Being A Grandma
by Dorothy Ainsworth
I'm blessed to be a grandma and I take my role very seriously---by not being very serious. Seriously. What my grandson Zane and I do best together is laugh. We've giggled our way through the past 13 years---in person and over the phone---and I feel like the luckiest grandma in the world to have such a funny and witty bantering partner. He was born a wordsmith with a creative sense of humor---evident at a very young age---and his mother and I have been egging him on ever since, but it's backfiring. He now points out OUR foibles and makes us laugh harder than ever. Most kids play with toys; Zane plays with toys AND words.
OK, I'll admit it. Like any other grandma, I'm shamelessly in love with my grandchild, and grandparents automatically have bragging rights.
Becoming a grandmother immediately elevated my status from a mere mortal to a hallowed being, breathing the sanctified air of the nursery where the precious baby in swaddling clothes lay.
When I first held him, words cannot describe the deliciousness of the experience, and when I first heard him say gwamma (with a w), it was the sweetest sound to ever grace my senses. I melted.
In short, when Zane was born I was transformed into Grandmotherhood. With my new promotion came a whole new sense of responsibility, and I took it on with a natural ease and confidence that surprised me. I thought I'd be nervous because I hadn't been around babies for 37 years. I guess handling a new born is one of those things you never forget how to do, and for a maternal type, holding a baby is one of those precious indescribable feelings that is unlike anything else in this world.
(See article: "Build A Log Crib")
Grandmas come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and styles, but at the heart of each one is just that: a huge heart overflowing with love for her grandkid(s). You inherit the grandma you get and there are no two alike. Some grandmas drink screwdrivers and some grandmas use screwdrivers but they all have something in common...unconditional love for their grandchildren. (See article: "Teach Your Kids to Use Tools")
My paternal grandmother, Clara, mother of five and grandmother of 10, was an iconic old-fashioned grandma who fixed her long braided hair into a silvery gray bun and always wore a flowered apron. She was sweet, patient, and reserved. She taught me to make blackberry cobbler, biscuits from scratch, and how to brown the flour in the bacon grease to make white gravy tastier.
During one summer visit when I was six, my older sister and I unwittingly (more like half-wittingly) turned her faucet on full blast and fed her hose down into the ground like a giant snake until it was buried right up to the faucet. When Grandma came out to check on us, she put her hand to her mouth in disbelief, and sighed, "Oh dear"! I'm sure she felt like strangling us! And when I wet the bed and was mortified with embarrassment, she cheerfully quipped, "Oh, I see you sprung a little leak", and left it at that as she stripped the bed. Kindness is king with kids. And who else better sets the standard for kindness than a nice grandmother?
In contrast to Grandma Clara, my maternal grandmother, Rose, couldn't have been more opposite--or more eccentric. She had reared three kids by herself on a hilltop in the country, went into town on a buckboard pulled by her horse, carried a gun, and cracked a bullwhip just for the heck of it ("you never know when you might have to kill a rattlesnake"). At night though, during our summer visits, she'd play classical music on her piano and sing us to sleep in her beautiful contralto voice. Everybody else thought she was a tough pioneer woman but we knew, when it came to us, she was as soft as squash.
Sometimes it isn't the easiest job in the world being a grandma, but it's always the most meaningful. There is no formula. Every child is unique and each one requires a different approach to get desired results. But there are many universal truths that work: love, praise, trust, acknowledgment, respect, acceptance, allowing a certain amount of freedom, and helping them do things themselves to earn their self-esteem. Oh, did I forget patience? That might be the crowning quality a grandma can have.
You don't have to constantly buy things for kids to make them happy. They mostly want your TIME and ATTENTION by just being with them---reading, picnicking, cooking, tickling, wrestling, laughing, playing----whatever.
The relationship between a grandma and her grandchild is different than between a parent and child. Grandma offers a perspective from a different generation, and usually doesn't care anything about being cool, so a child can feel free to be him or herself and still be adored unconditionally.
We have our own special connection, Zane and I. I'm a single grandma and he's my only grandchild. We've been happily busy on holidays and summers creating fond memories together and learning things about country life. When he was a toddler, reading to him about farm animals was MY favorite activity. I went for the sound effects in full animated exaggeration to keep him (and myself) entertained, but thank goodness nobody else heard!
We spent countless hours in the sandbox, gathering eggs from the chicken coop (more sound effects), and playing at the tree house. All the while I was seeing, hearing, and touching the world anew through his eyes and ears and hands and enjoying it to the max. Now that he's older, the activities have changed: selling mistletoe at Christmas, hanging out at the skateboard park, carving pumpkins, and going to the YMCA.
(See articles: "Build a Chicken Coop" and "Build A Treehouse")
I keep his rabbit "Alberta" and Guinea pig "Duncan" fat and sassy for him to have and hold while he's here a few times a year. I also have Zorro and Pretty---the dog and cat he grew up with. He lives in a Hollywood apartment, attends a French school, and doesn't have the time and space to keep all the pets he wants, so that's where grandma comes in.
Zane and I butt heads once in a while when I inadvertently cross the line into preaching by warning him about some of the dangers in today's culture. His rebuttal is usually: "Grandma, I KNOW. Don't worry, I KNOW." I say "OK OK", and we both sigh. OF COURSE he knows everything---he's 13; OF COURSE I don't---I'm o' ancient one. I let it go. He's a leader, not a follower so I'm not too worried.
