Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Water: Friend or Foe

Water. Summer, kids and water. A recipe for fun. Sometimes a recipe for tragedy.

My daughter has a pool at her apartment complex. The girls love to swim. Sydney swims well. She dives and swims like a lovely mermaid. Gabrielle on the other hand does not like the deep water. In the shallower end, she manages a few strokes across the pool. She has good reason to be apprehensive, not for the lack of swimming lessons but for the poor supervision of a beginning swimmer.

Stacey and I would meet at the swim center every week sitting behind the fence watching both girls in their swimming lessons. Sydney had advanced to swimming the width of the pool in the deep end. Her sister was just learning.

The beginners stood on underwater tables waiting for the teacher to take them one by one out into the water. Gabby was fearless and loved her turn with the teacher. She would hold on until it was time to go back to the table. The teacher would stand in the water a short distance from the table pushing the child off to paddle back to the platform. It gave the child a sense of swimming alone in what should have been a safe environment. We watched the same routine week after week.

"Stacey, where's Gabby?" I yelled.

"Mom....I don't see her." she answered.

I saw her under the water next to the table.

"Get Gabby," we screamed as we ran to the gate. "Get Gabby!"

The teacher just stood there looking at us. The lifeguard sitting immediately above the table where Gabby should have been was looking around but not down.

We screamed and ran. My heart was in my throat. Even now it brings tears. My granddaughter was drowning.

By the time we got to the side of the pool, the lifeguard had pulled her up. God bless her, she held her breath. Stacey and I did all we could to remain calm.

"I held my breath," Gabby said. "No one got me."

Thank God our strained calmness convinced her to stay for the rest of the class.

Our anger met with several people as well as the swim center. The teacher had pushed her back to the bench but had not watched to see if she made it. That was unacceptable.

I was very small child. My parents were in charge of the church youth group. We were at the local camp swimming pool. Something had happened on the deck of the pool emptying it of all but one little girl in an inner tube. It flipped sending this little girl beneath the water. I could see the side of the pool but couldn't get to it. The inner tube was hold me. Suddenly, my feet were grasped, and I was pulled from the pool with Dad pumping the water from his little tot.

This is a difficult blog for me to write. The fear I felt in both instances still sometimes captures me and takes me back. Children deserve the best from us at all times. It demands the best of those responsible for our children when they are out of our sight.

I sat in the boat as Sydney, about age 7, sat in the water with skis on her feet, her daddy holding her. Terror had a grasp on me, but she wanted to try to ski. Her dad let go as the boat revved. She never got up but she held on. She finally released the rope and was alone in the water. My panic subsided when she was once more aboard along with her father. Water.

According to emedicine about 1500 children die each year in emersion accidents. Grandparents, parents, we need to do all we can to keep our children safe. I learned the hard way that even a swimming class can be fatal. Please, watch your children. Teach your children.

Water. Children. Summer. Please make it safe.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tender Sleep

Moments of tenderness cannot be denied when looking at a sleeping child. It began with the baby placed in my arms at the hospital. That one single glimpse of my sleeping daughter turned on something inside of me that captured me and has not let go.

I have so many pictures of my sleeping children. My daughter continually takes pictures of her sleeping children. What is it that draws us into the warmth and overwhelming love surrounding that sleeping cherub? Maybe it is that the child is finally quiet after a long cry or after a long day of getting into mischief. Perhaps it is the only time the child holds still. Or, just maybe, it is that our hearts are captured in those quiet moments with overwhelming love that we don't want to let go of.

How often did I lightly step into the nursery watching one of my babies sleep? Even now it chokes me up to remember. I could not leave without a hand on the downy head and always a kiss.

My daughter fought sleep from the moment she was born and before. However, my son loved to sleep. No matter where we stood at the given moment when we said, "time for bed", his clothing would come off, his blanket grasped in chubby hands and his little legs carrying him to the bed. One moment he could be dashing through the house and in the blink of an eye, asleep wherever he stopped.

My granddaughters are the same. Sydney loves to stay up while Gabby drops off immediately. Some two-way conversations end when I look over to see her sweet sleeping face.

This grandma loves those moments when I can sit on the bed next to the sleeping children and tell them how much I love them, to pass a hand over their warm cheeks then to say a silent prayer asking protection and guidance of their young lives. These moments are fleeting with these children just as they did with those of our own.

