Do you know what I discovered this week? Being a mother doesn’t stop when your kid turns 18, and being a grandmother is full of overwhelming joys but also sleepless nights of worry—even if one of your “grandkids” is a dog. My grand dog (Wednesday Addams) went blind in one day this week—literally. (When my younger daughter went to work one morning, Wednesday Addams kissed her goodbye, and when she returned at the end of a very long day, my grand dog ran to the door to greet her, sailed right past her mommy, and ran smack dab into a wall—almost knocking herself unconscious). The Vet’s verdict: SARDS—Sudden acquired retinal degeneration disease. My daughter was destroyed. (Now keepin’ it 100—I don’t even like dogs. I tolerate this dog, but my thirty-two-year-old daughter would give her life for this creature who has been with her since her college days, so because she was broken-hearted over this sudden tragedy, I burst into tears right along with her. I absolutely lost it—for days!) When your kids hurt—no matter how old they are—as a parent, you hurt!
GRANDDOG, WEDNESDAY ADDAMS, Photo credit: C. Tomczyk
As we are quickly approaching Mother’s Day, the grand dog incident caused me to meditate on my role as mother and grandmother. In the wee small hours of the morning, when no one is there to know whether you’re telling the truth or not except God, I had to admit that—upon review—I have been a much better grandmother than a mother. Oh, at first blush, the kids will tell you that I was an awesome mother (because they are now in their thirties and have had a taste of how rough life can be, and thus they think I walk on water to have accomplished what I did with them on so little time and so little money). But if you ply them with a few drinks, both my girls would tell you that they have no idea who this woman is that is the grandmother to their son and nephew. They would tell you that I have been replaced by an alien, because this patient, gentle, sympathetic, long-suffering, delightful woman who goes by the name of “Mema” as a grandmother is not the same woman who showed up to be their mother when they entered the world.
CARTOON USED WITH PERMISSION: Peter Broelman, Australia
Case in point: When my seven-year-old grandson comes to my house, if he cleans up his mess, I am ecstatic, but if he doesn’t—gets distracted for some reason or another—I’ll clean up the mess and think nothing of it because I’d much rather he have the time to hang out with his grandfather and me doing fun things than me having to nag him about my OCD need for an orderly house. But when my kids were little, a clean house was next to godliness. There were color-coordinated crates for every type of toy: two brown crates for building blocks, one green crate for Legos, one pink crate for Barbies, and a miniature trunk with a lid for dress-up clothes and doll outfits. And if they didn’t pick up their toys after playing with them, then there would be a mandatory “time-out” for that toy and its accoutrement the next time around. I’ll never forget overhearing a conversation between my four-year-old daughter and her sister who was three years old at the time (they are 21 months apart in age), as I was coming down the hallway to check on the clean-up progress. The younger daughter (the three year old) was hysterical about the mandate to clean up her toys. To hear her wailing, you would have thought she had lost her mother.
3-YR-OLD: I hate dis, I hate dis . . .I not gonna pick up toys—not now, not ever [hiccups, sobs, lip quivering hysterics]!
4-YR-OLD: Well . . . you better get over it, and just do it. I been livin’ with dis woman all my life, and she ain’t never gonna change.
GOOGLE MEME: We Know Memes
Then there was the time when my grandson visited our new home in our retirement town for the first time. We had our children during our “salad days” which meant we barely had a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of. But in our retirement years we have been blessed with the finances to purchase a gorgeous home, and the first thing we did was outfit a wonderful room for our grandson which bears a hand-painted sign with his name on it. Coming from a small apartment in NYC, he was more than thrilled to have his own room—he was overjoyed. So when he heard a knock on the door while in the middle of some intricate Lego project when he was just five years old—assuming he knew who it was—he responded with extreme agitation to the knocker.
5YR-OLD-GRANDSON: Go away! I am very busy in my own, new, beautiful room. Go away and mind your own beeswax!!!
GRANDPA: Okay, Buddy. It’s Grandpa. I thought you might want to go to the park with me and try the toy airplane we bought. We can go later.
5YR-OLD-GRANDSON: [horrified beyond belief and immediately yanking open his bedroom door] GRANDPA, GRANDPA, I’M SOOOOOO SORRY. I HAD NO IDEA IT WAS YOU—I THOUGHT IT WAS SOMEBODY ELSE. I WOULD HAVE NEVER SAID THAT TO YOU—NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS!
(This is so true: Said grandson absolutely adores his grandpa and had never spoken disrespectfully to him before then, nor has he ever done so. But I digress.) At this point in the story, his mother (my older daughter) comes barreling down the hall like a bat out of Hell, screaming: “AND WHO DID YOU THINK IT WAS? HUH? ME—YOUR MOTHER?! THE ONE WHO STILL BEARS THE STRETCH MARKS FROM BRINGING YOU INTO THIS WORLD THAT SOUNDS LIKE YOU SOON WANT TO DEPART FROM BECAUSE CLEARLY YOU HAVE LOST YOUR MIND?!”
