Iam getting to the vintage now where many of my friends are producing grandchildren. There was a joyful (and relieved) e-mail on Sunday from a dear friend whose fifth grandchild had just been born after a somewhat worrying labour.
Each time these announcements are made, I think again of Victor Hugo’s poem Lorsque l’enfant paraît. It is a wonderful description of a new baby being brought into the family circle, and how the eyes of the older people, above all, shine with a miraculous sense of happiness to witness this new life.
One of the oddest things about the human species, I have observed, is that babies quite often have more appeal to older people than they have for those of fertile years. My husband, who is in his seventh decade, takes particular delight in seeing television adverts which feature young babies cooing and billing – he thinks it’s the drollest and most charming spectacle. I don’t believe he ever noticed babies on TV, or elsewhere, when he was a young man. My contemporaries who are becoming grandparents come out with the most fascinating facts and observations about child development, matters they never really reflected upon when their own children were babies. Young parents are often too busy, anyway, to sit and observe child development – too busy rushing around between schools, football sessions, ballet classes, swimming lessons, and all the rest of it.
Fertility itself assumes a completely different perspective with the passage of time. When people are young, they often regard fertility as a nuisance. Immense efforts are expended to control it, suppress it, and to destroy its fruits through the termination of pregnancy.
But when people grow old, fertility seems – as it seemed in so many traditions of the past – a great treasure and a blessing. I notice that when my contemporaries become grandparents, they experience a feeling of elation which is almost like a hallucinogenic “high”. The announcement of a pregnancy, among the grand parent set, has real echoes of that feast of the Annunciation, which usually falls on March 25 (but has been shifted this year because of Easter’s unusually early date). Hallelujah for joy! And also, expressions of apprehension that all will be well.
Not everyone is destined to be a grandparent, obviously. There are many reasons why, for some people, it never happens, and we should have an accepting attitude to that. But I think such acceptance must be hardest of all for some of the feminists of my generation who very deliberately rejected motherhood, or for those who chose abortion because it was not convenient to bring a child into the world at a given moment. What a wistful sense of exclusion and what-might-havebeen they must feel when the baby pictures are being passed around by their peers.
When you are young, healthy, busy and in demand, it is easy to say that you are happy to be “childless by choice”; but when you are in your sixties, and living alone with a little dog for company, when the party invitations have dried up and you’re regarded as a “back number” in your profession, that choice must have a bitter aftertaste. Because it is only in the senior years that you come to truly appreciate the meaningfulness of infant life.
And yet, we can all share in the joy of our friends, relations and contemporaries becoming grandparents. I get a vicarious thrill, myself, when friends announce that there is another baby on the way. And I love looking at baby pictures of the new grandchil dren. (Perhaps, also, in the senior years, there is a less competitive spirit between peers, and therefore more openness to others’ experiences.) In the spring of the year, and the spiritual re-birth of Eastertime, the baby announcements now coming thick and fast seem particularly welcome.
PSI suggest that one of the reasons why there is a reluctance to amend the 1701 Act of Settlement to allow heirs to the throne to marry Catholics is that it raises the ghost of the Stuart succession.
The Hanover dynasty was brought to England quite specifically to ensure a Protestant monarchy. If the law now changes to allow the monarch to marry or to be a Catholic, then the displaced Stuarts have a claim on the throne. And that means some bloke in Italy recently traced as the Stuart Pretender bidding for his inheritance of the Court of St James.