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.
(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.
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.
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.