Flashing sense of mortality: a letter to my dear new grandson

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Dear new grandson, I apologise for being a little dramatic the day we met.

Rushing to bring in the ‘‘open’’ flag at Fletcher House in a thunderstorm, I was convinced I would be struck by lightning before I got to see you. Grandma, gone.

With the flag safely inside, it was a mad dash to my car, while trying to decide whether holding car keys in my hand was tempting fate.

Various sources on Mr Google tell me I was reasonably safe inside the car, as long as I did not touch anything metallic.

It is hard to work out how irrational fear of being struck by lightning is because the best efforts of Mr Google shed little light on the risk.

The odds I saw varied, including one in 12,000 over a lifetime, one in 280,000 in a year, or one in a million in a year.

All rather meaningless. I am no statistician, but it seems to me the risk must be affected by how common lightning is where you live and how outdoorsy you are.

In defence of my fear, and I doubt I would qualify as an astraphobic, I think I was almost struck by lightning once biking in a thunderstorm in South Australia. I’ve convinced myself I can still smell the sizzle where the lightning hit the ground near my front tyre.

It might be nonsense, but my memories can be like that.

It is strange you will not remember this time, a time wonderfully captured by author Danielle Clode as ‘‘that vital first year of nurture that is seared into every mother’s memory and missing from every child’s’’. (Clode’s beautifully written book about

French peasant Jeanne Barret, the first woman to circumnavigate the world in the 1700s, was one of my serendipitous finds at the library - I hope many similar delightful book surprises are in store for you.)

You won’t know how many exclaimed at your beauty and cuteness and longed for your success in all things as we willed our love to seep through your pores to your very being.

Even your 6-year-old cousin has been swayed by the reality, after dramatically declaring pre-birth she was tired of having boy cousins (you bring the tally to a massive three).

Your scientist uncle could have told her the latest thinking on the increased likelihood of men fathering male children when they have all-male siblings, but she might not have been ready for that.

And what will I remember of this time when, as your father put it, your gaining of new skills seems to be offset by me losing some of mine - he was referring to what I call my recent distracted cat-grieving behaviour, including mislaying things, muddling appointments, mistakenly turning off the hot-water cylinder and setting out in the rain on my bike, secure in the knowledge my waterproof trousers were in the bag on board, soddenly to find they were not.

A friend insists I should tell your father I am generously gifting you my abilities, and you should all be grateful. It’s not likely to be convincing.

Like parents, grandparents have much to learn. Sometimes we might want to believe the myth we know everything about child rearing. If that was the case, nobody’s grown-up children would ever bear a grudge (please, don’t get Dad or your uncles started on their absence from that party at Waitati that EVERYONE else’s parents OKed or me supposedly reneging on a promise I would let them go trick-or-treating). And we would know exactly how to cope in every situation with every grandchild.

I know that is rubbish. I admit to already having been flummoxed a time or two, including one of your cousins telling me they were hungry and then when food was suggested, declaring ‘‘ I don’t like food’’. Then there were the prolonged histrionics from another cousin who wailed that they were about to die because of a painful splinter in their hand.

Love is not a synonym for infallibility. I know that despite my best intentions, I will get it wrong sometimes. Hopefully, you will be forgiving.

I expect you will find being subjected to my crazes in music testing sometimes, as I will yours.

My most recent enthusiasm is Laura Marling’s Short Movie album - I have been playing the song Easy on repeat since we met.

It begins: ‘‘You fell asleep listening to me linger on/ about how it used to be’’ and ends ‘‘When we were young, we belonged to someone and that was easy’’.

I can’t wait to share it with you.

I apologise in advance for both my singing and my lingering on. I won’t be offended if you fall asleep.

Elspeth McLean is a Dunedin writer.

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