the art of grandmothering

the art of grandmothering

I grew up during a time when grandchildren were to be seen not heard. And, this was no more evident than when we had big family gatheringss at my grandmother Alice’s home, which was right around the corner within a stone’s throw of our home~~looking back I think my Mom was even more of saint living that close to Grandma who was full of piss n’ vinegar and very expectant of attention from her flock of children. She was not a cuddly, encouraging or supportive MIL to Mom~raising eleven youngens of her own, including my Dad who was a twin, during a time when there were very vew conveniences and life was hard, meant that she was not going to raise her grandkids regardless of whether they lived nearby or far away. It was a silent, albeit clear, message that Grandma was the Queen~one who was held in reverence and set on a pedestal. I remember Mom once telling the story of a Valentine’s Day…Dad had come home in the late day, of course, empty-handed not bringing Mom even a stem. And, what did Mom say, “Ira, you know it’s Valentine’s Day, did you get your Mother a card?” Oh, yes, you could risk being sent to rear of the pecking order line of favorite children with a faux paus such as this! At not even 5 feet tall with weekly blue-grey hair coloring from the ‘beauty parlor’, Grandma could whip you into shape real fast with her eyes peering over her wire-rimmed spectacles. And, she minced no words. There was no such thing as being politically correct. She gave you her untempered version of the how she saw things.
the art of grandmothering
At Christmas, the entire extended family gathered at Grandma’s house for Christmas Day lunch and the opening of gifts. Most all of the 11 children and their children knew this ritual and came. Everyone gathered in the living room which was stacked full of gifts. When these gifts were doled out, most were at the feet of the Grandma, the Queen. We kids sat on the steps going up to the second floor~we’d peer around, stretch out necks watching as all would ooohhh and aaaahhhh over the opening of gifts starting with the adults and ending with the Queen Bee, Grandma. As we clutched our one gift, we knew better than to tear into it before given permission~I remember my most favorite gift one year. It was a doll in a case with a latch. It opened up and on one side was a beautiful doll, which had that exquisite new doll scent, dressed in a plaid coat with a velvet collar. And, on the other side, yet another outfit on a teeny hanger! Oh, my lawsy, it was THE most charming thing I’d ever seen!

