The Cloisters sits on dark granite at the north end of Manhattan and overlooks the Hudson River. My 94-year-old father, 3½-year-old granddaughter, and I are driving south. I realize we can stop at the Cloisters on our way. My crew will be happy for a break. The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses medieval European works in this place. The Cloisters is a serene oasis, originating with bequeaths from artist George Barnard and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
I watched a student from the Florida high school give a speech just days after the deadly shooting on February 14, 2018. Her words were measured and clear. Her expression was steely-eyed and strong. She went on, at times wiping a tear from her eye. She didn’t hesitate. I listened, stopped what I was doing, turned my head to the side in awe. She spoke the truth, with verve and courage. She spoke the obvious, shaking in resonance from their traumatic experience. As a grandmother and a young elder, I was moved to stand with her, behind her in support.
I hear the word mothering often used as a verb. With my two-year-old granddaughter Carmen I am grandmothering. This requires verve and flexibility and I find myself laughing often. I also wonder how people care for a child without the help of grandma or other family members.
Today, we stop by the park to walk on the wooden boardwalk through the woods. Carmen takes off running with her diaper hanging down and squeals with delight. She looks back at me and I dash to keep up. She sees the stream below through the slats and points, her eyes wide, “Water!”
Carmen looks just like her Mom at that age: lively brown eyes, dark hair in a pony tail and sturdy body. When she dashes off, I glance again at the water. I am grateful to be outside with her. In fact, I'm amazed at how relaxed and easy I feel. She is so free and happy. I am grandma not Mom. I have her for stretches of time. Her Mom works evenings, and I am the most flexible.
As soon as we go into the bathroom at my place she says, “teeth, teeth!” and points to her toothbrush on the counter. There is a kid bath that fills up fast inside the tub. As soon as she sees it, she starts to take off her clothes. I lift her in and say, “Sit down, Carmen,” and she does. She watches the water coming from the tap. “Hot,” she says looking up at me. She plops a toy boat on the water, takes a plastic cup and catches the water. She pours it out and watches it drip. We ease into this time. She is not self-conscious at all. The routine helps us both.
As a grandparent, I am one circle out of the immediacy of the parent. I think of these circles as family/tribe/community. The relationship of tribe or village brings elders closely into the lives of children. I remember being a mom of a young child, rarely having time to savor and sit back. Now, while grandmothering, I do. She looks up at the sky and tosses her hair in the breeze. Somehow thoughts or worries that sap my energy slip into the background.
I am also aware of how much time and attention this takes. I need my breaks to have the energy to continue. Not all families have this freedom or this flexibility. All the more reason for the tribe and family to pull together. This is what creates the joy of grandmothering.
We human beings live a long time because, I think, it takes many circles around the sun for certain things to sink in. I learn every day, yet it is not always easy or obvious. Some of the most challenging and rewarding moments in my life were as a parent, as a Mom. My close friend has two grown sons. Though her parenting challenges are different, we share universal themes. She reminds me of the need to detach and let go while also loving my grown daughter as I watch her be a mother. Life insists that we let go. Either we are crushed and give up, or we are burnished in the fire of life and love.
Many cultures honor ancestors. In some Asian and Native American cultures an altar to ancestors is at the center of the home. These other cultures revere the aged. Now I appreciate why. We see so much, through loss and disappointment, as well as joy and fulfillment. And we are still here. The family and tribe are nourished by stories of the old ones. Carmen and I have so much fun when we visit my Dad, who is 93. He has a bit of dementia and yet is with it enough to laugh with me about how I am managing his care and Carmen's all at once.
Parenting and grandparenting require both humility and confidence. This truth is a great paradox. A two-year-old needs constant attention and clear boundaries: you can’t run out in the street, can have only one chewable vitamin, no, you can’t have another.
Once after the bath Carmen looked up at me and put her little hands on both my cheeks. She gazed at me wide-eyed and smiling for a brief moment. I slowed down inside right then and smiled back. A quiver of delight rippled through me.
We may be caught up in the dramas around us, our responsibilities, the challenges we face as citizens. At least one of the ways we can make a difference is to find ways to grandmother and grandfather. This contributes to the healing of the old, the young and all those in between.
Living in the present moment seems like a simple thing yet is challenging. To grandmother gives the gift of pulling us into the present which is where the small child lives.
In many traditions people perform practices on a daily basis to clear their minds and promote strength of heart. Sometimes the right action is not obvious and often not predictable. That is why practices on a daily basis are important. Musicians and athletes practice daily to be ready to play well. For Joan of Arc one practice was prayer and silent reflection.
The words and music of the hit musical Hamilton make me laugh, cry and stare straight ahead with dropped jaw as I drive north on a trip. The story is riveting, the music seductive. I smile and shake my head. Later, I pull out a $10 bill, "the ten dollar, founding father,” and there he is, Alexander Hamilton. He’s been in my life all along, and I never knew his story.
Every season is unique. Now in August and September we have brilliant late afternoon sun and locusts buzzing. Fields are full of vegetables and trees with fruit. Each season has familiar characteristics that we all know. The cycle of seasons mirror within us, and we shift gradually from one season to the next. When we take note of these changes, we find harmony more easily within ourselves and with others...
It seemed like a good idea. I was 19 and always wanted a horse. I could get $200 for my car and buy the horse for exactly that amount. Done. I made the deal.
We walked her away from the farm down the road towards our house. She was a beautiful Palamino mare. Her year old colt whinnied and ran along the fence as we walked out of sight. My heart skipped a beat at the sight of that young colt. Little did I realize then what a long ride it is to the grocery store on a horse
We all experience anger. How we express, manage and understand its power is a challenge for everyone. To the ancient Chinese anger was one of five primary emotions that cycled through life. To observe nature is to see a variety of expression. To observe ourselves is to see that same variety in human life.
“Heavenly Pivot” is the name of an acupuncture point that lies on the abdomen beside the naval. The name reveals the purpose of the point used in treatment. It is a pivotal place between the earth and the heavens at the mid-point of a human being. The effects of needling that point are multi-dimensional: physical balance, improved digestion, mental and emotional groundedness. The name “Heavenly Pivot” captures the spirit of this point and in many ways, acupuncture practice itself. It implies the capacity to pivot easily with feet on the ground and a connection to the heavens, to breath, to inspiration.
I’m about to start the car and I realize I left my purse in the house. I’m already late leaving. Jump out, run in, push door open, blast back out pulling it locked behind me. While on the front steps, I see on the sidewalk below a woman I recognize but don’t know. She is running in slow motion, just about to pass my house. She is a bit older, I think, with a kind face and nice brown skin. She sees me and looks up, smiles, and gestures for me to go first. I pause mid-step and take in the scene.
The Turnpike opens before me, lane lines illuminated by dawn light, red tail lights blinking. I am on the road again, suspended between chapters. In meditation we talk about the space between the breaths, the breathing in and breathing out. Stillness holds the world together. Driving a car is freedom. It is the space between. On one end, home and my life there. On the other, wherever I am going today.