A Modest Proposal

Don’t worry. I’m not going to purport that we eat them, nor will I wax poetic on how juicy and delicious those baby pulkes would be with Soy Vay. Though I’ll confess that the idea has occurred to me. And it has been confirmed by other parents who have told me – “when they’re little, they’re so cute, you could eat them. When they grow up, you wish you had.”

It’s summertime, and, as is our custom, we are preparing to visit family on the East Coast. We fill carry-on knapsacks with enough food to last a week, enough toys to keep our children busy for what turns out to be at least ten minutes, and never quite enough diapers and changes of clothes. My husband tries to sneak in the New York Times, but I always pull it out and stick another coloring book in instead. We go to see our parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and, our grandmothers.

Whenever we go to NY, we head over the George Washington Bridge to visit my grandmother and Genya, my childhood nanny. Both of these women live alone in big apartment buildings. Both are witty, smart, curious, and fun-loving. Both have outlived their partners and many of their friends. Both have loving family members who live nearby, but who are also busy with their own lives. Both have ever-glaring televisions. Neither can drive. My grandmother, a self-proclaimed Luddite, has learned to navigate the Internet, opening new avenues for interaction – but virtual ones, nonetheless. Whenever we visit them, they confess to me that it is so hard to be alone, so lonely.

I remember the profound loneliness I felt when I first became a mother. I had left my job, and was spending day after day alone with my infant, nursing, changing diapers, timing naps, taking walks. It got so bad that I studied for the GMAT just for fun. That phase passed, but the feeling of being alone in the world with a new baby made an impression on me. There is a window of time, after the initial exhaustion of giving birth, and before the busy days of preschool and play-dates and Music Class and swimming lessons, where the baby and her caregiver are alone. And today, so many of us live far from family members who can fulfill a primal need for “oohs” and “aahs” and “I remember” stories during that window of time.

Here we have two groups of women – lonely, desperate for meaningful human interactions – who can fulfill profoundly each other’s needs. The older women will ooh and aah, and share their stories, and the new mothers will have an audience for their precious little ones. Can we somehow connect these generations who have so much to gain from one another, but whose interactions are often limited to squirming supermarket aisle conversations or cross-country trips across a long bridge?

–Maya Bernstein

3 comments on “A Modest Proposal

  1. cecily on

    Last summer I had a baby and two other children under the age of five. We joined our community pool and it became something of a mixed blessing. The older girls loved going but there was a lot of shlepping and I couldn’t leave my baby alone to go play with my “big” girls. There was an elderly woman at the pool who would coo at my baby and one day she said, “why don’t you let me hold the baby while you get in the water?” I didn’t even know this bubby’s name but I handed her my little one and played without looking back for what felt like a brief vacation. In short, I borrowed a grandma for a half an hour and everyone was happy. I hope to do the same one day for someone else.

  2. Valerie on

    I think you have an idea in the making. Imagine linking a bubby-ready woman with a bubby-needing young mother?

    I remember watching a frazzled young couple with 3 children under the age of 5, including an infant, trying to keep them entertained in an airport restaurant when our plane was delayed by many hours. She looked around apologetically to all when any of them started getting restless or noisy. The hours were dragging. Occasionally , the father took one of the children out to the corridors to give some relief, or exercise. I went over to the young woman and told her she as doing a great job under difficult circumstances. She brightened visibly, and seemed to gain some strength in her dauntless task.

    The hours finally came to an end, and we went out separate ways to different planes. I wonder if her husband had not been there, if I would have offered to sit with the kids or some such thing, to give her a needed break or someone to tell her the kids were adorable.

    I will keep your essay in mind when I see a young mother in need again.

  3. Rachel La Frinere on

    Oh, what a lovely thing you did with your words to that frazzled mother! I also will remember that the next time that I see such a thing.

    Could a reconnection between generations maybe be a positive outcome of this economy? I hope so. Ironic that we may be forced to do what’s best for everyone after a period characterized by relentless rat-racing that distanced us all from each other.

    Also, it cracks me up to think that just possibly, we old Boomers who couldn’t manage communes in our younger years may have the maturity to live that way of necessity soon. (But that’s another thing altogether, don’t let me get started….)

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