By: Sheila Gaudet
The 4th of July weekend was a big one for the grandparents in my family. Unfortunately for us, we live several hours (at least) from all of our extended family, so my children do not get the benefit of having their grandparents around on a daily basis. Furthermore, because we are a somewhat “non-traditional” family due to divorce and remarriage, we have several sets of grandparents. With visitations and other obligations that take place with school-aged kids, it can be challenging to see the kids grandparents as often as they’d like. If you think the kids are disappointed by this, you should see the grandparents!
My oldest son Anthony is blessed to have amazing paternal grandparents. He is the first-born son, of a first-born son, of a first-born son in an Italian family. He is the oldest grandchild by a few years and the only grandson. He is also the only grandchild who doesn’t live in the same town as his grandparents. His arrival in town merits a complete halt of normal activities. He loves it!! (and I can’t blame him). His grandfather’s birthday falls near the holiday weekend so there is always a celebration for that. The extended family all comes and this year their party included party games, a bounce house, popcorn machine, snow-cone machine and I’m not even sure what else. Surrounded by all his younger girl cousins, Anthony was truly in his element. His dad, who lives in another state, also drove up for the weekend to surprise his parents so it was a wonderful opportunity for my son and his dad as well. The weekend also included the annual parade and fireworks display. There are some things that you learn as a parent that you just can’t compete with and in my case it is any holiday at Anthony’s grandparents’ house! I am also fortunate that despite the pain that comes in any divorce, my former in-laws have remained kind and generous toward me and my new family. The fact that Anthony has so many people who love him and that he doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable during transitions is the greatest gift he could receive.
During the same trip, we also visited with my mother at her cottage on the lake. This visit is special because for about 8 years she did live in the same town as I did and was able to attend the kids sporting and school events as well as celebrate most holidays with us. Retirement brought her back to the town I grew up in though so we do not see her as much as we would like. I think for adult children, going home can be difficult, as everyone seems to fall back into roles of childhood to some degree. My mother still acts as if I don’t know how to wash a dish correctly and offers to do my laundry. I haven’t lived at home in more than 20 years, but I think habits die hard. My youngest son was not with us this trip as he is visiting his dad down south, but we had the chance to have both of my brothers and their families together with us. My oldest son is also the oldest grandchild on this side with my siblings still living in the same town, so this was a rare chance for him to hang out with my nieces and nephews. His mimi makes sure that his favorite foods are there and generally thinks that most of what he does is still cute. Now that he’s a teenager, they stayed up talking long after I had gone to bed. I’m not sure exactly about what, and am not sure that I want to know either. It is important to me that he continues to have a strong relationship with my mom as he grows older.
Finally, my youngest son Andrew’s paternal grandmother had a milestone birthday the same week. I’m not sure she wants it known which one, but we wish her a happy birthday anyway. He gets to visit with her during his summer and holiday visits with his dad and I know how much he enjoys trips to her house and her blueberry muffins. She has also made an effort to stay in touch with my older son (her former step-grandchild) which cannot be easy for her. She has some very traditional beliefs and I have no doubt who she blames for the end of my marriage. The fact that she can set that aside to continue a relationship with Anthony speaks highly of her and I truly appreciate that.
All of this grandparent focus this month has led me to think about my own grandparents. I was fortunate to know all of my grandparents, including one great-grandmother. Stopping at my great-grandmother’s house always guaranteed some cookies, date pinwheels being one of the ones I remember best. She also had a giant moose head in her living room that my dad used to lift us up so we could touch. Well into her 80s she was still quilting and one of my most treasured possessions in the quilt that she made me when I was a child. She did all of her quilting by hand and the fabric was often pieces of her old “housecoats.” That quilt has travelled with me through several states and phases in my life and when I look at it as an adult and realize the amount of time and work that went into cutting and stitching the whole thing (it is for a full sized bed) by hand, I am greatly touched by the love that went into it. Even more amazing is that she did that for all of her great-grandchildren and there were 10 of us just on my grandmother’s side.
I actually lived with my maternal grandparents for a time as a young child and their house was one of those places that always felt safe to me. My grandmother was an amazing cook and always kind to me, even if she was more than a little bossy with my mother and even my grandfather. My grandfather had a garden that produced vegetables all summer long and a rose garden that rivaled any I have ever seen. He was where I learned about composting and collecting rainwater and where we used to go walking in the woods looking for the porcupine tree. I’m not sure there ever was one, I think it was just a ruse to get us kids to run through the woods. His parting words to us grandchildren were always, “Be a scholar and a gentleman.” It wasn’t until I was much older that I could truly appreciate that advice.
My paternal grandmother made homemade candy every year for Christmas, including chocolate covered cherries. My favorite were these chocolate mint ones and she was sure to point out she’d stuck a few extras in the tins for me. “Pops,” my paternal grandfather, was a character in every sense of the word. He’d made his money supplying pipes and materials to the men drilling oil wells back when my dad was a kid. He didn’t have more than an 8th grade education, chain-smoked Lucky Strikes (unfiltered) and was a rabid Yankees fan. Over the years he started and sold several different businesses and spent his later years helping my dad with his. I worked at our sandwich shop on Sundays through high school and during baseball season, that meant my grandfather sitting at a side table, with the Yankees game on the portable radio (complete with static) and a haze of cigarette smoke in the air.
I was so fortunate to have my grandparents around for so long. I lost my first grandparent as a junior in high school and my last just a few years ago. My grandmother met both of my children and I am so blessed to have that experience. I truly hope that my children are as fortunate. Do the territorial battles over who gets what time with them exasperate me? Yes. Is it often a little awkward to deal with former in-laws? Without a doubt, for all of us. Is it worth the effort of traveling and talking and emailing and rearranging things so that my children have the opportunity to build memories like I have? Absolutely!!! Yes, they spoil the children. They feed them “bad” food, let them stay up late, indulge them with time and attention that we as parents often don’t have enough of. They tell us everything that we are doing wrong as parents and remind us that we survived childhood without all the new safety gadgets and toys. They remind us that childhood passes quickly and that despite not always getting everything right with us, we did well enough to provide them with these amazing grandchildren. That is something that we can all be thankful for.