Last week, I became a grandmother for the third time. Yet again I had the amazing experience of thinking 'ah, there you are' whilst holding a new baby for the very first time; a brand new person who is nevertheless somehow familiar, as if a close relative had just arrived home after a long trip abroad.
Much has changed since my own granny, a twinkly grey-haired old lady, knitted jumpers and baked the most delicious cakes in the world. Like many contemporary grandparents, I am a member of the generation that American historian Jonathan Pontell has labelled 'Generation Jones', born between 1954 and 1964, who he proposes were cynicised as the boom of the 1960s turned into the bust of the 1970s culminating in the winter of discontent, the era in which we rudely snatched 'peace and love' youth culture from our older siblings and impregnated it with the cacophany of punk; a better fit for the socially discordant austerity into which we were plunged. The roller coaster of boom and bust has subsequently transported us 'Jonesers' to grandparenthood; now how are we going to embrace this?
I would suggest, apart from superficial differences such as our leisure wear, iPhones and tinted, casual hair, we share a lot of the deeper human experiences of our own grandparents. Like them, we have discovered that aging brings a lot of unwanted physical changes, many of which add up to the unpalatable fact that we Jonesers (except possibly Madonna) can no longer rock that artfully ripped T-shirt or heavy black eyeliner. However, on the plus side, it has brought many of us another generation of children to love at least as much as our own, with the added advantage of not having to deal with most of their mundane misbehaviour or future teenage dramas. Let's face it; it is not going to be us that their teachers are going to speak to about school uniform violations, and it is unlikely to be the keys to our houses that they leave on the bus, or our vehicles that they dent during early parking attempts.
The most positive legacy bequeathed to me by my own grandmother was the ability to reflect on the past whilst looking forward to the future. She had the wisdom to realise that while human endeavour seldom moves along a straight or uneventful trajectory from past to future, the overall direction is generally positive. She lived through the storm and stress of two pan-European wars, sending her husband of six weeks to the first, and her seventeen year old son to the second; nevertheless, she most frequently drew my attention to positive developments during her lifetime; for example the advent of antibiotics that miraculously cured illnesses that were a painful route to disability or mortality when she was a child, and the engineering advances that had taken the world from the very first cars spluttering down the roads of her childhood to the Apollo Moon landing in the last full year of her life. She would usually then pose me the question 'and what miracles might you see in your lifetime?'
From my present perspective, candidates include even greater advances in medical understanding, particularly in genetics, that mean a cancer diagnosis is becoming less and less likely to be a death sentence; the ongoing development of sophisticated robots currently exploring other planets in our solar system which have the potential to develop into machines that might explore worlds orbiting other suns during our grandchildren's lifetime, and the rapid burgeoning of the world wide web, signposting its eventual potential (beyond the teething pains of Facebook drama and the narcissistic 'selfie') to move the human race further along the road towards a 'one world' perspective.
In 1923, an artist and poet from my grandmother's generation, Kahlil Gibran intuited that children's 'souls dwell in the house of tomorrow'. He would have been disappointed to find that, nearly a century later, we are still largely "educating" them via a blinkered process rooted in the rote transmission of skills and facts followed by relentless testing, because he understood, as my grandmother did, that because human beings are unable to fully predict the societies that future generations will inhabit as adults, human advance is ultimately created through the power to dream; to imagine a tomorrow that is better than today.
As I watch my two day old grandson sleep, I marvel at the potential that is present within his brand new mind, and contemplate that he will only be eighty-three when the twenty first century turns into the twenty second. So what legacy will he carry forward from my own generation into the unmapped territory of his future? As Gibran poetically reflects, 'you are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth'. The key role of Native Australian grandparents is, through storytelling, to engage their grandchildren in the process of Dadirri, which serves as an introduction to the cultural process internationally known as 'the dreaming,' rooted within a 40,000 year history. While my own grandmother was unable to tap into such an ancient, rich spiritual heritage, she nevertheless managed to put aside her own experiences of war and hardship to launch the arrows of my dreams. I hope that, despite my own spiky Joneser heritage, I will be able to do likewise.