I remember sleeping across the front seat on my parents' laps back in the day of no seat belts or laws to protect us. My head rested on Dad's leg as he drove. Had we had an accident, I would have had the head of a squashed pumpkin. Vaguely, I remember Dad carrying me into the house, Mom dressing me down into my pj's and all happening with me in a state of half-sleep. I wonder if they took those moments to look at this sleeping child, to sit by my bed.

It's a hard habit to break this watching a child sleep. Even now, I long to sit by my sleeping adult children praying once more for safety and guidance. Once more to plant a soft kiss upon the brow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Libraries a luxury?

The bookmobile pulled up next to the school. Each class would line up one by one by the door waiting for the kids in front of them to move on down and out of the exit. I remember stepping into the bus looking at all of the books that lined the shelves. For a small child, it was amazing. A library on wheels. A librarian on wheels!

School budgets need to be cut. The school libraries are on the chopping block considered to be a luxury. Luxury? I had to hop a bus to check out books! Books a luxury. Hm. I know that back in the olden days books were protected and cherished. Now we are not only stripping the libraries out of the schools but are putting the words on a screen we can take anywhere. Books. Libraries. Have we forgotten?

My grandchildren love to go to the school library. They check out books routinely, excited for the next stack they can bring home. The library holds a yearly book sale drawing parents and children to the school to refresh their coffers. Flop and read nights at the school are memory making with kids in pj's and parents reading on the floor next to them. Many of the kids get their books from the school library.

My books are my passion as is my writing. If I ever write a book, I want it to reside on the library shelves as well as those at home. I want someone to turn the pages one by one waiting for the story to unravel. I have books from my childhood even some purchased from Weekly Reader. I don't want my books to be displayed behind a screen. I want to savor the paper between my fingers.

So many children do not have parents who take them to the library. Let's face it, not every parent cares to expose their children to books. So what happens to these little ones? Where do the books go to retire?

I guess I feel better venting my frustrations. When you must stand in line to get to the books, hoping a good one will still be on the shelf, you understand how important that paper and binding is to the child. Maybe I'm just an antique like the old bookmobile bus.

Well, I'll continue to turn pages, take my grandchildren to the library and bookstores and do what I can to keep books in the hands of all children.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sibling Success

Siblings. As children, we wish we were only children every time that sibling plays and sometimes breaks our toys. Those times when we want to play with our friends...alone. Times that those 'kids' embarrass us, anger us, torment us and are general pains. Ah, to be an only child.

My granddaughter lit up when I announced that her sister was spending the night with a friend.

"Syd, wouldn't you miss your sister if you didn't have her?" I asked.

She smiled not saying a word.

Heather, her friend, said, "We wouldn't have as much fun without her."

Syd agreed.

I think we grow out of and into our siblings. Kids usually adore that new baby that comes home with Mom from the hospital then find out quickly that the baby takes entirely too much attention. Later they become playmates. Even later they grow into an age gap. One leaves the other behind.

As an adult, we get busy with our lives and know we have siblings, but the importance of that connection is scattered. That is until we begin to lose the older generation. Then once more we find our siblings and cherish them.

Today I focus on those people who have shared our lives from when we were just little ones. Those who remember us a children and know our histories. I try to impart to my grandchildren how important their they are to one another and how much I love my sisters. We try to work out ways to make things work in the times of changes from the older moving on and the other staying behind. It takes work, but what can be more important.

Siblings are God's gift to us. They embrace us when we are unembraceable. They share our losses and our victories. They are the mirror in which we see ourselves and our history.

