It is widely stated that being a parent means forever walking around with your heart outside of your body. No matter how cool you are, how reserved, how close to the vest you hold your cards, when you have a child there is a piece of you out in the world, innocent and naked, vulnerable to a seemingly endless collection of dangers and evils that you never once thought about before. If you’re a parent you know the list. If you’re not a parent, trust me, you will never again see an unattended bucket of water or an electrical outlet as benign objects.
I always assumed that being a grandparent would relieve all of that fear and pressure but apparently it only adds another level of concern. You are somewhat removed from the daily stress and worry, but you’re acutely aware of how the stress and worry is affecting your grown child. And you feel it too. It’s kind of like wearing your heart and your stomach on your sleeve.
Witnessing my child, along with his wife who feels like my child, standing watch in the NICU over their critically ill, fragile newborn is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It is quite literally heart-wrenching. I feel their fear, and I feel my own, and together it dwarfs anything that I have experienced in this not-easy life of mine. Every small bit of good news makes me feel a sense of cautious euphoria; a feeling I never would have guessed was possible. Every setback plunges me into darkness. So many hopes and dreams and plans, so much love, so much fear, rests on the beating of that tiny heart. I am glad that he does not know that.
And yet the world continues to turn, day turns to night, people on Facebook complain about small inconveniences and I admit I want to slap them. And I know it’s not their fault. We all go on blissfully ignorant of people in crisis. It’s what we do. The world necessarily goes on without us, oblivious to our suffering.
This is such a huge thing and yet I don’t want to talk about it with people. They ask how he’s doing and if it’s not a good day I just can’t bring myself to say it. It’s too big.
For me, the world spins on a heart the size of a strawberry.