THE phone call came at 1am.
Expected as it was, I missed the pick-up and had to ring back. A 1am phone call, in the vast majority of cases, is either all good or all bad.
The small exception is the middle-of-the-night call from a pissed, but still responsible, adult son doing his best to sound not pissed, and ever-so-loving and grateful, if you would just pick him up from somewhere because he can't drive home and a taxi or Uber ride is 45 minutes away.
Or something like that.
Do we ever pay attention to details on the first pass of a call like that, when you're woken with a start and you flap around in the dark to find the phone, make a blind swipe to answer, miss the mark because you aren't wearing your glasses, miss again because you're as blind as a bat without them, particularly in the dark, flap around again to find the switch for the bedside lamp, and eventually wake enough to answer, with all the grace of someone who's just hit their thumb with a hammer while nailing a deck?
Me: "What? What did you say?"
Son: "I was wondering if you could pick me up because something, something, taxi, something, really tired, something, the others have already gone, something, something, and you always said if I really got stuck and I couldn't drive I could call you and you'd pick me up, no questions asked."
The line you utter because the Responsible Parents Handbook says you have to.
Me: "That was when you were 18 and 19. Not 29."
Me: "What time is it? What? 2.30? Are you kidding me? Bloody hell. Okay. Where are you?"
Anyway, it wasn't that kind of call when the phone rang at 1am on November 4.
My middle son rang to say his wife's waters had broken and they had to go to hospital to have their first baby, my second grandchild. Could I come and get the dog?
Of course. So I pulled on my dressing gown and thongs and walked up the street to where they were standing, grinning, excited, nervous and adorable on the driveway outside their house.
Their little yappy dog stood beside them, not yapping, and looking droopy because she likes her sleep and didn't share our pleasure at being out in the night.
We kissed and hugged and whispered excitedly about developments in the cool dark. Then they went to have a baby and I picked up the dog to walk back home.
One of the many consequences of being a grandmother is I've been able to appreciate the profoundly different way that men and women can experience pregnancy.
I have three sons. When I was pregnant I was never in any doubt a little life was growing inside me. My body changed. My mind changed. With every move, every thought, I was not one but two.
It's only as a grandmother-to-be that I've had the perspective men must have at times, of an almost theoretical understanding of pregnancy, despite the obvious visual evidence in front of you, because it's not your body being stretched and kicked and ultimately broken free of. When you're not the one who's pregnant, even if you are the most loving partner or parent, you don't experience the sweetness of such an intimate bond with a baby, and the occasional crushing feeling of not being able to escape it. If you're pregnant you can also struggle to understand a partner's occasional lack of involvement with every kick and roll.
I'm directly connected to my grandchildren because without me they wouldn't be here, but it was striking how strongly the reality of a new life hit only when I held the babies in my arms, something I didn't feel when my sons were born. They had been real to me as future little people for months. Birth simply gave them a face and a voice.
I don't think that different experience is a bad thing to reflect on, even for an old feminist like me.
November 4 was a much longer day than usual. It might have been the regulation 24 hours. But for my son and daughter-in-law it was that weird limbo-land of labour, when time seems to rush by very slowly, measured in minutes between contractions amid long hours when you wonder if the baby is going to arrive at all.
I was anxious, which is not my usual state even when things are going pear-shaped.
A 1am phone call, in the vast majority of cases, is either all good or all bad.
You only really appreciate what labour is like when you feel the first contraction. I have a strong memory of grasping that fact when I felt the first contraction with my middle son, which hit as I was leaning over my toddler eldest son's cot while trying to settle him in the middle of the night.
The thought was something like, "Oh, no, I remember you", about how all-enveloping and all-consuming contractions are.
My son gave updates through the day. I ditched the idea of moving the mountain of mulch in my driveway. Instead I started cleaning bookshelves, re-arranging books and packing those I didn't want for re-distribution. Looking back it was a sensible, but anxious, person's way of trying to bring order in a situation where I felt powerless.
I had flashbacks to the birth of one of my nieces, where things went dreadfully wrong in the final minute or two and I witnessed a full-blown emergency for mother and baby, that ended with a helicopter flight to a neonatal intensive ward and weeks of fear until better news.
I was in the delivery area waiting room late at night on November 4 when I heard the alarm and knew it was for my daughter-in-law, my son and their baby boy.
The wafer-thin line between life and death is never so apparent, and so profoundly shocking, as it is at such times. The baby's life and prospects were being counted down in seconds. He was finally out, but it was ugly. My daughter-in-law paid the price and all three were traumatised.
But they're fine now.
Baby Billy James is as gorgeous, and obviously as gifted and talented, as his cousin, Aria Maree, 15 months. My daughter-in-law and middle son are completely exhausted, but besotted.
And we each in our own way experienced that most striking truth of parenting. If something bad is to happen, we would much rather it happen to us than our children.
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