Grandmothers, granddaughters, and the Circle of Life

I’ve been a grandmother for 7 years now. Not a grandmother who lives across town from her grandchildren, who has the family for Sunday dinner every week, and who has home-baked cookies waiting when the grandkids drop by. But, for two enchanting (well, usually) children, I am the one who comes to mind when they hear the word “Grandma”. It’s a wonderful role. If you’re lucky, at least a few times a year you get to play with them, be silly, cause a little trouble, help a little, and then go home with Grandpa. There’s someone else around to do the heavy lifting – the care and feeding and the day-to-day nurturing: their parents.

Grandma1948Sometimes being a grandmother brings back memories of my own Grandma. My Mom – her daughter – had some issues with her, but not me. I remember long sessions of playing dominos, and later lots and lots of Scrabble. She was my Grandma, as simple as that. We loved each other. And here’s the rub – she was old. There was my generation – the kids. There was my parents’ generation – the grownups. And there was the grandparents’ generation – the old people. Now that I make the calculation, my grandmother was exactly my age when this picture was taken. Scary thought.

So along with the delight of grandmotherhood and the joy of observing your own children transformed into loving, responsible, and patient parents, there is the slowly dawning awareness that my grandchildren must think of me as old! Me!! Old!!! That realization takes some getting used to. To my granddaughter I’m Grandma – and old – but to me I’m Jane, the same Jane I was when I was her age, when I was in high school, when I left home for university, and ever since. As those of you who are ‘older than you used to be’ know, what you see in the mirror is a continual surprise. The person inside your head doesn’t feel older.

What I really hadn’t thought of at all prior to becoming a grandmother myself is that my Grandma wasn’t just an old woman who I loved and who played dominos and Scrabble with me. She was Luella. She was the same person she’d been as a child growing up in Lockport, NY. She was the same interesting woman she’d been when she taught special needs children in NYC 100 years ago, before she was married. She was the same person who had lived her life of ups and downs through the upheavals of two World Wars, the Depression, and huge societal changes, including the introduction of electricity, automobiles, airplanes, and antibiotics. She had to have had opinions to share. But that’s not how our relationship was defined. We were grandmother and granddaughter and we shared comforting activities and the love that went with it. Period.

Perhaps if she’d had a different personality she would have shared her stories. Now I wish that she had, but it never crossed my mind to ask. And I’m not sure that in the end it really mattered. My worldview was that of a girl whose universe revolved around her friends, herself, and, occasionally, her parents. The notion that my grandmother was a fully functioning person who had a lifetime of experiences and reflections to share never crossed my mind. She was there to be my grandmother.

The humbling reality is that I’m not going to be seen any differently by my grandchildren. Their world view is just as mine was when I was a kid. That’s the way it should be. And there’s no doubt that this worldview includes the certainty that Grandma is old. It’s already been made clear to me that my granddaughter never wants to have hands like mine (presumably having to do with their Grandma-like brown spots and prominent veins), nor feet. And more recently she’s observed that I have a moustache, not in an altogether complimentary tone. Now, as I examine my face in a mirror once or twice a day, trying to keep evidence of a beard at bay, I see lots of unwelcome lines that I (happily) don’t see from more of a distance. These lines on my face remind me of one of my favourite grandmother-granddaughter stories, told to me by a very good friend. Her young granddaughter, who loved to draw, was encouraged to draw portraits of her grandparents. The picture of her grandfather showed a man with a beard and lots of lines on his face. When my friend looked at the picture meant to be her, she was a bit perplexed. She wondered if maybe the little girl had been trying to draw her with a beard as well. However, her granddaughter cleared things up by explaining, “I ran out of space for your mouth because the lines took up too much room on your face.” Out of the mouth of babes!

I have come to accept that there is just too much of a gap in age and worldview for young grandchildren to appreciate connections across generations. They’re too young and too busy learning about how they fit into their immediate environment. And it seems that, regardless of how much they may enjoy our company, the idea that they could ever be like us is too painful to contemplate! It might not be until they become grandparents themselves that their memories of time with their own grandparents will re-emerge and take on significance. For grandparenthood is integral to the Circle of Life. It’s a vivid reminder that we are part of a continuum. We can remember being a granddaughter (or grandson); we now find ourselves in the grandmother’s (or grandfather’s) role; and we find ourselves imagining our own young grandchild going through the same process, with their own grandchild, bringing along their own memories of us. The Circle of Life. It’s a gift to be part of it, old or not.  Not that I’m old!

