Rejoicing in Relaxation

Last week we spent a few days in Dallas with our son and his family. We had been hoping for warmer weather, and Texas obliged us for the first couple of days, enabling us to take some nice walks in their neighborhood.

Our grandson is a walker. He eschewed the stroller a long time ago and doesn’t much care for his tricycle. I having a feeling he’s going to prefer his own two feet for transportation - at least until he gets a set of four wheels and an engine to move him from place to place. 

One afternoon he decided we needed to take a walk to the park and check out the fountains in a large estuary pond. His mom was taking a much needed afternoon rest, so the two of us set out on our own. Connor kept up a steady stream of conversation all the way to the fountains, which I’d estimate is at least 3/4 of a mile. We spent some time discussing the state of disrepair of one of the fountains, a subject he finds endlessly fascinating. We watched the ducks waddle around (the ducks in Texas are HUGE, like everything else in this larger than life state), and counted people going by on bicycles.

About halfway home, I could tell his short legs were getting tired. Heck, MY short legs were getting tired. We had reached the playground opposite their subdivision, so I suggested we take a rest. We found some large boulders and sat down to watch the kids at their games.

Connor scooted up close to me and popped two fingers in his mouth, his little security habit. We sat in silence for about 10 minute, just observing some older boys and girls hanging from the balance bars, riding their bikes around the paths, climbing trees. 

“Isn’t this nice?” Connor said. “We are just relaxing."

“It is SO nice,” I agreed. What could be better than to sit quietly in the sun with a three year old who was happily content to watch the world go by?

Another 15 minutes went by, and I admit I was starting to get a little antsy. That rock was not the most comfortable sitting spot, after all. “Are you ready to head home?” I asked him hopefully.

“Not yet,” he said. “Let’s just keep relaxing."

I shifted my hind quarters around a little bit and got myself as comfortable as possible. Connor started a running commentary about the cars going by, identifying each one as belonging to one or another of his menagerie of stuffed animals. “That’s Ping’s car right there,” he said, pointing to a Jeep Cherokee driving down the street. “Ping is coming home from work. Harvie will be coming soon. And then the scooters will be coming out at 17 o’clock."

We continued our “relaxing” for about 10 more minutes. “Let’s go see Mommy now,” Connor suddenly announced, so I unfolded myself from our relaxing spot and we finished walking home with renewed energy.

As any grandmother will attest, these are the kinds of moments that are as precious as gold. We weren’t doing anything, we didn’t have any books or toys (or ELECTRONICS!) we were just relaxing and enjoying each others company. This is so rare in today’s world when we always feel the impulse to be busy doing something productive or else choose to connect ourselves to outside sources of entertainment. But everything is endlessly fascinating for little kids - the fountain that doesn’t work, the ducks that come begging for bread crumbs, the bigger kids hanging off tree branches and teasing each other. Even the steady stream of cars going by can spark their imagination. 

That’s what I want more of in my life - that willingness to slow down, take it all in, observe and notice and wonder.  I suspect there is a lot of time within my daily routine that I allow to be sucked up by “busy work,” the kind of stuff that’s akin to the mimeographed worksheets our elementary teachers used to hand out when they were sick and tired of us and needed a few minutes to regroup. 

My new goal every day - relax more. I don’t want to plan it, I don’t want to schedule it, I just want to recognize when there is an opportunity to revel in it and not allow myself to succumb to the call of the internet or the laundry or the cooking or the shopping or the bill paying.

Of course, it won’t be quite the same without my little companion by my side, or our nice rock to sit on.

But I’m going to rejoice in it all the same.

How about you? Do you take time to really relax each day?

The Perfect Subject

My little grandson is three weeks old today, and I consider myself amazingly lucky to have spent these first three weeks of his life on earth here with him. He is growing so beautifully, and settling into his little family here, with parents who love him to pieces. I'm going back to Michigan later this week, so my further adventures in grandparenting will be from a distance. This idea of a long-distance relationship has been on my mind a lot, so when my friend, Andi, the amazing writer, teacher, and blogger, offered me an opportunity to guest post at her new blog, Gray Hair and Acne, this seemed like the perfect subject.

I hope you'll hop over there and read my thoughts, and then add Gray Hair and Acne to your reading list.

