September 2023

Becoming a Great Grandmother

An old adage says the best thing about being a grandparent is that you can give the baby or toddler or teenager back to the parents when you’ve had enough. That might be true, but for me it doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. Plus, I don’t always want to give my granddaughter back to her parents when my time with her is up. Of course, I always do, because that would be kidnapping and kidnapping is bad.
For me one of the best things about being a grandparent is that I know I’m not going to mess up or mess her up. As I mother, I wasn’t so sure about myself. This knowledge makes it so much easier to be present and delight in every little thing she does.

As an adult I know that my grandparents’ relationships with my parents weren’t perfect, but my relationship with them was separate and free of those complications.

And that’s the thing about being a grandmother: It doesn’t matter if you weren’t the best mother in the world. Your grandchild doesn’t necessarily carry that knowledge (at least not when they are little). All they know is that you are their Granny, or Nana, or Bebe or Lolly. You can be the best grandmother even if you weren’t the best mother (and who was).

My own grandmothers didn’t live near me, but they were a big part of my life. I was in my thirties when they died, and I remember thinking there was no longer anyone in the world who still thought I was precious.

My grandma Grace (whom my granddaughter is named after) was very glamorous, at least I thought so. Whenever she came to visit me, I couldn’t wait to see what she was wearing, usually a pantsuit or a fitted dress and pearls.

But the thing that made the impression were her shoes and matching handbag, almost always patent leather. She used to tell me the story of one time when she came to visit and the very first thing I said to her was, “Grandma, how come your shoes don’t match your purse?” (One look in my closet and you’ll see that I have kept my grandmother’s spirit alive.)

Since becoming a grandmother, I’ve been thinking more about the legacy my grandmothers left to me and the one I will leave. This is another “best thing” about being a grandmother, having the time and space to think about relationships this way. I was recently given letters my great- grandmother wrote shortly before she died. “If someone don’t send me a snapshot of Sarah, I’ll either walk to Somerville to see her or send them a pencil drawing of what I think she looks like –then they’ll all be sorry.”

In another letter, after my aunt sent her “snapshots” of me, she says, “The baby’s pictures are dear, aren’t they? I keep looking at them over and over and feeling very abused because I can’t see her in person.” She was one of the first female doctors in the country and delivered hundreds of babies, but I was the baby she wanted to see and know.

She died a month after writing that letter, but what a gift to have this little window into who she was and to know how important I was to her, and mostly to discover who I got my sass from.

I don’t know how much time I will have with my granddaughter, but I do know that I will leave lots of breadcrumbs (possibly in the form of shoes) so that she will know who I was and how precious she was to me.

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