When I visited my grandchildren’s school recently for a fundraising fair, members of the poetry club had set up a booth. They offered to write a poem to your specifications, using — typewriters! First, of course, they had to learn how to use the typewriters.
I commissioned a poem using the subject: Grandma comes to visit. A sonnet or a haiku was not necessary, I said. And, just a little bit later, here is what they produced:
Want to instantly drop five points in the eyes of your children or their spouses/partners/co-parents? Just use this simple phrase for immediate results.
They may not stop asking you to babysit or attend family functions, but they will do it with gritted teeth. Nothing like a disparaging comparison between the imperfect world of competing demands that parents struggle through every day, and the all-sunshine-all-the-time vision that you remember so well. Oh, and did I mention the wise and immutable rules that governed your life as a young person?
Here are a few corollaries for you to excise if In my day is not your cup of tea. When I was growing up, in my family, when I was young, offer the same easy deification of a dead time.
Maybe you had a good upbringing, maybe not. But it happened at a very specific time, in a very specific environment. Use comparisons sparingly. In my day, we never ever laid it on too thick.
Finding out that your darling baby grandchild is deaf is certainly tough. The parents are most likely in turmoil. You probably are as well, and in addition, your family needs you to be strong, whether or not strong is what you feel.
An Australian organization that helps children with hearing loss had some advice that seemed like it could come in handy in lots of hard situations. You might call it the support stance, with caveats.
A woman identified as Grandma Carol offered this: “We are the support, the shoulder to cry on, the ones to be grumped at when things go bad and understand the reason for it and not get angry. We are the backstop to take the baby and give Mum a break. We are the font of all knowledge, and know nothing at all. We are the ones who give unconditional love to our beautiful grandchildren and walk with pride as we wheel them in the supermarket with the hearing aids and processors, and answer the questions from other children, and well meaning stupid adults.”
The upshot for Grandma Carol: She went back to school, and became a teacher of the deaf. “I have amazed myself…..I am loving every minute of it.”
At least I didn’t show you the really awful photos of babies with
oxygen masks, or the video entitled “Three days after this, he died.”
But you might have heard that whooping cough, or pertussis, is on the rise, and that, as grandmothers, we should be using our brains and sticking out our arms to get our shots updated. That is, if we can remember when the last time was that we were vaccinated.
Although whooping cough seems to come in waves, the number of cases is bigger now than any time since the 1950s, when a vaccine first became available. The CDC says,“Babies who get whooping cough often catch it from family members, including grandparents, who may not even know they have whooping cough,” Also, even if you had whooping cough as a child, “Protection wears off over time.”
The poor little babies are vulnerable until they are old enough to get their own shots. And so we must do what we must do. This is no time for grandstanding or plugging in to your own anxieties. (There are some grandparents who refuse to get vaccinated.)
As parents, we try so hard not to play favorites. Or, if we do, we do our best to hide our little indiscretions. But even when we are being fair, sometimes our kids will still complain that the other person is getting the piece of cake that has the most frosting, or is somehow getting the bigger slice of the pie.
Oh, you thought this would all go away just because your kids were grown up? You hoped that holiday time would be a pure delight, when old hurts flew away on the wings of little doves?
If the holiday is at your house: Who gets the better room? Who chooses the favorite meal? Or, if you are celebrating at the home of your delightful offspring: Whose house are you going to? How long are you staying? And the spooling out of it all, expressed or implied: Which grandchildren do you really love better?
My mother-in-law, at 98, musters her remaining mental capacities to address the sibling rivalry of her gray-haired children. She insists, as if no one had heard this script before, on doling out equal pieces of the (in her case theoretical) pie.
My friend whose children are only showing the first signs of gray has decided to make her own stand this holiday season. After years of bickering among her offspring about how many nights Grandma spends with each one, she has decided that this year, she will just put her feet up on her own footstool and stay happily at home.
This is America, baby! We have parties. We give gifts. We may worry about who is giving what, and who might be offended (diverting attention from the mother-to-be is the most-often heard complaint) but we press on, giving gag presents, outfitting baby’s home-away-from-home, kidding the soon-to-be-grandma about her abilities and her recall.
