As my grandson turns 15

My grandson turns 15 this month.

(A granddaughter will also do so in October, while another turns seven. My youngest granddaughter is a year and a half, and I am deeply attached to her because she looks more helpless than the others and I like to see how I looked when I was her age. When she touches my face and cups it in her small hands, I wonder if I ever made the same loving gesture to my parents. She knows what I’m carrying when I visit, and she remembers everything when I leave: the package, the paper bag, the smell of food in it. Outside the gate, I call her name and she responds with a yell of happiness. Her mother is surprised that the sleeping child will automatically rise from her crib and look for me as though she were awake all the time.)

What do I remember as my grandson turns 15?

The son of activist-poets, he was named after another activist-poet who died in the South. I took full custody of him starting when he was in grade school, and in one way or the other, he changed my single-grandfather routine and the way I looked at life.

Without household help, I had to do everything: waking up at 4 a.m. to cook breakfast so he could make his 6 a.m. class, washing and ironing his school uniforms, attending PTA meetings, and, horror of horrors, being present at his first communion, which petrified me because the priest sounded like Father Damaso during the homily. My grandson noticed how I reacted; by now he knows why I don’t go to church even if we have lived near a historic house of worship for many years.

I gave my grandson his first bike. I also treated him to his first movie, his first play, and his first ballet — and he must have realized then that I am closer to the temple of the arts than to a house of worship. As he grew older, he discovered that his godmother was a famous filmmaker and his godfather sang jazz, and that my best friend, a pianist, would call at 4 a.m. He’d often wonder why I’d be guffawing on the phone at that unholy hour. Because my friend would tease me about becoming grandfather of the year, and that I needed just a few more points to be considered for canonization.

By and large, 15 years with a grandson allows you to review what living and coping are all about.

You learn to cope when he is sick, and you call his pediatrician in the dead of night asking what to do with an overly high fever. When he comes home with medals and citations, you realize that your little sacrifices have paid off, and you are glad you are still alive to enjoy life with a child who has learned to live without his parents. In time, he realizes that you only earn so much and that your circle of friends is so tight.

If I can help it, I spare my grandson my private woes. But one I could not hide from him was when his godmother (the filmmaker) died and I let out a howl of grief when I heard her death announced on TV. He probably understood why I skipped the wake. I asked him how she looked in her coffin; he said she looked beautiful and at peace.

As your grandson turns 15, you know you only have a few more good years to spare. One of your eyes has started to dim, requiring visits to an ophthalmologist. Your hypertension has graduated to another critical stage, and you are constantly advised to see a cardiologist to make sure you will survive another week of deadlines. It won’t be long when you’d need a wheelchair to watch shows at the Cultural Center and
before boarding another domestic flight.

The signs of autumn are all there: You keep hitting the glass door of a Makati museum before a concert, you keep missing a step while looking for your seat at an event. You could have made a spectacle of yourself when you nearly rolled down the aisle before the curtains rose.

Like it or not, 15 years of “single grandparenthood” is a badge of honor, and you are amply rewarded when grandson comes home announcing that he won this and that Metro Manila competition.

He won hands down in a nationwide quiz on Chinese history. I look at his picture at the Great Wall of China (part of his prize) with love and pride. I don’t expect to visit Beijing in my lifetime, and I am glad my grandson did.

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Pablo A. Tariman has been covering the performing arts for more than 40 years.