It hasn't always been this way. In the beginning, Rosie was warmer, friendlier. This, despite my totally screwing up her life, as she told me once in a moment of unguarded candor. When John announced that he and Rosie wanted to marry the summer after high school graduation, I suggested that they consider holding off for a while. I'd done the too- young-married thing myself—a really bad idea. "Give yourselves some time out in the world," I advised. "Grow wings!" I said brightly. They agreed to wait, and they married the following summer. I believe Rosie has never forgiven me for that lost year.
I didn't see a lot of them before they had children. I was immersed in my career. John and Rosie had jobs, too, and John was attending college at night. When we did get together, things seemed cordial.
Over time, though, Rosie morphed from a shy, insecure young woman to an insecure young woman with harder edges and a sharper tongue. She became increasingly critical of friends, neighbors, coworkers, and, sometimes, John. He usually blew it off when she said something caustic, so I took my cue from him. I remember wondering, though, what Rosie was saying about me when I was out of range. Still, I had not yet tumbled to the fact that I was squarely in her crosshairs as she watched and waited for me to disappoint her.
I can't isolate a freeze-frame moment when things went tilt, but it happened sometime after Emma and Gracie were born. It's fair to say that my casual approach to spending time with John and Rosie spilled over to my early years as a grandparent. Though I found the girls adorable and charming, I was sidetracked by my own frenetic life. Too often, I forgot to lower my gaze to child level, and Rosie was keeping tabs. This led us from a frosty relationship into perpetual midwinter.
There's a little malt and burger joint where Emma and I like to go for lunch. Invariably, as we settle in, she lets loose a breathless whoosh of consciousness. "And then you know that unbelievably cute Adam guy I told you about, the one in my math class, I think he maybe smiled at me today, and did I tell you I have to get a new swimsuit, and I've been wondering if you think gay marriage is right or what, Gramma, and by the way did you watch American Idol last night?"Whew!
Over time I've discovered that Emma tells me things she doesn't tell her parents. She seems to trust me, and this is both scary and wonderful. Although her family closely guards its secrets, for the most part that's not Em's style. The things she reveals aren't shocking, but sometimes she steers her narrative to the parents. Dangerous territory. I've gotten pretty good at deflecting those side trips.
"Well, Gramma, wait till I tell you what Mother did yesterday!"
"Mmmm," I say.
"I'm living in a freaking prison!"
"Don't you even want to hear?"
"Hey, girl," I say, "you ready for dessert?"
"Gramma, you're not paying attention! Mother grounded me just because I didn't have my stupid science project totally, completely finished. She is so lame! I was supposed to go to Jennifer's for a sleepover! She treats me like a baby!"
I suck it up and give her my best let's-be-fair-to-your mother shot. "Well, you know, Em, your mom probably just wants you to stay out of trouble with your teacher and keep up your grades."