Classic games include: baby bottle bowling, baby food taste test, dirty diaper. (This last includes chocolates, microwaves, diapers, and guessing. Please, do not ask me for more details.)
One prize that I liked was a basket of spa items. Because someone is going to need it, baby!
Who would have thought that a leisure activity featuring mature women could be so dangerous? All those choreographed moves! All that determination to get some exercise, stay fit, and make new friends! And it is, on the face of it, such a simple occupation; the only things that are needed are a sound system and some open space in a city park.
Which is where the problems come in. The activity — choreographed dances performed to blaring music — has rocketed in popularity in Chinese cities, with as many as 100 to 150 million women taking part in what is called plaza dancing. But it seems that sufficient outdoor space is just not available. Reports have come in of angry neighbors unleashing dogs, throwing water, even feces. Residents of one city, Wenzhou, are reported to have spent $42,000 on a sound system used to warn dancers not to make their sound system too loud.
In an effort to maintain civic peace, the General Administration of Sport and the Ministry of Culture are developing 12 model routines that will be taught nationwide. No more variations by city. One of the trainers said that the unified routines mean that they can be performed “in a socially conscious way.” But what if the grannies just want to have fun?
Take a bunch of teenagers with no families, and a bunch of grandparent-age people with extra energy and love. Add sunshine and a lovely campus. Blend.
That is the successful recipe of San Pasqual Academy in southern California. A public-private partnership in operation since 2001, which bills itself as “the first residential foster campus for foster youth in the nation,” it has served more than 700 young people from ages 12-18.
The youngsters live in home-like settings with house parents. And senior citizens also live in their own homes on the campus. In exchange for paying a reduced rent, they act as mentors. The kids go to school at the facility, and
come home for vacations when they are in college. The seniors act as surrogate grandparents. They tutor, hang out, garden, cook with the kids; whatever grandparents normally do.
When a massive wildfire destroyed 17 buildings in 2007, they were all rebuilt. When you have something good, you want to keep it going.
This just in from an Australian study reported in the journal Menopause: Since everyone knows that keeping mentally alert and socially engaged are plus factors in staving off dementia, a team of scientists decided to look at whether or not caring for grandchildren made a difference in the health of post-menopausal women. After all, they reasoned, that caretaking was something that lots of p.m. women do. Why not factor it in?
The good news is that women who care for their grandchildren one day a week had better cognition and less dementia. The bad news is that women who care for their grandchildren five days or more a week did significantly worse on the test that measures working memory and mental processing speed.
The researchers thought that this might be linked to the fact that the women who were clocking the heavy caretaking hours felt that their children were more demanding of them. (No kidding!) Maybe the family tension contributed to the negative part of the equation.
Is this like the finding that drinking a glass of red wine is good for your health? More study needed, obviously.
It starts as advice to the mother-of-the-groom: wear beige and keep your mouth shut.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if you have a tendency to spew unsolicited opinions and pronouncements, and if beige is your color. Lesson one: this is not your wedding.
It continues as a grandmotherly truth universally acknowledged: Do not give guidance of any kind. Butt out. Say nothing. Hold your tongue. Lesson two: this is not your baby; not your family.
But could anything so uni-dimensional tell the whole story?
Let’s assume that, after all these years, you have some modicum of self knowledge, an ability to read a situation, modulate your behavior. You might just notice that, although this is not your nuclear family, it is your extended family. And the poor beleaguered new parents (and hopefully they become somewhat less-beleagured as time goes on) are wolfing down mommy blogs, parenting books, and parenting get-togethers both in person and online. They are looking for advice. They are aching to commiserate. They are hungry for ideas, inspiration….on subjects which you know only too well.
If you are a controlling person who does not get along with your children, go back to the part of this column that talks about wearing beige and saying nothing. Stop there. But if you have some distance, if you have some control of your actions, remember that you have the perspective and the memory that is not available to parents who are in the thick of it.
Luckily you are available to them. But only in limited doses. Just because you can open your mouth does not mean that you should not shut it as well.