“There were no mirrors in my Nana’s house/no mirrors in my Nana’s house/So the beauty that I saw in everything/the beauty in everything/was in her eyes/like the rising of the sun. I only knew love and I never knew hate.” Ysaye M. Barnwell
What was my model for grandparenting? Interesting question!
Thinking back to when my children were born… Did my mother thrill to touch the soft warm skin of her first grandchild and each tiny miracle born to her children? Did she yearn to hold them, touch them, be a part of their lives?*
My father certainly blessed each child in it’s early days. Until the time he died he kept track of birthdays and high points in the lives of his children and grandchildren. But did he feel close to them? Did he feel that perfect beam of love that transcends parenting and goes to the heart of grandparenting?
I don’t know. I didn’t see that model from them.* I don’t remember heaps of love and attention gushing from my parents to my children and they never talked with me about it.My parents seemed pleased enough to see their grandchildren and I know they certainly would have professed great love for them. But interest? I know that my mother was much more comfortable with babies and young children. And my father was more engaged as the children grew in their capabilities to discuss and comprehend.
And as for my grandparents…
I can’t recall a hug from any of the three who were living when I was a child. When we made trips to Indiana or on their one foray to the west, I was never the focus of their attention. Perhaps it was the era. Perhaps it was common mid-western behavior.
What I do know is that among the older generations in my family, there was no one who was playful. There were no “Let’s Pretend” games. Any bedtime stories (there could have been some, I suppose) were from the bible.
My dad’s wife was the Grandmother who was a bit more demonstrative…but not by much. She did talk to them as children, though. She was the older generation in the room who made sure there was food on the table. She washed faces and clothes with the same expertise and without fanfare. When I was ill or in the hospital having another child, she was the one who watched over the older children when my husband needed help. As her grandchildren grew to adulthood, those who spent time with her enjoyed her ability to stay current and involved with what might be going on in their lives. She wasn’t a touchy-feely person but if she loved you, you knew it. When she saw needs she tried to provide.
My husband’s parents were the storybook grandparents when our children were young. They loved and spoiled and played with the kids. They organized trips to the coast and had “overnights” with everyone spread out on the living room floor watching TV, eating candy and drinking sodas until they fell asleep. From the time our children were infants, my parents-in-law celebrated birthdays, Easter, and Christmas with an abundance of gifts and attention.
It all rolled into a model of sorts.
I have been present since all of the beginnings, sitting at hospital bedsides or lurking at the edges of rooms. As the technology progressed I experienced the breathtaking angst of listening to the beep of baby heartbeats as my grandchildren came into the world. In one instance I took part in the delivery.
I have cared for and cared deeply about my grandchildren and I try to let them know.
When they were young I wasn’t necessarily the fun one. I was determined to provide good food and adequate rest because I tied any bad behavior to their hunger and/or fatigue. Now, the older they get, the more I realize that it is up to me to keep the connection. I have (almost) always treasured being with them and have truly loved seeing them enjoy each other.
As a person who wasn’t involved with cousins growing up, I didn’t think to connect my children to their cousins. I was more focused on my own family life. The cousin connection became more important to me with this next generation. I now understand that extended family is just that, a larger base of love, support and connection than we can’t adequately create without it. Friends can help, but there is really something about family.
My meandering thoughts of my family always lead me to the bright joy I experience in my relationships with my grandchildren. It’s sappy, I know, but I swell up with pleasure at the thought of them. Of course, sometimes my concerns leads me to my lifelong propensity to try to fix everything.
And always I am optimistic. I can’t but look at each and every young person and see wonderful possibilities in their lives. It’s the one thing that makes me want to live forever…to see the great things that they will do and experience. As I am watching them mature, they are my hope for a future I won’t live to see.
Ultimately, I realize that the only thing necessary to be a grandparent is to have children who have children. From that moment on, it is the balancing act of leaning in and stepping back in order to see this wonder of life unfold.
*My sister told me recently that neither of our parents came to the hospital when her first child was born. I can’t remember my parents presence around the birth of my children, but, that could be due to my memory, not their lack of presence. I hope they didn’t miss such a spectacular event.
Reprinted from June 29, 2014