My daughter was placed in my arms when I was 21 years old. I had graduated from college just one month before she was born. It was the beginning of a beautiful and complex relationship. Mother’s Day, for me, is an amazing celebration of multiple generations and complicated relationships.
Two years ago I wrote a book titled The Grandparent Economy. It is filled with facts and figures about how the baby boomer grandparents are involved in their grandchildren’s lives both financially and emotionally, and how unique the relationship is with their adult children. I’ve worked in the field of aging for a long time now, but I think my life was what really prepared to care about the topic of grandparents and the gifts of our elders.
Because of a divorce in the early 60’s I was raised by my paternal grandparents. My grandmother was my maternal touchstone for more than half of her 98 years. Writing, cooking, and design were all learned at her elbow. She taught me that family is who you choose and to see beauty everywhere.
My mother was in and out of the picture. And it was hard as a child not to be conflicted about my maternal loyalties. She was young and beautiful. She worked in an office, which I found endlessly glamorous compared to my life on the farm. Her mother was an immigrant from Lithuania who married at 13 and had my uncle at 14. Her father’s Irish mama somehow makes me eligible for both the DAR and the Daughters of the Confederacy . . . but that’s another story! From this very humble home, I learned hospitality, my work ethic, and the gifts of a garden.
Somewhere between the birth of my first daughter and my own divorce, I experienced an “aha moment” about my mom and our relationship. She had been a young mom who did the best she could for her kids at a difficult time. It wasn’t wrong or right or mine to judge. It just was.
Learning that opened me up to be a mother and to have a mother.
For better or worse, my daughters have had my laser focus. I take being their mama very seriously. I am lucky to call my niece, who I helped raise, my daughter as well. Two of them are moms and the one in the middle is earth mother to her world, which includes cats, chickens, a cast of friends, and may eventually include a child or two. I watch them with wonder. They turned out pretty well considering how utterly unprepared I felt to be their mother. In many ways they have been my greatest teachers – humility, grace, acceptance, and unbelievable courage.
Now I am a grandmother to three little boys – ages 5, 2 and 8 months. My expectations of this life stage has largely given way to a funnier, grittier reality of endless pans of Annie’s mac and cheese, runny noses, and hundreds of fart jokes. I have heard it described as the “dessert of life” or a the “ultimate parenting do-over.” I think it a little of both. It is also rich and joyful in a way I didn’t expect. These beautiful daughters who were frequently aliens to me in their teens are having “aha moments” of their own. The edges of their judgements of my mothering have softened. Our conversations are both rushed and more deep. And those three little boys are taking me to school again as I learn the names of the Ninja Turtles, the words to the song from the Troll movie, and just how to be more present for little boys.
And so I write this from my mom’s house, the week before Mother’s Day. I am both a daughter and caregiver. There is laughter and an uneasiness of sadness to come. And I approach these new lessons with the mind of a beginner.
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