The Choices I Make

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My daughter said it with me standing right there.  “My mother,” she said, “is not a cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

I was startled at the description of what I am not, but I couldn’t possibly take offense.  In the first place, she said it so cheerfully.  In the second, what she said is so true.

I was a bread-baking-from-scratch, hands-on-up-to-my-elbows mother.  But that was a long time ago.  And the first years of that kind of full-throttle commitment came before I went to work.  The work I’m referring to is my day after day, year after year commitment to writing.

Writing was only a guilty hobby until the aforementioned daughter, who was the younger of my children, started first grade.  But in the space her absence opened for me, I decided to make my writing my work.

In those years before my children’s books had garnered much notice, writing was an ideal career for a stay-at-home mom.  I was there, right there, every time my kids came through the door.  I might be at the typewriter—my early books were written on a manual, portable Smith Corona typewriter that had been my high school graduation gift in 1956—but I was there.

Sometimes, inevitably, my two children and my occasional foster children resented that typewriter, though they did come to appreciate its issue.

When Peter was in sixth or seventh grade, he said to me one day, “You know, Mom.  Kids at school talk to me all the time about your books.”

“What kids?” I asked.

“Oh”—and he ducked his head and blushed a bit—“girls.”

When Beth-Alison was very young, she accepted her mother-the-writer as she accepted the rest of the fabric of her life.  By the time she entered junior high, though, she was beginning to resent the time I spent off in storyland.

One day in response to her complaints I said, “Do you know what your life would be like if I weren’t writing?  You would be my job.  Every day when you got home from school I’d be at the door waiting for you.  ‘Tell me about your day.’ I’d say. ‘Tell me everything you did.’  And you would hate it!”

She grew up knowing she never wanted to be a writer.  In fact, having witnessed my long, slow process with so little result, she always said she couldn’t think of a worse job.  But she wanted very much to be a self-employed, working-out-of-her-home mother.  And she made that happen.

They were both interesting if not always useful critics of my work, too.

Beth-Alison used to beg me to write just one best seller.  “So our family will have some money.”  (Their dad is an Episcopal priest.  Not much money in that.)  “After that,” she always promised me, “you can go back to writing what you want.”

Peter once said, “Mom, when you write about sex, you write about it like it’s no big deal.  If you’d write about it like it was a big deal, every kid in school would read your books.”

I listened to them both and went on writing what is given to me to write.

By the time grandchildren arrived, my career had come to be a more complex entity.  I was teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts, traveling back and forth from Minneapolis, and traveling frequently to lecture, too.

I missed the birth of my sole granddaughter in a gaggle of grandsons because I was in Vermont when she arrived.  And for their entire lives I have been, I’ll admit, a busy grandma.  If not always busy out there in the world, then busy at home pecking away at my computer.

Still, I did manage to gather them up—mostly the ones who were available to me by living close—and take them to the Children’s Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra and the Arboretum and the zoo and sometimes even to the indoor amusement park at the Mall of America.  (In case you have never experienced an indoor amusement park, I can tell you it fits my vision of hell perfectly.)

Marion and Grandchildren

When each grandchild, near or far, turned nine, we went on an intergenerational Elderhostel trip.

Do you hear a note of self-justification in my voice?

Usually, though, I’ll admit I’ve been here at my desk pecking away at a keyboard.

And aware every day that this is the choice I’m making.

The grandchildren are mostly grown now, in college or launched into the world, and I love them and am intrigued by them and proud of them and sometimes just a little sad about them, as well.  I know I missed a lot by not being a “cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

What brings up this reverie is a conversation I had recently with a writer friend who is caring for her infant grandchild a couple of days a week.  “Sometimes,” I said, “I regret I didn’t do more of that.”

“Sometimes,” she replied, “I regret that I didn’t take my writing more seriously sooner, that I don’t take it seriously enough now.”

And I thought, For every choice . . . a gain, a loss.

Am I sad about the choices I’ve made?  Not at all.  But wouldn’t it be fine if life allowed us to have it both ways?

19 thoughts on “The Choices I Make

  1. Yvonne Pearson

    I seem to remember a very similar conversation! When I slip into wondering if I made the right choices, tinged with regret, I remind myself that each choice I made was the right choice at that point in my life, and I am (mostly) at peace with the choices, for they have brought me a rich life. And fortunately for all of us, the choices are not binary. We do get to live in the world of grandmothering and the world of writing.

    I love all the comments people have made, especially that of your daughter-in-law! A lovely testament.

    Reply
    1. Marion Dane Bauer

      Yes. I do believe that conversation was with you, Yvonne! And isn’t my daughter-in-law a gem? My daughter, too. I know she wanted me to be that babysitting, cookie-baking grandma, but she never once let me feel that.

      Reply
  2. Norma Gaffron

    Of course your 431 words came first. The inspiration for the illustrations. What could be more important than that!?

    Reply
  3. Katy Bauer Trottier

    You are so much more than just a cookie-baking, babysitting grandmother. You have shown your grandchildren that dreams are to be followed, that women are strong, and that far into your life you can be productive and intelligent. We all love you for exactly who you’re supposed to be.

    Reply
  4. Connie Currie

    Marion, I am also a non domestic grandmother. I write articles, do research, am President of 2 historical societies and worked independently as a puppeteer, story teller, artist in residence and of course writer. I am an Episcopalian vestry person, lector and usher.

    Reply
    1. Marion Dane Bauer

      Another busy grandma. One way I look at it is that we are modeling for our grandchildren, both the grandsons in what they will expect and accept from the women and their lives and our granddaughters.

      Reply
  5. Deb Miller

    Yes to what Carleen and Pam said, and yes to your writer friend who, like me, cares for her grandson, and yes to every word of your post Marion. The choices, the gains, the losses…. May we all, in the end, be at peace with the choices we make in response to what life deals us!

    (second time sending this comment because it didn’t show up somehow—if it appears, please delete one of them—they’re slightly different—imperfect memory 🙂

    Reply
  6. Carleen M Tjader

    I love your gem of wisdom in the phrase at the end, “for every choice…”.
    I have an idea you are just the right grandma for your grandchildren.
    And for so many other children, you are just the right children’s writer!
    And for me~I value your wise words.

    Reply
  7. Pam Turner Johnson

    The world is a better place because of your choices. You touch the lives of so many of the world’s grandchildren. You are more like a super grandma. Cookies are gone in a flash, but your great great grandchildren will know you in ways a casual footnote at a family family gathering will ever say. And they will be proud of you. As am I.

    Reply

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