Grandmothering in the 21st Century

When I was about six years old, my maternal grandparents came to live with us.  At that time, we had just moved into a brick ranch house in one of the many ubiquitous subdivisions of homes that had risen from the landscape in response to the post WWII baby boom.  This house was slightly different from the majority of others in the neighborhood, in that the basement had been "finished" - meaning it was paneled and carpeted and sectioned off into three rooms, including a complete kitchen and bathroom.  Although my grandparents slept upstairs  in one of the three bedrooms, they spent most of their time in the basement.  At least my grandmother did, for she took over that basement kitchen and ran it much like Gordon Ramsay would do. My mother was occasionally allowed to assist her with the cooking process, but the rest of us just tried to stay out of her way. As a child, I loved having my grandparents living with us. My grandfather was an ever present source of companionship. A gentle, soft spoken man, he taught me to ride a bike and play poker, all in the same summer. He always had patience with me and my friends, and would happily drive us anywhere we wanted to go, never saying a word no matter how loud we giggled or how silly we acted.  My grandmother was perpetually busy, flitting from one project to the next - cooking, sewing, gardening, cleaning. I can still see her on a hot summer day, pulling loaves of freshly baked bread from the oven and serving it up with fresh butter and tall, sweating glasses of iced tea. Yet she was the one I'd go to with a book to be read aloud, or to ask for a song to be played on the piano so I could dance or sing along. She'd also stand patiently by while I rolled out tiny pie crusts, dusting the floor with flour, in my futile attempts to mimic her stellar baking ability.

From an adult's perspective, I see the flaws in this arrangement.  My grandmother, although the picture of soft, southern serenity on the outside, was really tough as nails. She ran the house as if it were her own, thus never allowing my mother to develop her own style of domestic engineering. My grandfather took on many of  my father's rightful roles around the house, roles he had forfeited in favor of long hours spent running his successful business.

But the constant presence of loving grandparents was an astounding gift to me. And not only did I have both my grandparents with me throughout my entire childhood, my great grandmother lived right across the street! I have wonderful memories of spending Saturday nights with her, watching the Lawrence Welk Show, eating Fritos and drinking Coke.

Because my grandparents were such an integral part of my daily life - and my son's life too, since my own parents lived around the corner from us during his entire childhood - I developed a lot of expectations about being a grandparent.  I somehow took it for granted that if/when I became a grandmother, I would duplicate the role made famous by my own grandmother and mother. I would be a constant, daily presence in my grandchild's life, always available to play games, read stories, host overnight's, do the carpool.  I'd be the lifesaver when mom and dad needed a night out or a weekend away.

I would be There with a capitol T.

But I'm beginning to realize it's not going to be that simple.

The big difference, of course, is that my grandchild will live over 1,000 miles away.  Not down the hall, not even down the street.  It's a (long!) two day car ride to Dallas, or three hours (and almost $400 a ticket!) on a plane.  Pretty hard to be at someone's beck and call under those circumstances.  Even if I can manage a trip down every month or two, it's certainly not the same as dropping by after nap time to go to the park, or running over to babysit at a moment's notice, or coming along to doctor's appointments and shopping trips to provide an extra pair of hands.

So how do I reconcile this picture I have in my head of what it means to be a grandmother with the reality of the kind of grandmother I'll have to be in the 21st century?  The kind who reads stories on Skype instead of snuggled in the rocking chair, or the kind of comes to stay for a few days every once in a while, bringing gifts and disrupting the daily schedule.  The kind who's an interesting, probably welcome, presence but not part of one's life, not really.

Not the way my grandmother was for me.

Not the way I wanted to be.

It feels a little bit like reinventing the wheel, at least my family's version of it. There are no long distance grandmothers in our family, so there are no role models to follow. But if I think about most of my friends and their grandchildren, I realize that this situation is definitely not unusual in today's world. Of all my friends who are grandmothers, only three of them have grandchildren who are "local."

"You just have to enjoy every second when you're with them," my friend G. told me. "Don't do anything else but be present with whatever they want to do."

It seems I'll be blazing a new trail here in the months and years ahead, but at least I'll have some company. We'll just have to see where it leads.

Now tell me, all of you who are long distance grandparents, what's your best advice?