Yes, God's gift.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Novel Idea

“Can I give you a hug?” she asked as I set the bag of books in front of her. I never pass up a hug….not even from a grateful stranger.     
Amazing how books can draw people together. As an avid reader, I’m never without two books going at the same time. One book resides next to the sofa. The other resides in my car inside of a backpack that contains a folding book stand as well. As a single woman, I find that the best company I can have while sitting in a waiting room, sitting outside on a sunny day or dining alone is a good book. Thus two books at the same time.
I found a wonderful little folding book stand years ago at Border’s Book Store. It costs all of $5 and was one of the best investments I ever made. Hardly a time goes by when I am not reading at some public place that someone doesn’t come up to me as ask where I got this little treasure.
One day I was eating lunch reading my book thus ignoring everyone in the cafĂ© except the characters I’d been chasing page after page.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” asked the woman who stood next to my booth.
“Not at all,” I answered nodding to the empty bench.
“I was interested in where you found your book stand,” she continued.
I explained the history of my little stand showing it off and praising its benefits.
“I am a buyer for Powell’s Book Store. We need to carry these.”
I firmly agreed…..and now they do.
There have been times when I’ve given my bookstand away to some avid reader. More recently I’ve begun carrying a new stand with me to give away at such times. I love seeing the light in their eyes hoping that in some way they will pass on the kindness. It’s only $5 now and then.
Yesterday I was standing with my most recent book at the counter of the doctor’s office. The woman at the desk asked if the book was good. We immediately became book friends. She was looking for new authors, and I had many to share. On leaving the office, I forgot my book.
I returned this morning with a bag of books that had been sitting in my closet waiting for a new home. I left the office with my book I’d forgotten and a warm hug.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ibuprofen Chaser

The art of playing with children when you are a grandparent is a bit more of a struggle than that of a Mom. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I sat in the middle of the floor playing with my children....not easy any more. My son has not had his babies yet. Argh! What I wouldn’t give for a younger more energetic body.

My friend took care of her grandchildren yesterday.

“Oh, my word, I’m exhausted….and I still have them for two days more,” she moaned.

Yes, I understand. However, I refuse to give up that time building memories and playing with these children born to our family. Many days I have a back ache from sitting on the floor too long or from having two large grandchildren cuddling while we watch a movie. Legs poke at me, heads lean against me. Rotation takes place every few minutes. Both complain of not having a sofa cushion all to themselves. Oh, we all have our own cushion….mine is the only one that seems to be holding all limbs. But I will not complain and will not give up these fleeting years in time. They are my memories too that are happening.

I hope I don’t give up on myself. Yes, it is a struggle to find that energy, to find that endurance, but some day they will be grown. Then I can be old.

They keep me young, these two girls. They make me concentrate on the positive and not the negative. They give me reason to strive for that energy that abates me, to push myself to be the grandmother I want to be for these children. I want to be an example, not a bump on a log. I want to participate, not watch.

We are the ‘new grandparent’. We have the power to be more than our age. Our bodies will respond to our energy if we encourage it. Our patience will be there if we work at honing in on the important things. Our rest time can be coloring books and movies, but our kid time must be theirs. It is a good thing we do overlooking the aches and pains. It is a good relationship we build overlooking our own weaknesses.

Ah, bring on the Ibuprofen, haul out the heating pad. Today we play!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pied Piper Grandma

“Can I call you Grandma?” asked the little girl, a friend of my granddaughter’s.
“Of course, you can,” I replied.
“My granddaughter is thrilled that she can call you Grandma,” explained her mother at a later date.
I don’t mind. Heather, the girl’s best friend has called me Grandma Pam for years. Another neighbor calls me the same. It’s not so bad being the universal grandma. There is always enough love for all the children.
The last day of school arrived on Thursday. Fifth graders graduated from elementary school. One of Sydney’s schoolmates I didn’t know came up asking me to sign her yearbook. I signed it and was immediately asked to sign another.
I don’t know if I have some invisible sign over me which is only visible to children. It must flash “Pied Piper Grandma” above my head. If I had a flute, I’d probably have a trail of kids behind me.
Now it’s not that I adore all children. I’m really not much of a ‘kid’ person, since we weren’t raised to that end. But for some reason I seem to attract the smaller people who inhabit this earth. Maybe it’s a scent thing. Hm.
My son has the same affect on children. They stare at him and are drawn to him. Dogs and kids.
We had a huge garage sale this week. Yesterday was the last day. I was exhausted and ready to be at the end of it. My friend’s niece came to help along with her 4 year old son. I hadn’t met her children before.
“Grandma, do you want to come play with us?” the adorable little boy asked not long after they arrived.
His mother’s eyes widened. “He never says that to anyone but my mom,” she exclaimed.
Before they left, the small boy sought me out. “Good-bye, Grandma,” he said with his arms wrapped around me.
I don’t know what it is, but I feel blessed to have children love me so easily. Maybe they just know I’m a kid at heart with a heart that loves to give. Maybe I have something more to learn about myself, and they will teach me.
Maybe I’m not the Pied Piper. Perhaps I’m Peter Pan.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tomorrow Is My Birthday

“It all went so fast,” my mother said to me the last time I saw her. Yes, yes, it did.

