To Grandmother is a Verb

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.