Please Remain Seated

"Your vehicle has momentarily stopped. Please remain seated. Your vehicle will begin moving shortly."If you've ever been to Disney World, you might have heard those words when your ride stopped in its tracks for some mysterious reason. There you sit, often in nearly complete darkness, perhaps perched on the edge of a precipice or tilted at an odd angle, waiting for some unseen technician to push the button that will send a surge of electricity and jolt you into forward motion. I'm in that vehicle now, stopped in the dark.

My intention in this blog is always to illuminate life in its most positive way, to write about things that move me, inspire me, experiences that help me grow as a woman, a writer, a person. But the truth is, that life in general is not always positive, that difficult things happen and sometimes cannot be made rosy, must simply be lived through and learned from.

Last week, I wrote about the exciting new ride our family was embarking on, about the baby my son and daughter in law were expecting. Yet, this week, that ride has stopped, the forward progress halted before the ride had barely begun.Statistically, I know that more than 60% of women will suffer miscarriage, and that the vast majority of them go on to have healthy, happy babies, often rather quickly afterward. Intellectually, I know that when a woman miscarries early in a pregnancy, it usually means the embryo was "flawed" in some way, could not sustain life. Practically, I understand there are griefs far greater, sorrows much deeper, disappointments much harsher to bear.

Emotionally, none of that matters.

It takes so little time for a mother to endow her baby with an entire world of possibilities - whether that baby is still only a tiny bud yet to flower, or a freshly born, squalling bundle of life. While your body is suffused with hormones, your mind is flooded with hopes and dreams, anticipations of what this child will be like, will do in the world. It happens in a heartbeat, a finger snap, the few seconds it takes for the line on the stick to turn blue. You are a mother.

A friend wrote these words to me:

"Attempting pregnancy is to accept the whole spectrum of possible outcomes. It's emotionally terribly risky, as is parenthood itself. You leave yourself wide open to fate; your children hold your whole life in their hands, for good or for ill. You're open to feelings and experiences that are like nothing else in life. In the end, the early miscarriage may play out in a positive way for them -- they'll have far more perspective and depth than so many whose pregnancies occur as a matter of course. It will make their baby even more precious, even more of a miracle." I believe this is true, that Brian and Nantana have already taken a deeper step into being parents than they realize, have already risked and suffered, have experienced a taste of the challenge and joy of having children. When this ride is once again set in motion (as I believe it will be very soon), they will be stronger parents and stronger partners when it reaches a safe and natural conclusion.

For now, we shed tears, take deep breaths, and remain seated.

Into the Future!

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived with us, and while it was perhaps not the greatest thing for my parents marriage, it was a gift for me. I was the only grandchild they had, so naturally they thought the sun rose and set at my feet. And yes, according to conventional wisdom, they "spoiled" me ~ not so much with material things, as with love and attention, which are certainly greater gifts in the long run. My grandmother often stayed up nights with me, comforting me with stories during my frequent asthmatic episodes. And she was the one who started me off on the piano, teaching me "Amzing Grace" and "The Blue Danube" waltz. My son also had the benefit of a close relationship with his grandmother, who lived just a short bike ride away. My parents were literally the only babysitters Brian ever had, and he considered their house "home." My mom was always available with a listening ear, a hot meal, and, yes, some extra cash if needed. She still delights in pampering him with his favorite foods, and has been busy shoring up the pantry in preparation for his visit next week. Grandmothers have been very important in this family. Now, it's my turn. This morning, Brian and Nantana called with the splendid, thrilling, exciting, and joyous news that they are expecting a baby! Grandchildren are marvelous additions to any family. But when you're an only child who is the daughter of an only child, the wife of an only child, and the mother of an only child~well, do the math. There are very few of us around the table at holiday time. So I'm more than excited about this baby. In many ways, I'm just plain relieved. Brian has no siblings, no cousins, no aunts or uncles - when Jim and I are gone, he would be completely alone in the world. Thinking about that was heartbreaking to me. But now - no worries. Children are the link to the future, your best "insurance policy" against isolation and lonliness. And yes, selfishly, I wanted all those unique and wonderful traits I love about my son - his creativity, his intelligence, his independence and quirky sense of humor - to be passed along, to continue to exist in the world. Combined with Nantana's good sense, determination, and caring nature, and with who knows what combination of characteristics from his or her Asian-Armenian-English-German-Irish-Scotch heritage - well, this child is bound to be quite a person. I can hardly wait!