Tomorrow is my birthday so I have been spending a few days contemplating this passing of years one birthday to the next. My friend and I were talking about how quickly we seem to be changing with each increase in age. Years ago time passed, but we didn’t see much change. Now bones ache a little more each year. A once toned body is now tone deaf. I can’t remember the color of my hair. All I know is that when the roots start to grow out, the color is not the one that capped my curly head when I was born. Where did it all go?

Age is really not an issue with me. In fact, the number game should be banned. All people should be ageless just like they are colorless. We should all see the inside of one another instead of judging by the outside shell. The first time I was asked if I wanted to order from the senior menu, I wanted to punch the waitress. My mother had just died. I was in mourning and all of 52.

At one time I may have had my true blond and worn a size 6. My energy was high and no aches had yet surfaced. But I was naive. I had a lot to learn.

Tomorrow is my birthday. 63 years ago I tried to greet the world feet first. I’m sure when the doctor saw the two large feet of an 8# baby looking at him, he’d wished he had taken up law. Still, one more girl joined the family. I joined a pretty good family. Couldn’t have picked a better one myself. I am not so naive now and am taking advantage of each passing day.

Tomorrow is my birthday. Happy birthday to me.

BTW, forgive me if I miss a day of writing. Sometimes it is just impossible to get anything written.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Second Grade Senior

“I am going to this school, Grammy. I need to go to this school,” Gabby excitedly exclaimed. It wasn’t going to happen, but the small future graduate was ready for her cap and gown.

High School Graduation parties are events that rival the graduation itself. For the safety of the kids, elaborate parties are held within the school walls. I remember when my son graduated. A huge airplane fuselage was designed at the entrance of the school. Halls and halls were decorated, food piled high and events to fill the entire evening were set in place to keep these kids partying in a safe atmosphere. At my daughter’s graduation party, I was part of the designated mini-band announcing drawings for door prizes. Dressed in a toga toting a bass drum, I marched through the school most of the time embarrassing my daughter and having a ball.

The event had been on my calendar for weeks. My friend’s son was graduating. I was asked help prepare the food for the party. So at 9:30 yesterday morning. I entered the portal to the school where my own children graduated and headed to the mounds of fruit that needed to be cut up and jabbed into a pineapple tree.
We cut fruit until the middle of the afternoon when the sandwiches showed up. Each had to be cut, a pick inserted then placed in small cups.

It was nearing time for the families to go home and dress for the main event. I dashed off to pick up Gabby at school. She could come back and help with the project.

I chased everyone out of the kitchen then Gabby and I took over.
“Grammy, I will be the pick girl and the paper cup girl,” Gabby informed me.
“Sounds good,” I said looking at the fourteen containers of sandwiches.
I cut sandwiches while Gabby jabbed them with picks. When the next batch was ready to cut, she would step out into the hall and re-enter the kitchen as “Paper Girl”. Our little sandwich system continued over the next couple of hours. Lettuce covered the counter and scattered across the floor. My back hurt, my feet hurt and Gabby never ceased entertaining me.

“Gabby, open the door,” I said with a bit of concern.

The door opened to a giggling girl. I stepped from the walk-in refrigerator.

“Lock me in, Grammy,” she said. “I’ll eat all the food!” Teasing, laughing, we passed the time.

Every so often she did her twirl dancing around the kitchen equipment.
“This is fun, Grammy,” she laughed.

Finally, the last sandwich was cut, the counters cleaned, knives washed and stowed. We walked back through the empty school looking at all the decorations. I took her to the auditorium where I had taught, my children had acted and memories had been made all those many years ago. Gabby danced across the stage peeking behind curtains.

“I need to go here, Grammy,” she said. “I love it. I want this to be my school. Can I, Grammy?”

I tried to explain that she would go to a high school just as exciting as the one we were in. “No, Grammy. I need to go here.”

