouciance. My friend Danielle thinks if women are going to lie about their ages, they ought to round them up. No surgery needed: One white lie and you’ll will always look younger than you “are.”

That night over dinner, after the children have ransacked Granny’s luggage for sweets, we run through the schedule she will be managing in our absence. When grandparents come to stay one occasionally bristles at their interference; it is magical how this irritation evaporates when you really need their help.

“–and carrots for Twitchy. Also Mrs. Whitney will take Violet to Sadie and Katie’s birthday party on Saturday,” I say, running my finger down a long, inky list, “And on Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Portnoy will bring Paris to Ian’s party–” I pause for a moment to think with fondness of Ian’s mother, who in exasperation one day said to a griping left-wing parent, “Look, we’re Republicans, too. Do you still want that playdate?”

I snap out of my reverie and proceed: “Okay, ballet lessons, birthday parties, piano practice, soccer, lunch boxes…. oh, yes, and while we’re gone, you will have to contend with the life force of the kidney bean.”

“What Meg means,” my husband interjects dryly, “Is that Molly will need reminding about her science project.”

“Yes, don’t be surprised if you come across pale, spindly beans desperately trying to grow in dark cupboards–”

“I already have!” Granny interrupts indignantly, “Why, today I rescued one that was almost completely dried out. I gave the poor thing some water and put it on the windowsill, where it could get some light. And there was another one–”

“That,” says my husband, “Is Molly’s project. Was. To observe how beans grow under varying circumstances.”

There is an outraged pause on our side, a defensive one on Granny’s. Then she laughs and shrugs. “I guess I’m just a typical soft-hearted liberal,” she says, “I see a pale bean, struggling for life, and I have to give it water.”

Meghan Cox Gurdon is an NRO columnist.

Gurdon lives in Washington, D.C. and writes as much as her young family

will permit. Her NRO column, “The Fever Swamp” appears weekly.

Meghan Cox Gurdon writes regularly about children’s books for the Wall Street Journal.

Most Popular

World

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
World

Jared Kushner Was Right

Over the past several years, a new certainty was added to death and taxes: Jared Kushner would fail in his role as the administration’s Middle East point man. It caused considerable merriment among President Donald Trump’s critics (and even some of his well-wishers) when he put his son-in-law in charge of ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Barr Is Right About the Prosecution Power

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that attracted a lot of attention. Much of that attention was for his ill-considered remark (in a question-and-answer session following the speech) that "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, [the pandemic lockdowns ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Barr Is Right About the Prosecution Power

Attorney General Bill Barr gave a speech at Hillsdale College on Wednesday that attracted a lot of attention. Much of that attention was for his ill-considered remark (in a question-and-answer session following the speech) that "Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, [the pandemic lockdowns ... Read More

Snobs or Mobs?

A   lot of us were feeling pretty good about the future of the media in late September of 2004. Dan Rather and the CBS news division had just tried to derail George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with some genuine fake news — based on fake documents — and, in spite of the manful attempts of ... Read More

Snobs or Mobs?

A   lot of us were feeling pretty good about the future of the media in late September of 2004. Dan Rather and the CBS news division had just tried to derail George W. Bush’s reelection campaign with some genuine fake news — based on fake documents — and, in spite of the manful attempts of ... Read More

The Mystery of Robert E. Lee

No one who ever met Robert Edward Lee -- whatever the circumstances of the meeting -- failed to be impressed by the man. From his earliest days as a cadet at West Point, through 25 years as an officer in the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers and six more as a senior cavalry officer, and then as the supreme ... Read More

The Mystery of Robert E. Lee

No one who ever met Robert Edward Lee -- whatever the circumstances of the meeting -- failed to be impressed by the man. From his earliest days as a cadet at West Point, through 25 years as an officer in the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers and six more as a senior cavalry officer, and then as the supreme ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
U.S.

Zoomers and the Constitution

A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center compared generational views on key social and political issues, focusing on the similarities between Millennials and Generation Z. The topics probed include race relations, diversity, climate change, capitalism, socialism, and the role of government. This last item, ... Read More
World

How Trump Changed U.S. Foreign Policy

On September 16 the editorial board of the New York Times did the impossible. It said something nice about President Trump. “The normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is, on the face of it, a good and beneficial development,” the editors wrote. ... Read More
World

How Trump Changed U.S. Foreign Policy

On September 16 the editorial board of the New York Times did the impossible. It said something nice about President Trump. “The normalization of relations between Israel and two Arab states, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is, on the face of it, a good and beneficial development,” the editors wrote. ... Read More