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17 Responses to Grandmothers, granddaughters, and the Circle of Life

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  5. But, over time, the seeds you sow now will take root and, just as now, you have come to appreciate your grandmother, so, too with them…and the circle will continue.
    Wow–I managed to slip in a lot of commas there :>)

  6. Steph says:

    This is a really special post. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my Grandmothers (didn’t know my Grandfathers) and woulda, coulda, shoulda’s in terms of being a more present granddaughter We certainly loved each other and had many special moments but I wish I could have been more mature in our relationships, especially once I surpassed my “terrible teens.” But your words help me realize that our love was special and that they probably understood my behavior more than I could.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Oh, thank you, Steph. I’m glad my musings at my stage of life can resonate with other stages. From what you’ve been sharing on your blog I’d have to think that your grandparents knew what a special woman you were turning into.

  7. This post made me feel emotional for the connections that hold us together over generations. I totally understood what you said about being seen as old, but still feeling the same inside. What I love about my granddaughters is their complete and total acceptance of me as Grandma – maybe old in their minds, but bought into as a whole package. It is almost as if the message is – change nothing, stay exactly the same, the Grandma we know. I did have the privledge of getting to know some of my Grandparents as fully formed people with past lifes, hopes and dreams, when I was an adult and I hope I can hang around for that with my grandkids. Thanks for this great post, Jane.

  8. A.M.B. says:

    I didn’t grow up with grandparents, and I consider my daughters very lucky to have all four of their grandparents in their lives. We live only a few blocks away from my parents, and my in laws visit about three times a year (and otherwise there’s Facetime!). My children adore their grandparents, who adore their grandchildren in a way that seems different from the love they have for their children.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks for commenting, AMB. You’re right, it is a different emotion. It’s impossible to analyze rationally, but it’s partly the wonder of realizing that this amazing little person is the child of your own child, partly the realization that you and your child now share a new bond, that of parenting, and a lot to do with the fact that this time you don’t have the never-ending (though always worth it) responsibility and fatigue! 😉

  9. alesiablogs says:

    I have come to accept that there is just too much of a gap in age and worldview for grandchildren to appreciate generational connections.
    Can you expand your thoughts on this? I have to say I really appreciated my grandparents because of the generation gap. It is hard as a child to get it so I think you are right about the age part, but the worldview I am not sure I understand completely. It might be because I was able to get to know my grandparents into adulthood so that might have something to do with it, but the age difference was still there!
    I like the post. It was fun and informative and kept my attention…I sure loved my grandparents. I miss them dearly.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Alesia, thank you for asking this question. I realized what you meant right away. That’s one thing about writing; you know what you’re thinking but it doesn’t always come out that way. I changed the wording slightly, so it says “young grandchildren”, for one thing. Yes, if you’re lucky enough to get to know your grandparents as adults, even young adults, and know them as “people” instead of purely in the grandparent role, it can be quite another thing.

      • alesiablogs says:

        It is interesting that I never thought of a child having a world view. haha But it is a valid point. I have done a lot of studies on philosophy etc and how an adult will view the world which in turn shapes how that person reacts to his/her world. Thank you for getting back to me on this.

  10. jennypellett says:

    Gosh, it’s a sobering thought, isn’t it. Not that I have grandchildren yet, but I do work with children who, while I think they are keeping me young, are actually regarding me as the dinosaur in the room. Oh well…

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I didn’t mean to scare you, Jenny. They are most endearing with their truthful observations! I know waht you mean about working with young people and feeling like they are keeping you young. I think that’s true. And I remember YEARS ago, when my Mom taught 8 year olds, she was very concerned about her greying hair and then overheard one of her young male students say to another, “I just love Mrs. Currie’s silver hair.” Once she thought of herself as having silver hair instead of grey, she decided to embrace it!! So they can keep you young and they can make you feel better about yourself!

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