Monday, February 8, 2010


I should probably disclose right off the bat that I think grandmothers are the very best people in the Universe. What’s more, I think there is no more perfect relationship than that of a grandparent and a grandchild.

Today would have been my grandmother’s 87th birthday, so today I am just going to talk a little about her, a little about grandmothers more generally, and a little about the lessons I think there are in all that.

Grandmas Out There

When I first moved to Michigan I worked on a study of an intervention designed to keep middle school kids engaged in school. We began in middle schools in Detroit with the intervention (and first data collection) and intended to follow the kids until they graduated high school (or should have—the graduation rate in Detroit isn’t so hot).

You don’t KNOW chaos until you look at the lives of families in Detroit. Eviction. Custody changes. Hiding from violence. School change to avoid gang involvement. Gun-shot relatives. These teens were dealing with more in their young lives than most people EVER do. And from OUR perspective, it could make them very hard to find. But you know who ALWAYS knew where they were? Grandma. Always. If we had grandma’s number, we could find the kid.

You know what else? I think those kids that had an involved grandma did better. They had a layer of stability to fall back on—a place to go when life was too much.

Now my life never had THAT kind of chaos, but there was definitely the potential.

First Born
(the middle one was mine--my dad's mom)
I was not only a first (only) child. I was the first grandchild on my mother’s side, and the first GREAT grandchild. To top it off, when I was born ALL of my great grandmothers were alive. My memories of most of them are a little fleeting, but they were present enough that my GREAT grandmothers got to carry their last names, while my GRANDmothers carried their first… so my grandmas were Grandma Alyse (pronounced: Alice) and Grandma Sid (short for Sylvia).

What I learned from them is that I was the most perfect person in the whole world.

Oh, I see you roll your eyes, but I think there is something important to that. There were a couple people in the world for whom I could do no wrong. For whom every picture was the most amazing, every story was the most brilliant. Every display showed the most talent. I think they gave me my resilience.

Grandma Alyse

I think my mom’s parents also gave the stability to our family that an 18 year old girl and 20 year old boy with a shot gun wedding and new baby wouldn’t normally have. My mother has an over-developed sense of responsibility, so we probably would have been technically OKAY, but there would have been no joy, no fun, no play. My mom never USED the safety net, but it was there.

My grandma also taught me such things as ‘EVERYBODY is worth something’… everybody has something interesting or lovable about them. And if you look and show that you believe, you can usually find it and enjoy it. She also taught me life is fun. There is joy to be found everywhere. You just have to be open to it. I believe the unconditional love I bestow on people once they are in my life is from her… Those are powerful gifts.

Grandma Power

I think the wonderful thing about this relationship is how incredibly close it can be without crossing the TOO close. As a parent, I need to discipline my kids, steer them in the right direction, make sure they don’t get into too much trouble. A grandparent can step back and just enjoy the process. It makes it a safe place to try out our ‘personhood’ when we are growing up.

So grandma, Happy Birthday. I miss you.


Alix said...

Nice post, Tami. I'm jealous of people who had good relationships with their grandmas, because I never had that. They're both gone now. My dad's grandma came over from Serbia, I remember being very little and spending a lot of time at her house, and having a lot of fun, but I also remember being a kindergartner and saying I wanted to be a paleontologist and her saying that I couldn't because I was a girl. I talked right back and said a girl could do anything a boy could do. Most of my life though, she was slipping further and further into dementia and alzheimer's, even when I was very little she'd already had her stroke. I never knew her as as she really was, apparently my baptismal party when I was a baby was the last big bash she held. I do know that her life was in many ways tragic, as well as surviving two world wars, when she was young in Serbia, she was a great ballet dancer and could have gone to Paris, but her mother forbid it, and got her brothers to trip her while practicing, because dancing was a whorish thing. I can say that we did all seem to inherit her (dad's mom's)love of and talent for cooking and hospitality.
My mom's mom was never a favorite with anyone as she was often cheap, reserved, and had none of the sense of fun and play that kids want. I also knew how harsh she was on my mother, and it'd been heavily implied to me by her several times that it was my fault when men hooted and shouted at me from cars, as I was wearing a tank top.
So yes, I'm always jealous of people who have good relationships with their grandmas.

Jan Morrison said...

What a lovely post, dear tartlett! I, like Alix, suffered from granny envy. My dad's mother died while he was flying bombers in Europe. My mother's mom I have the faintest memory of - think I was three or four when she died. I also have a bit of a memory of my mother's grandmother - she was small and had black hair in a bun! I do have a very good feeling about my mother's mom though. She told my mother (who told me) that she should take special care of me as I was the middle child! She had lost her husband, my grandfather, in an industrial accident in Chicago where they'd gone to get work during the depression. Afterwards she and her three children came back to the small Manitoba town they were from and she became a rancher's wife. She was an incredibly hard worker. My mother got to be my boy's grandma until they were young adults and I am so greatful. I am a Grandmother (!) to three wonderful kids and I try to infect them with play, creativity and general goofiness at every opportunity.

Watery Tart said...

Ohhhh... I'm sad the two of you didn't get more/better granny time. I was so lucky. I had my grandma two days a week until I started school, and then her house was on the way home so I often stopped to play in her dress-up trunk.

I feel bad that my kids don't have the same. My mom is far away, and was FABULOUS as a grandma to little kids, but has a really hard time with anyone asserting themselves as PEOPLE--and then that whole thing with not being able to be nice to their dad...

I REALLY hope when I get there (hopfully a good 15 years from now at earliest) that I am also a fun, creative grandma. I'm pretty sure I will be able to accomplish just adoring them for who they are...

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Twins again!
My grandmother was the most wonderful person I ever knew, and she's the one who made me what I am. The lessons she taught me were a little different from the ones your grandmother taught you (she taught me that I should do what I thought I should do and not what others thought I should, and that I shouldn't be worried about being different, because different was not bad, it was only different), but in essence they are the same, because they are Life Lessons.
And yes, my grandmother also taught me that EVERYONE has something good in them, if only we look for it.

Alix and Jan - I am sorry you didn't have the wonderful grandmothers that Tart and I did- a good grandmother is the best gift a person can ever have.

Watery Tart said...

Absolutely, Natasha... life lessons... and mostly that we'll be loved no matter what. Definite permission to be our own person.