Probably unlike most of all the other grands, I did spend time with Grandma in the kitchen as a child…of course, I would just sit, look, observe and listen as she chattered on and on about things like local gossip as she pushed and kneaded dough on the metal kitchen table, watch as she hosed down the large front porch with its painted grey wooden chipped floor (and, anyone who would walk by would get a quick spray as she laughed watching them skeedattle!) or as she twisted and pushed clothing through the wringer washer that was in the musty dark basement, she’d catch me up on what Elizabeth Taylor, the movie star, was up to in Hollywood.
the art of grandmothering
As a grandmother, my Mom was somewhat different than Grandma Cook, however, she embraced some of her beliefs. Alas, I didn’t get to know my Croatian grandparents well because they passed away when I was younger than five, and they lived in Kenosah, Wisconsin, a far distance from West Virginia~ nonetheless, I don’t believe they would have been the doting kind. Mom made it quite clear to me (and my siblings) that she’d raised her kids and she wasn’t going to, and didn’t want to, raise my kids. Oh, yes, I’m sure had there been dire and mitigating circumstances, she would have altered her life entirely, but Mom had dreams and wanted to live her dreams even if it was simply being a flea-market entrepreneur selling her yard-sale wares.
the art of grandmothering
Mom also was much more ‘playful’ and spontaneous with my boys as their treasured Nana. She gave my three boys so many things, like a love of being free and adventurous. She introduced them to a love of nature with exploration on the banks of her small lake~whether they were feeding the ducks, planting corkscrew tree saplings or Mom was lugging big rocks to build her own ‘seawall’ of sorts, she engaged with them in a way that my Grandma didn’t. And, at Christmas time, we gathered in our living room, not Mom’s house, to watch the boys squeal and rip open gifts from Santa…then sometime later we adults would share and open our gifts as the kids were knee deep in what Santa had brought. And, there’d always be a big dinner, lots of food and family that came as the day progressed.
the art of grandmothering
Now, I’m a grandmother myself. It’s come full circle. And what kind am I? I mean there are so many different ‘types’ and each is perfect in its own way. Yes, there’s the ol’ fashioned Aunt Bee type a tad bit set in her ways, the trendy and sporty granny, some as young as in their 40s and early 50s and still going strong with their lives, the daily gran who’s there helping out in every way from chauffeuring to cooking and, of course, living nearby or under the same roof, maybe an eccentric grandmother kind of like in ‘Meet the Fockers’, that grandma who’s still a kid herself, the glam gran who’s sure to work the grands into her schedule, think ‘Two and a Half Men’ and other variations of this ever-important role in a child’s life. But, like Mom and my Grandma Cook, I am of the ilk that I’ve raised my kids, sacrificed, put life on hold to make theirs better, worked hard to give them more than I had, and I don’t want to raise grandkids.
the art of grandmothering
I suppose I’m a mixture of all of these grandmothers in some ways. Mama Ally as I’m called has a reinvented life. Dreams have no expiration date. And, although my life is very busy with ‘me’ things, I want to make lasting and poignant memories with my grands. From the first ‘batch’ (now ages 18 to 24) where we did sweet 13 trips, being there as they learned to ski and embrace an outdoor lifestlye, spending some holidays and big family events together over the years, and watching from afar as they progressed beautifully through school and college, there’s now a second wave of grands that are, yes, under the age of 4! Because of closer proximity in living, I’m able to do more one-on-one things with them like cooking, going to the park, playing in the yard and more when they come to stay with Pop and me. I’ll drive a couple of hours and fetch them for a long weekend~not a regular thing, only when it’s working for us around our busy lives and with them and their busy lives. And, there’s SKYPE, Facetime, cell phone pixs and quick videos! This is giving me and many other grandmamas a chance to see the birthday parties, the first days of school, that first step and more. As a parent and now a grandma, we all probablyhave the same goal in mind…to do our best and let the chips fall where they may.
the art of grandmothering
Yes, maybe I’m a tad bit selfish in liking and loving my selfie in this role of being a grandma. I believe my legacy for my grandchildren and great grandchildren, God willin’, will be that Mama Ally blazed those last chapters of life. She showed us that you never stop believing in yourself. And, she forever and always lived the belief that you should dream boldly even til that last breath. And, lastly, Mama Ally always had, yes, one more project!

We are a beautiful Boho Tribe of grandmothers and like tastebuds, we’re all different in an enchanting and endeary way~share your grandmothering stories, your love, your wisdom…because of this, we’re all better~and, we’re all learning together…
the art of grandmothering
~peace, love & namaste~ ally

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  1. Beautifully written. As the grandmother of two, Tay and Jake, I can say with all certainty that I love my children,but I am in love with my grandchildren.

    1. Martann! Thank you, luv! And, no more aptly said that being ‘in’ love w/your grands…I am, too, and it’s just glorious!! xo ~ally

    2. Martynn…isn’t it something how our love is just so much more passionate for those grands xo Thanks for sharing, luv!

  2. Gena Brooks Ryan says:

    Hey Girlfriend,
    I have three grandsons, ages 13, 10 and 3. My oldest son and his family live in Richmond, Va. so I don’t get to be with my two older grands very often. They are always in my thoughts and my heart. Distance separates us and their widening activities keep them busy.
    As you probably know, I lost my 2nd son (one of three sons, like you) to suicide four years ago. I will forever grieve for him. He knew there would be no end to his physical pain and he decided to end his misery. He was my “Brooks” boy, he sang and performed, was a local radio sports talk show host, he was the life of the party. Oh, how I miss him. He and his wife did not have children. When I found him that day, I physically felt a piece of me leave my body. I am okay about finding him. I was the first to kiss him, to hold him, to talk to him, why shouldn’t I be the last. It seems right. There are places I will not let my mind go. I refuse to see him like that day. I see him in my mind as my handsome Wes, the one everyone loved.
    Six months after we lost Wes, another little boy came into our lives. Our youngest son and his wife had their first child. James Wesley Ryan has saved my sanity and I had another little boy to love. No one can replace his Uncle Wesley, but James’ birth gave me hope that I
    could begin to heal.
    He is a rascal with a capitol R! A redheaded ball of fire. If he is over indulged, it is with love. And, he loves us right back. What a gift he is to Don and me.
    Ex, His little choir sang for church this morning. When he got to his place, he waved to his “Pop” in the balcony. He sang about three words and took off running down the long center aisle. It was just too tempting seeing all that space and have to stand and not move! The ushers in the back of the church stopped him until the song was over and I could get to him. (I couldn’t go after him, I was directing his choir!) This is typical behavior for him. He’s three what more can one say.
    We live about 3 minutes away from James and his parents. Needless to say, I am a hands on “GG”.
    When he spends the night, (at least once a week) he sleeps between us in our king sized bed.
    He’s so smart, it’s scary. (like his Uncle Wes) Again, needless to say, he’s an entertainer! He entertains about 200 people every Sunday!
    He came into my life when I didn’t care if I took another breath. He was truly Heaven Sent. I think my Wes is up there saying, “Here ya go Mom, I sent you a good one. He’ll keep you on your toes just like I did.”
    I love being the grandmother to my three “new” guys.
    I kind of share the joy of your success. “I knew her when…………..”
    I’m very proud of your accomplishments and happy that your dreams have come true.
    Much love,
    Gena (James, Clay and Marshall’s GG)
    PS-Marshall’s name has nothing to do with “our” Marshall.

