Reflections On Grandmothers And Being One

Grandparents like me have been accused of babbling endlessly on the subject of their grandchildren. In my defense I know that most offenders believe they have more than earned the right to do so.

Nonetheless I plead guilty as charged.If you listen long enough to grandchild chatter invariably you will hear, "and the best part is — at the end of the day you get to give your grandkids back!" — a tongue in cheek remark for sure — not to be taken too seriously.For grandchildren can be exhausting and a little nap is in order after they wave goodbye, but their going home is hardly the best part. Every day with my grandson Jack is a new adventure. He takes me to places I have never encountered before— oh sure, I've been to those places — but am experiencing them differently these days from a more mature vantage point.

There are so many fond recollections of the "old days" when my children were small. My husband and I raised four boys and two girls, and though I'd like to think we used intelligent parenting skills, we were really babes in the woods flying by the seat of our pants at every turn. For wisdom comes of age — and we weren't there yet. In fact, the beginnings of true wisdom had barely taken root. We led a simple but very busy life.Being young we were not unlike most parents just learning the ropes, in that we muddled our way through and had a lot of fun in between.Now the children are largely on their own, as are Mom and Dad.At this point in our lives we seem to have evolved into a more seasoned version of ourselves. We are, I believe, a more discerning, more sensitive, less judgemental and far deeper rendering of who we once were. After 30 years of raising children, our first grandchild arrived. The timing was perfect. Not that we were searching for a second chance at parenting. Actually, given our naivet?© at the time, we did a pretty good job in that department. But, as my father used to say, "We get too soon old and too late smart." Now our older and "smarter" selves are filled with wonder at the magic of our Jack's just being here. Free from the encumbrances of having to discover who we are, prove ourselves to the world or assure social or financial success, we can just be ourselves and celebrate Jack's journey.

My own grandparents were special role models, hardworking people of modest means. They were part of a wave of immigrants, those huddled masses yearning to breathe free, who arrived on these shores at the turn of the century. And breathe free they did, with an appreciation for the simple pleasures which they readily shared. Memories of my grandparents are vividly stored, and my mind's eye can project them at a moment's notice.My grandmother, Ann English Hogan, was quite the character, with an Irish wit and a "little bit of the devil." Gram gave me the gift of her time. I walked with my Gramma through North Tarrytown to Philipse Manor where she brought in some needed cash by cleaning houses. When I wandered in the nooks and crannies of what were to me huge mansions, I was in heaven because we were together. I never fantasized about one day living in one of those homes. I already had all that I needed.I did not know nor care that in today's world I guess my grandparents would have been considered poor. What was poor about spending the day with your grandmother and then sitting down at her kitchen table to a bowl of hot bread pudding followed by a game of u-ker! Twice each day in that sunny window facing College Avenue, my Gram and Pop sat quietly reading their prayer books. I knew not to bother them during this sacred time. Yet another gift shared — the gift of faith. I helped my Pop work in his victory garden and we often took lazy strolls to Patriot's Park. On the spur of the moment he would demonstrate what a fine Irish step dancer he was — always accompanying himself with his singing. My memory bank is filled with these simple pictures.I think of Gram and Pop often and of those many moments in time when they gave me their undivided attention.

My other grandmother, Mary Marcinek, was a Polish immigrant who spoke virtually no English. Her emotions were no less shared because of her inability to communicate her feelings verbally. I saw love in her eyes when she stooped her tall body down to my height and felt it in her touch when she stroked my hair. She was a survivor —strong, tenacious, patient and generous. I experienced who she was and what she felt for me — all without the benefit of words.Many of our summers were spent with Babka in Massachusetts. When we piled in the car for our trip home, she was too overcome to walk out to the driveway.

We could see her peeking through the curtains and wiping tears away. How sad I felt— but I knew I must be so special to prompt that reaction. Every child should feel that special.

My own and my husband's parents were much more relaxed as grandparents than as parents. Our children burst into my parents' house every Sunday morning after Mass and they were treated to a breakfast of anything they wanted — and that included ice cream sundaes — or eggs — or pancakes — or French Toast — or any combination of the above. Afterwards my father took the kids outside to a small miniature putting course he carved out of their backyard — and each child had his or her own real life golf club cut down to size. A great time was had by all!

Memories are built block by block, as are relationships. Remembering my grandparents has helped to shape who I am. I wish the same for our grandchildren. When I look at Jack I don't anticipate where he will go to college or what career choice he might make. I just hope and pray he will always think as highly of himself as we do. When he holds my hand or wraps his arms around my neck I think I will burst at how blessed I am to watch his journey unfold. From the perspective of having come of age as a grandparent,I am intuitive enough to know that Jack's presence fills me with incredible peace and joy. I am experienced enough to know that affirming his importance to us in any way I can, goes a long way towards shoring him up to face the world and all its challenges. Some would call that wisdom.

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About the Author: Patricia Hogan Nyarady