The day ended with a grandma holding the hand a second grader who had grown in experience that day. Her view of the world enlarged. She and her Grammy saved the day.

“Grammy, this was the best day ever.”

Yes, Gabby. It was the best…..because of you.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Open Another Door

It began with an after school snack. “So, what do you want to do?” I asked. “We could go to the lake and draw.”

“No, I don’t want to go outside. We were outside all day at school,” Sydney said. Hm.

“We could make Father’s Day cards, Grammy. You said we would,” replied Gabby.

“We have lots of time to make cards. I don’t want to,” snapped Sydney.

Impasse. We were at an impasse. A storm was brewing. My day had been productive and all in all, pretty great. No bad moods were going to change it.

“Why don’t we take our books to Powell’s (our local bookstore) and read?”
Lights went on. Jackpot!!!

“Can we take our drawing?” asked Gabby. Of course, why not. Their ideas are every bit as good as mine.

Powell’s has a section of leather chairs placed around a small garden area. Only two chairs were available. Gabby immediately sat on the garden wall while Syd and I settled in with our books.

“What can I draw?” Gabby asked constantly for the next 20 minutes. I had emptied my purse, pointed out books, racks, rocks. Finally she was sprawled out on the rock wall drawing my foot.

“Why don’t we find some art books for ideas?”

Much to our delight, we found the same type of chairs in the art section. Immediately, the girls rambled up and down the aisles looking at books that lined the shelves. Ideas popped and pencils scribbled.

The day was a success!!!!

What is it that triggers our grandchildren's minds? What can we do to offer new ideas, new adventures, especially those we have not tried. First times are the best times shared. Even in the car.

I started to turn off the radio.

“Don’t turn it off,” said Sydney.

“We like that music,” added Gabby.

Who would believe that my granddaughters would love classical music.

It’s an exciting thing we do, Grandparents. We may be the keepers of the past, but we are also a key to a future. Those steps we take with our grandchildren can be new steps for us. We are never too old to learn. We are old enough to know that we can’t do everything well but we can try. What a great example for our grandchildren!

Instruments played, books lined the shelves, my foot became a drawing, a grandma opened another door.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sniffing Out Family

I stood looking at the art display on the wall while waiting for Sydney’s class to show up for lunch. Ah, elementary school lunch. A cuisine that only a grandma could love. Why the names of the student artist were not on the front of the art is a mystery to me. I want to see the art my granddaughters have on display.

As I stood there, it dawned on me that I should be able to find my granddaughter’s artwork as well as that of my other ‘granddaughter’, Heather. Heather is family. She comes over with the girls at least once or twice a week. I teach her to paint and to play the piano right along with my granddaughters. So as I stood there contemplating the art, I decided to figure it out on my own.

The challenge was not much of a challenge once I stood back and looked at the entire board. Heather loves to create art with letters. She is an Oregon State University fan. Deduction: The mixed media piece with OSU drawn in large letters had to be hers. Sydney’s was even easier to spy than Heather’s. I could have picked it out of the entire school. Simple, lovely and creative just like her.

I began wondering if we have an intuition, a sense of ‘our own’. Animals sense their own by scent. I’ve sniffed the tops of my granddaughters’ heads and find nothing that tells me they are mine. I can look at them and pick out other members of the family, a nose here, eyes there. Yet, I think there is another sense that maybe we overlook, a sense of recognition.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to make this some scientific discovery. No, it is much simpler. Yes, I used deductive reasoning on Heather’s picture, but something else drew me to Sydney’s picture. There were many well-done pieces yet immediately hers called to me. It wasn’t something she painted before although she loves to draw flowers. It was something more.

I looked at the pictures thinking of the kids in her class that were very talented. In fact, I think in some way I tried to find another picture that might be hers. Yet there was no doubt in my mind. When the class came down the hall, I kidnapped Sydney.

“Is this your picture?” I asked.

A grin literally went from ear to ear. “Yes,” she answered.

There is a knowing. I believe this with all my heart. There is an intuition, a voice that calls to us much as the lioness sniffing her cub. I sniff and “when is the last time you washed your hair?”

Monday, June 7, 2010

Last Nerve

“You’re getting on my last nerve!!!!”

