Just what is a grandmother?

A grandmother is a mother who has been given a second chance. I read that somewhere—the author nameless to me now.
I think many of us would like a second chance at mothering. All the things I was going to teach my children but didn’t have time to, or more correctly, didn’t take the time to, I would like to teach my grandchildren.
One small problem: I don’t have any (grandchildren that is).
The state of the world being what it is, I’ve privately—and sometimes not so privately—hoped my children wouldn’t procreate. That wasn’t always a popular position to take.
I think my daughters thought my opinion was borne from the rigours of motherhood, but quite the contrary. I feared for my potential grandchildren, wondered how they would survive in this economic madness, in times when the planet is in recognizable and measurable pain, and where young men don’t know how to pull up their pants.
It seems a risky game to bring more children onto a planet already overburdened by unsustainable methodology and too many people; into a world where caring for one another, for all appearances, seems to fall far below the acquisition of “things.”
I was thinking specifically of grandmothers lately because Christmas is coming and nostalgia always swirls about in heavy doses for me this time of year. Okay, all year. I didn’t know my father’s mother very well—my memory limited to a knitted grey and yellow mitten, just the one, before she died when I was four.
But my father’s respectful and love-filled stories fleshed her out, added the colour and texture to her, and so I have imagined memories of her.
My mother’s mother was tired by the time I came along, had long before exhausted her repertoire of grandmotherly exercises. She was mostly silent and not a lap I was inclined to crawl into, although she was gentle and kind.
My mother was a happy grandmother, a singing grandmother, a laughing one who took time to make cookies and have tea parties complete with Mrs. Snodgrass, her trademark name for pretending.
She was a piano-playing grandmother whose hands frolicked on the keys and her knees bounced in time. She made “ishgy-gishgy cake” to celebrate every special occasion—a recipe that undoubtedly will be handed down until time runs out.
She loved picnics and packing wonderful lunches. She took crying babies and snuggled their noses in her neck and quieted them. She was generous with her kisses and hugs, and she had magic fingers that combed the worries out of little heads.
Geography and Alzheimer’s has robbed us both—she of telling her stories of history and life’s lessons, and me of being witness to her second chance.
So, if given the opportunity to be a grandmother, what kind of a grandmother would I be to honour all those grandmothers who have come before? First, I would share stories of my mother and we’d wear red shoes to remember her.
I’d “water” their musical talent, encourage it carefully and thoughtfully to grow. I’d teach them to stand tall and think for themselves, to wrestle with that word “can’t” and win.
I’d teach them that laughter should come out on top when it comes up against anger and disappointment.
I’ve heard tales of grandmothers who wordlessly tell of their love, who open their arms to be the safe place. Grandmothers are toast with brown sugar and cinnamon, and cups of tea with lots of sugar and milk. Grandmothers save us when no one else can.
Grandmothers celebrate their grandchildren as fresh beings, newly-made and perfect.
A grandmother remembers that it is hard to be a parent, but harder to be a kid; that heart-break can knock you down for the count, and uncertainty and self-doubt blows in like a tropical storm and messes everything up.
Most importantly then, my knee would be a safe place to come, to be loved unconditionally, without judgment and with a huge serving of patience.
Perhaps if I practice now, I’ll be ready when a little hand curls around my finger.
wendistewart@live.ca

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