GRANDSON: Ah, yes . . . I mean no . . . I mean oh, man . . .
At which point, Super Mema jumped in to save the poor boy’s hide by pulling my daughter aside so that we could have a butt-saving conversation out of my grandson’s earshot. “Now, now, darling,” I said very soto voce—trying to bring calm to the situation. “There is no concrete evidence that my precious grandson thought he was speaking to you. And even if he was, he didn’t say, ‘Go fuck yourself, Mother!’ I whispered. He said, ‘mind your own beeswax’—completely innocuous!” And like a flash, my older daughter turned on me, one hand on hip and the other with finger wagging in my face as she addressed my slippage in the parenting department while her eyes rolled around in her head.
OUTRAGED DAUGHTER: Mother, you are truly incorrigible! This child can do no wrong in your eyes! Do you know what type of ingrate I’m going to have on my hands when he turns sixteen years old, if I let him get away with this type of sassiness at five years old? Who are you and what did you do with my mother? Do you remember the time I royally sassed you, and you popped me upside my head when I was a teenager? Do you remember how I got all full of myself and threatened to call the child-abuse hot line? And what did you say, alien-woman-who-claims-to-be-my-mother? Huh?
ME: I said something like, “EXCELLENT! Let me dial the number for you, so that the Po-Po will come right away and take me to jail, because at least I will get a good night’s sleep without having to put up with mouthy teenagers. I haven’t slept through the night since you and your sister got your periods and decided to become ‘all that and a bag of chips.’ I could use a good rest from tussling with ‘little women’…” And then I started talking to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (or whoever else would listen): “Can you believe this child? Oh, Lawd have mercy! Jesus, help me—help me Jesus, ‘cause this baby you saw fit to bless me with sure sounds like she wants to leave this world mouth first and return to you! Good God, Almighty!”
OUTRAGED DAUGHTER: Uh . . . huh! I rest my case alien mother!
At which point, my five-year-old grandson sensed this to be the perfect timing for him to escape and join his grandfather for a trip to the park, but as he passed me he took full advantage of the situation and whispered to me: “While we’re on the subject, Mema, you have no idea what this woman does to me when you’re not around.” To which my daughter replied, as she chased after her son as he giggled hysterically while fleeing down the steps and out the door: “I HEARD THAT, MISTER!”
MEMA’S SELAH (“AHA MOMENT”) ABOUT BEING A MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER
I am discovering that I have a confession to make: I love being a grandmother, but I did not enjoy being a mother when the kids were—well, kids! Don’t get me wrong. I loved (and still do love) my girls—I would have given my life for them in a heartbeat (and still would), but I did not have the patience, the finances, the help, or the support from an extended community that I needed as a mother to give them a Sesame Street life—in other words, a less stressed-out, laid-back life. (I lived in a warring foreign country when they were first born for several years, and then we moved to a racist, hostile environment in the American south as an interracial family with no relatives, no decent friends, and limited finances during my kids’ formative years—the latter part of which I worked outside the home.) It took all of my energy and wits just to keep us all strong, thriving, alive, and afloat as an interracial family. There was no time to give “space” for shenanigans, “coloring outside the lines,” “silliness,” or “messiness” in general. I deeply regret that lack in my mothering journey.
I think the reason I love being a grandmother is because I now have the time, the peace, the graceful living environment, the finances, and the patience to sit and listen—to play. I no longer have the stress of trying to stay alive and guarding against haters. Also, I only have one grandchild. I actually know people who have 14 and counting. I honestly don’t think I’d do well with that many grandkids—I’m just not that kind of woman. I can hang with a couple more if they should come along, but I still have to maintain some modicum of order and sanity—that’s just how I roll. Which is why I am going to hop on a plane to NYC this weekend and take my grandson to his first Broadway play, to which I can hear both my daughters’ screaming: “HEY, WHAT’S UP WITH THAT? YOU NEVER TOOK US TO SEE A BROADWAY SHOW!” To which I will reply: “Well, if I wasn’t so busy feeding and clothing you and trying to keep you alive, maybe I could have taken you to Broadway and NYC. Besides, didn’t the truck-and-bus shows count as “Broadway cred” that wandered through town every now and then?”
LITTLE GRANDSON DOIN’ HIS SUPERHERO THING/PHOTO CREDIT: E. TOMCZYK
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES ON MOTHERHOOD AND GRANDMOTHERHOOD
“A mother becomes a true grandmother the day she stops noticing the terrible things her children do because she is so enchanted with the wonderful things her grandchildren do.”—Lois Wyse
“I have been grateful for the influence of my grandmother and my grandfather in my life. I remember my grandmother as a queenly woman. My father could be stern, and my grandparents would remind him that we were just boys.”—James E. Faust
“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”—Sophia Loren
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CARTOON USED WITH PERMISSION: Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch
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