Maybe we haven’t actually said this out loud, but every parent has felt it. The drumming of noise, the once clean room slowly turning into storm or ‘kid’ tossed chaos, crumbs on the floor and sofa, water dripped across the countertop. The list goes on: getting up early with a child, giving up tickets to a long awaited event only to stay home with an ill child, walking into the house after a rough day at work barraged by hugging tykes vying for attention. Oh, that last nerve was sorely tested.

I’ve noticed that my last nerve has numbed over the years. I’m not a grandparent saint by any means. I still have those moments, but it is how I handle those events at this wonderful age of enlightenment. Putting oneself last is probably the most difficult part of parenting. Yes, there were times I resented giving up my plans. There were times I wanted to throw in the towel and say, “I’m not qualified for this job.” But I didn’t. I made my mistakes and cannot take them back. I was not an easy mother dealing with depression, a drinking husband and a move away from my dream home. Yes, I made my mistakes.

I wasn’t taught by my mother how to be a mother. Having three daughters was not in her plan. She wanted all boys. She babysat, but we weren’t included in the childcare. We never talked about problems in the home. It wasn’t permitted which was pretty much the norm for the times. So the mothering skills did not come from my home.

I think I discovered it sitting alone one night in my car wondering what my world was coming to when it dawned on me that I needed to wonder what was happening to my children. In just an instant I became the strongest woman I would ever know. I finally earned my stripes as a mother. The immaculate house became a home to snuggle into away from the storm outside. I added to the crumbs on the floor, flexibility and spontaneity added to the mix, and we became a new family. A family of three.

Perhaps my ‘last nerve’ came from my own selfishness or maybe my lack of understanding and patience. My granddaughter informed me that a temper is inherited. At one time I would have believed it true. But temper and ‘last nerves’ are choices. I’ve tried to teach my children to walk away from anger until it passes and the brain starts working again. The same level of expectation falls on my grandchildren as well. We will have no yelling or tantrums in my house. I will never ignore their feelings, but they must learn to react in appropriate ways. There is a level of honesty and respect we have for one another. Their opinions and observations are important and worth noting at the time….not later. These two girls are the world to me. For me to not pay attention to their feelings and thoughts would certainly get on their ‘last nerve’. Respect for one another in action and in word.

I hope I never find that ‘last nerve’ again. Relationships are more important than the winner attitude. Emotional winners sometimes lose what is most important. A child coming to you with a problem because you will listen and are honest with them begins early in life if the door is open and there is no ego on the other side. We grandparents can be a gift to our grandchildren teaching ways of communication, resolution and love. We can eliminate that ‘last nerve.’

Love is patient and kind.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Other Side of the Door

What do they take away with them? Their possessions, their music, their favorite pillow, their anxiety. We’ve all done it. We all walked out of that nest called home into a vast unknown excited that we were at last free. What did we forget to bring along? What did we bring along that we have yet to realize?

I flitted around like a bird gathering twigs for a nest. My daughter was leaving. In my mind, she needed to have storage containers, new clothes, books, bedding. Ah, the list was long and the mother was preoccupied. Meanwhile, the daughter was gathering her comfort to take with her. Sorting though tape cassettes, roaming around her room deciding what was essential, creating her new bulletin board plastering it with pictures.

In looking back, I am touched by what she considered most important. The pictures tell it all. Her family, the kids who we considered ‘family’, her grandparents, her classmates, her boyfriend. She decided to take along her history, those who have loved her. Through the piles of pictures of friends, events, she chose those of family and friends.

Forty-five years ago I left home to strike out on my own. I couldn’t wait to taste a new life, to have freedom to make my own decisions, to be away from parents with opinions. But if you ask me today what I took away, my understand would be much different.

I took away a heritage I loved. I took away a church family, a neighborhood and a family who loved me and nurtured me. I took away a freedom to believe what I wanted to believe. I took away rebellion that created this woman who always wants to learn and grow. I took away strength from a mother who was strong. I took away insecurity that would make me work harder. I took away a passion for others. I am discovering what else walked out of that door with me in 1965.

So what will my grandchildren find on the other side of that door? What will they remember that made them strong, that gave them security, that was precious to them?

