In just a few days, if all goes well with our adoption, Kevin and I will dive headfirst into a new season. We have been watching others play this role and now we follow in the footsteps of many who have gone before.
As our child’s eyes flicker open and we stare into them for the first time, our identity will change. We will no longer be just a couple.
We will become parents.
I realize we are a little late to the parenting party and I have struggled to come to peace with that. There have been days where I have felt so hopeless, drowning in a sea of discouraging infertility. My heart has ached with the weight of a thousand heavy stones.
But God knew the timing long before we did, and I trust Him.
During this period of waiting, I keep thinking about my Grandpa Staal. He was my mom’s dad, and he passed away at 79 years old in 2009. Lately, random things remind me of him and I ache for the warmth of family that accompanies my memories of him.
Grandpa wore flannel long-sleeve shirts in the winter and thin white undershirts in the summer. He protected his bald head with a bucket hat and walked around the world with purpose and strength, his steps quick and his arms shuffling him forward in deliberate movement. He wore glasses and always a crooked smile sliding down his face from a bout with Bell’s Palsy.
I think I inherited my love for cuddling from him. We never skipped a hello or goodbye hug and I often lingered at his side, letting him squeeze my shoulder and kiss my cheek.
One day during a party, guests crowded our house. They were milling about, talking, laughing, snagging extra brownies. My mom had baked her famous brownies, and the guests let the icing drip down their fingers before licking them clean. My brothers probably ate at least three brownies each before the end of the day, knowing the rare delicacy better than anyone.
There weren’t too many open seats in the living room, but I knew I could squeeze on the couch with Grandpa. I asked politely and then giggled as he scooched over and tugged me toward him. He wrapped his arm around my small shoulders, and I was safe. His coffee breath rippled toward me, but I didn’t care. It was the smell of love, of family and irreplaceable bonds.
I looked at his ridged corduroy pants and then back up to his face, inches from mine. His skin was tanned from hours of work outside in his barn, garden and yard. We inspected his watch together, and he informed me of the inner workings. He was smart enough to take apart anything and put it back together, and I learned the strangest facts from him. He had rigged a furnace in his basement to distribute heat around his giant home so I could trust his word.
We moved on from the intricacies of his watch to Michigan white-tailed deer, and his career in meat inspection. I listened and asked questions, perhaps proving early that my curious, journalistic mind was eager to dig stories and interesting facts out of those who had lived long lives.
I could have listened to him for hours, as long as he had his arm around me. We were wedged together, and we fit side to side naturally. I craved his attention and the comfort of his embrace. He coddled me under his wing and I thrived in the bask of his patriarchy.
This wasn’t the first time he had warm, open arms.
My grandpa held my mom on one of the toughest days of her life. She decided to be honest with her parents about her unplanned pregnancy, and he accepted her in that difficult moment.
He continued to love and care for her son while she raised him as a single parent.
My grandpa welcomed grandkids on snowy days to his amusement park of a backyard where he had shoveled and created hills and mountains. He spent hours pulling us behind his snowmobile in handmade sleds crafted from big blue barrels and 2 by 4 boards.
On Christmas, he pulled on a Santa hat and crawled around the carpet on his hands and knees to pass out presents after bellowing our names one by one.
He always kissed his wife after dinner, bragging about the cook; whether she had made an egg salad sandwich or meat and potatoes with gravy. He then smiled and marched downstairs to drag up pails of ice cream for everyone.
Kevin and I are our own family already, although sometimes in our marriage I have argued that husband and wife are a couple, not a family. But now I understand that we are. In almost ten years, we have grown from best friends to inseparable teammates.
And we are expanding, Lord willing.
Can I pass on the warmth from my grandpa? The joy that his presence brought? The acceptance? The corny jokes?
Ok, maybe not the corny jokes.
I know I won’t do it perfectly. He wasn’t perfect. I saw jagged edges of him sometimes; his anger, judgment toward my brothers’ long hair, or frustration when a project didn’t go his way.
But one thing Grandpa gave me was unlimited hugs. That might not be the only parenting strategy I need to use, but it’s definitely a priority.
May the love he gave me reach over the bloodlines and seep into my little one coming soon. May the baby feel the unconditional love that has been in my family history for generations.
And may there be endless cuddles on the couch.