What I emphasize with him is honesty, empathy, and the work ethic. Good manners are a given. Being a grandma means walking a fine line between instilling good values, expecting and insisting on respectful behavior, and doing a little spoiling along the way. Spoiling is a grandma's prerogative, and to Zane's delight, I exercise my prerogative often.
Grandmas fill a special need, such as wonderful indulging that kids may not get at home---activities that we all understand are only temporary and are the exception rather than the rule. With Zane and I, during his summer stays, our special motto is: "Dinner at midnight and breakfast at noon". Uh oh, Grandma's busted!
Nobody should ever underestimate the power and influence of being a grandmother---the senior matriarch of the family who also serves as an additional moral compass and stable anchor. In today's world of divorced parents and broken homes, family ties have never been more important for a child's sense of bonding, security, belonging, and loving.
Although an important role, grandma plays a SUPPORTING role in the family dynamic and thus should respectfully defer to the parents. But a child can take comfort in knowing that no matter what happens, there's always grandma to run to if need be. A grandma is one of the few people in the world who has known you from birth and cherishes you as your parents do.
Each child is a surprise package... a unique inherited combination of everything that went before. When nature has its way, you don't know exactly what you're going to get, but you are delightfully surprised when the babies' characteristics manifest themselves, revealing more and more about them as they grow into little people.
I would venture to say that how a person turns out from a single DNA molecule into a complex human being is determined 75% by genetics and 25% by environment. I arrived at this conclusion from years of observations of, not only my kids, but hundreds of others. "As the twig is bent, the tree shall grow"...old proverb.
My own kids have the same parents but could not be more different in nature and talent. Eric came into this world on a piano, and Cynthia on a horse. Eric is now a scientist and classical pianist and composer. Cynthia (Zane's mom) is now a professional photographer and owns several horses and is active in saving the threatened mustang herds in America. They both followed their hearts and their passions.
Zane on the other hand is a complicated combination we haven't quite figured out yet. He's still unfurling and emerging....like a butterfly from a chrysalis. Thus far he is a fluent tri-linguist (English, Spanish, French), a skilled skateboarder, a Kung-Fu and a grappling competitor, and a budding photographer. Because he has an artistic side (photographer mom, actor dad), I have a hunch he may choose to be a photographer when he grows up, but what I know for sure is he will be encouraged to seek his OWN path, and not be forced into any kind of mold.
Grandma represents the extended family at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer vacations. When it came to grandkids my mom's philosophy was the more the merrier, especially on holidays. She had a dozen and wished she'd had more! She miraculously found time to lavish love and attention on each one, making each feel as unique and special as each WAS. If she had a favorite she never showed it. She was the warmest most maternal woman I have ever known. After she reared six kids of her own, she babysat for a living until age 80. One day she was rocking a 3 yr. old to sleep in her lap, and the little girl looked up and asked: "Are you mother nature?" Mom took that as the ultimate compliment of her career.
When I was only 28 and my kids were 7 and 8, a family friend asked me an odd question out of the blue: What do you envision yourself doing in your old age? It was hard to think that far ahead and project myself 40 years into the future, but after a minute or so of serious deliberation I said: "I want to be a really GOOD grandmother". I'll never forget his condescending reply: "Is THAT all?"
Well, it was the right answer for me, and still is. Being a good grandma IS a noble aspiration and a very important job. I've worn many hats and aprons over the years, but my identity as grandma is my favorite me.
As our grand children grow and change and evolve, grandma remains the constant in the family---the consistent and steady stream of love and caring....as long as she lives, AND forever after---sometimes as one's little conscience in the sky.
Grown men and women get sentimental when talking about their grandmothers. On stage during the Golden Globe awards, Jamie Fox looked up to heaven with a tear in his eye, held his trophy up high, and paid tribute to his grandma. Megan Kelly, a Fox News host, says things like: "Sorry, Nana" or "Thanks, Nana" and "Happy Birthday, Nana" on national TV.
Biologically speaking, one would think that nature would do away with people past their child-bearing years, but I think grandmas provide an important evolutionary service to help rear the grandkids when the parents are busy with survival itself.
If you don't have a grandma to call your own, there are volunteer grandmas out there wishing they had YOU. There is a surrogate grand-parenting program in almost every city in the US, just as there is the big-brother and big-sister program. I urge you to become a grandma to a child who doesn't have one.
Grandfathers are enormously important and influential too, but I chose to write only about grandmas in this particular essay. I had wonderful grandpas too---one who taught me at six how to use hand tools in his woodshop and how to sharpen a short pencil with a pocket knife. How great was that! He also let me braid the few strands of hair he combed over his bald spot, and that memory is my favorite. That's when I decided I wanted to be a "beauty parlor lady" when I grew up. Who would have ever guessed a grandpa inspired that!
Zane will be driving in 3 years. His parents will teach him to drive a car with an automatic, but his grandma (that be me) will teach him to drive an old pick-up with a stick shift---the ancient truck I've had for 30 years. We'll appropriately start out in granny low.
I asked Zane what he likes most about having a grandma and he said: "I feel happy when I think about going to grandma's house in Oregon during school breaks, and even happier when I get there." He counts the days---and so do I.
We all know that taking care of kids is a lot of work, and is a mixed bag of fun, pleasure, frustration, accidents, a little grief, shocks, surprises, delights, and every other imaginable emotion, including pure joy, so when I told my son Eric I was writing an article on how much I love being a grandma, he teased: "Oh, you're writing fiction now?"
I'll end with a famous quote on children by Kahlil Gibran because it is so profoundly wise:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward or tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; for even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.