I don’t know about you, but I want them to take more than Disneyland or birthday parties. I want them to remember the times they learned something from me, our talks and trust of one another, the art they created at my table, the birds and nature we share together. I want them to remember me as a mentor, a teacher, a person who accepted them just as they are and took time to listen and learn about them, to learn from them. I want them to remember the guidance through their pain, their anger, their fears. To remember a home, my home, that would always be theirs and a woman who would always be on their side.

I’m a grandma. I have been the child, the parent and now the grandparent. By now, I should be fairly honest with myself in what is really important. I should have learned that by what I needed in my life and the struggles my children experienced. I should learn by my grandchildren’s actions, reactions and silence.

We are learning together, these children and me. In a few years when Sydney walks away from her nest, I hope she takes with her skills to make good decisions, sound judgments and strength to be true to herself.

We’re on a journey, we grandparents and grandchildren. Let’s make it a good one. Let’s make the other side of that door better for them.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stepping Away

Three graduation cards off in the mail. One to go. Children leaving the nest moving on to the next phase of their lives, a phase when parents and grandparents step back and watch the child step away.
Storage containers, suitcases, supplies that every college student needs filled our car. Stacey and I were driving James off to college. When I say ‘off’, I mean ‘off’. We live in Oregon. He was going to Northwestern University in Chicago. We decided to drive so we could have that one last time as a family before it changed once more. Stacey, James and I knew that only two of us would be returning to the west coast. A fact we chose to ignore on the trip east.
Excitement was everywhere. Students meeting new roommates. Rooms becoming homes for those moving away for the first time. Parents and children focused on the immediate and not the ‘good-byes’ that would come later.
Evening came. It was a warm Evanston night. We hugged. We crawled back into the car. His face was covered with tears. I know because I could see them through my veil of tears. My heart was breaking. We drove away. At the next stop light it dawned on me. James, our navigator, was standing back on the curb and not in the car.
“Stacey, I don’t know how to get out of here,” I said.  We couldn’t go back. I couldn’t say good-bye again. So we turned left away from the lake and toward the Pacific. It was at least the right direction. I cried for two states before my daughter told me it was time to stop and get over it. And so I did. I came home to his empty room with a refreshed stab of pain but I did survive walking into the empty nest.
Phone calls flew across the US whenever there was success or disaster. Trips were rare but treasured when they happened. 
I sat in on his private voice lesson. His teacher was William Warfield, a man I had adored the first time I heard him sing “Old Man River” in the movie Showboat. Mr. Warfield sat and talked to me about my son and his music. I sat in the middle of the room proud that the nest had been emptied and dreams pursued. They sang. A master and his student. A boy becoming the man he would be in the future. A singer becoming a professional.
The steps away begin when the child leaves the womb. Learning to find their own hand, eat with a spoon, step onto a school bus, walk across a stage to receive a diploma. All steps away. Their steps away were steps of learning for me. I learned that I could let go and still live to tell about it. I found that I could once again find out who I was after eighteen years with a child at home. His step away were literally my first step in finding my own way back to Oregon……a step forward in finding the new me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Then Let's Paint

No, don’t argue. I know what I’m talking about. I know the true meaning of happiness. It took me years to discover and even more, it involved learning to put myself aside. Then did I truly find the greatest blessings.

“Grammy, can we paint.” Hm. How often do I hear this? They love to paint. They are wonderfully creative girls who have a gift for it. My house is adorned with their art. Two pictures hang on the wall. Two long wires drape across the stairway walls bearing the latest artwork held in place by old wooden clothes pins. It is their gallery, their achievements, their expression on paper. Can we paint? Argh!

I had just cleaned the house top to bottom, cleaning off shelves, cleaning out drawer, dusting the top of the refrigerator and chasing dust bunnies under furniture. The house was sparkling. Painting. Paint, water, paper, easels, holder, dirty brushes, clean brushes, paper towels, messes. My first response was, “Do you really want to?” said in a less than enthusiastic voice.

There isn’t a parent or grandparent who doesn’t feel imposed upon at one time or another. As a mother, I vied for time for myself, for what I wanted to do. There were times I resented giving up my space for theirs, my time for theirs. I wondered often when it was my turn. Ah, how things change when you get smarter…..and older.

