I was visiting my older son and daughter-in-law on the other side of the country in May, sitting on the edge of the bed, when my son handed me a little gift bag.
I reached into the folds of the tissue paper protruding from the top and pulled out a bib. A baby bib. A baby bib that said, "I love Grandma."
I looked over at the two of them who were both nodding, smiling, eyes wide, brows arched.
My first grandchild. Little more than an amoeba now, he (or she) would soon grow arms and legs, and probably a turned-up nose like his dad, Michael, and the sweet smile of his mom, Gennessa.
Big tears welled in my eyes.
I thought about the day I found out I was pregnant with Michael. It was a surprise, a shock even. We hadn't even decided if we wanted kids at all, let alone if we wanted one right now. I was as scared as I was excited. I was 27 but I still felt like a child myself.
I left the doctor's office and went straight to the school where my then-husband was a teacher. I stood outside his classroom and when he spotted me, I nodded, smiled, eyes wide, brows arched.
I thought about the second time I was pregnant. I wasn't feeling well; something was wrong. I went to the doctor. I had had a miscarriage. The baby wasn't right, he told me. It was nature's way of taking care of things. It was early in the pregnancy. I was surprisingly okay — until I got home. My worried mom was in the driveway waiting for me. As soon as I saw her, I sobbed, deep heavy sobs. I was so glad to see her. I needed her.
I thought about delivering my second son, Matt, who was so big that the doctor had to turn him around and yank him out with forceps.
How would Gennessa's pregnancy go? I wouldn't be there for her like my mom was there for me. I didn't know how to be a grandma now any more than I knew how to be a mother back then. And, I live so far away.
At this point, the news of the baby was a secret, our secret. The baby was, after all, little more than a tadpole — but they told me because we were together. When your kids live in Southern California and you live in Florida, you have to take advantage of the short periods of face-to-face time you have.
About a month later, when enough time had passed that the parents-to-be felt confident the unborn cherub had settled in, they began to announce to the world that Lola the Labradoodle and Cooper, the wild-haired rescue dog, were going to have (yes, by now they knew he was a he) a brother.
Estimated time of arrival: mid January 2014.
Almost daily, they sent me photographs — or posted on Facebook and Instagram — of the growing bambino as seen through the shape of his growing mother. We FaceTimed; we Skyped. Modern-day family closeness.
Finally, on Jan. 15 in a birthing center filled with midwives and doulas, a perfect baby boy entered the world.
The next day, I was on a plane.
I spent a glorious week holding and loving my sweet little Eli but too soon it was time to go home. He certainly wouldn't recognize me when I came back. He was too little. Would he ever know me?
I'm his faraway Nana. His other grandma lives nearby. She's holding him in many of those posted photos.
I, too, had a close-by and a faraway grandma. My close-by grandma was like a second mom. She took me shopping and I helped her hostess her monthly pinochle parties. I stayed overnight. She covered me with heavy quilts she made herself. I woke up to the smell of apple cake in the oven.
The memories I have of my faraway grandma are of the packages she'd send, filled with random items like too-small go-go boots and too-big sweaters. I hardly knew what she looked like. I never ate her cooking.
I don't want to be that package-sending grandma. I looked online for advice on how to be like a close-by grandma when you live far away. I didn't find too much that made me feel any better. But, the bottom line, the common thread was clear: You better learn to love to travel if your grandchildren live far from you.
Oh, Eli. I missed holding you when you were 1 month old. I missed hugging you when you were 2 months old. But I'm hoping to snuggle and smooch you enough to make up for it when I see you again — really soon. I want you to know what your faraway grandma looks like, know how much it tickles her to make you laugh.
Know how much she loves you.
Patti Ewald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.