I sat with a mother outside of the school waiting for the children to be dismissed. She and I had often talked. Divorced for 10 years, she goes through the struggle of a single woman, an experience I know well.

“The kids are going to their Dad’s today. We trade off weeks,” she shared. “I don’t think there have been more than four times that I was ready for them to go. I miss them so much even after all these years. I hate being away from them.”

Good for her. She had seen through that window realizing that being away from her kids was unnatural, maybe even that some day they would be gone for good. I didn’t share my children. They stayed with me. It was a struggle, but it was worth it. In looking back, I have no regrets. I learned something.

Trip after trip, we emptied the closet of art supplies. I thought to myself how silly I was to put my house before my granddaughters, to put myself before their creativity and this experience together. I was tired and had just not wanted to be bothered.

Yes, I have learned much over the years. I’ve learned that sitting on the floor playing with my nephews far outweighs the aching joints I will feel later. That picking up a mess made by happy children will someday be missed when they are gone and the house is continually clean. That extending myself beyond what I want to do will gift me back time and time again.

Oh, yes, raising children is that sometimes bother that is all too soon gone. I know what true happiness is:

“You want to paint?” I asked. “Then let’s paint.”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ending Wars

The white stones blanketed the cemetery for as far as the eye could see, as far as my child’s eye could see. I didn’t know the significance of this place where I stood. In my life time the stark reality would find me, a lifetime during which more stones would be added.

What mother throughout history has not wondered at the raising of arms, father against son, neighbor against neighbor, country against country? Mothers have sent their sons to war for as long as the world has revolved. “Where have all the young men gone long time passing”. The words still resonate today, those words from the 60’s. War, hate, violence.

When my son became a teenager, we were again looking at a restless world. Maybe I should say “still” looking at a restless world. I remembered the draft well from seeing my fiancĂ© off to war in Viet Nam. I was terrified at the thought of my son going to war.

But this is not about the wars we fight. It isn’t about the graves in Arlington. This blog is about peace.

My granddaughters are really great at irritating one another. Usually the older child picks on the smaller child. To watch Gabby take the comments and digs, you would think she is tough, but that’s not true. She is hurt every time it happens. I have seen her sit off to herself after such event making excuses for her isolation: “I just want to sit here”, “I’m waiting for Daddy”, “I’m just tired”, etc. I wrap my arms around her silently holding her for a few moments.

“It hurts doesn’t it?” I ask.

“Uh huh,” she solemnly replies.

“It’s just the way sisters get along. Your sister really loves you.”

I see the irony of my comment reflected in her eyes. “She does? She doesn’t act like it.”

“Sweetheart, when you grow up, you and your sister will be best friends. Your sister will always be there for you and love you your entire life. I know. My sister picked on me, and she was seven years older than me. But, Honey, we have become best friends. I love her with all my heart.”

We continued to sit there. Her sister finally showed up. Sydney is good at listening in on conversations.

“What are you doing?” she asks as if nothing happened.

“We’re waiting for Daddy,” I replied. “I was just telling your sister….,” I continued with my shortened version of sisterly love.

I have noticed a few changes since then. The older sister pays a bit more attention to the younger. The younger glows at the recognition. We work on communication and encouragement. The younger child who once begged not to go to her sister’s softball games now cheers her on.

Maybe we could end wars if we worked a little harder at promoting peace. Peace that begins at home. Peace that begins with our children. Maybe we could think less of our needs and think more of those of the child. Maybe we could listen better with our eyes as well as our ears. Maybe we can teach our children to be diplomatic and compassionate, to accept differences with an open mind and to look for positive instead of negative.

I don’t want to see children standing before stark stones of death. I don’t want to see mother’s send their children to war. Mama Cass sang it best:

There's a New World Coming
And it's just around the bend
There's a new world coming
This one's coming to an end

There's a new voice calling
You can hear it if you try
And it's growing stronger
With each day that passes by

There's a brand new morning
Rising clear and sweet and free
There's a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me

Yes a new world's coming
The one we've had visions of
Coming in peace, coming in joy, coming in love.

We are the parents and grandparents who can give this to our children, who can reach out to other people setting an example, who can volunteer for projects with our children, who can teach daily ways of cooperation and tolerance. We can do it, if we try.