    1. My dear Gena…as I read your heartfelt and poignant words, I have tears in my eyes…I so feel your pain and suffering…while I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through and how you’ve coped, I have just a sliver of that loss of a son, losing my second son (yes, there were 4, almost a basketball team for us), shortly after he was born. I do believe strongly in His plan, and Uncle Wes is so right, this little Rascal is heaven sent, to you and Don, keeping you on your toes, busy and bringing so much happiness, joy, laughter and love back into your once-dark, and forever shadowed, world. I love the story of his shenanigans in church…it sounds like he is so full of personality, and I know you and Pop (and that’s what ours call Ben) are anchors in his life…how lucky is that littl’ Rascal to have ya’ll so close by…I’m very envious b/c we do miss so much, but, alas, it is what it is. You know that growing up, YOU were always a ‘hero’ of mine…I just couldn’t figure out how you could be so athletic, such aa gifted cheerleader w/all the acrobatics and capabilities AND have this gloriously talented voice, too! It’s so good to have each other now, even though we’re connected by social media, we are connected. Love you, too, Gena and thank you for sharing this most emotional story…your experience, your words, your life is inspiration for me and so many.

      1. Gena Brooks Ryan says:

        Our connection now is what is so good about social media. There are many negatives for some, but i tend to ignore the drama and dwell on the good. (I’ve had enough drama in my life.) Keeping in contact with my “people” from home is priceless. These are those who know us best, who know our hearts.. We share the love of those protective mountains from which we came.
        I particularily enjoyed the photos in this blog. Your mother was such a natural beauty. People pay big bucks for cheek bones like hers.
        When I see pics if your boys, i think of borh of us with sons, but mine are the exact opposite, blonde curly hair and blue eyes. Funny. Different is beautiful. GBR

        1. I agree, Gena…for me social media has re-connected that deep love and roots that I have for, as you so aptly say, our protective mountains. And, the only ‘drama’ I want in my life is when I’m on stage playing the role of someone else…yes, we’ve all had our share of the real-life stuff, and I say phooey…life’s too too short to waste on that negative hystrionic energy! We do know each others’ hearts…there’s something about knowing that you walked the same halls of MJHS, practiced in that parking lot for hours for majorette routines, and more…all wonderful memories. Thank you for that sweet note on Mom…I must agree, she was quite a beauty and even into her 70s and 80s. And, the pix of Kathryn & me standing on the porch as little girls and I see the straggly broken bricks, some of the ‘yard’…jeeze, Mom did the best she could…it was our castle. My boys are those dark haired Italian/Croatian blend. Yes, my sweet Gena, different is the so so beautiful. xo hugs ((((())))))

  3. This is beautiful, Ally. I love it. My mom is very close to my kids (they call her “Mimi”), she has been the best grandmother to them. She has MS, and it limits her abilities – sometimes she can drive and other times she’s too weak, but it never stops her drive to nurture her relationship with them. Her mom, my “Nanny”, is so dear to me. Grandmothers hold a very special place in your heart!! xoxo

    1. Thank you, sweet Shea…Mimi is a gem, and I know that there are many times she pushes herself just to be w/the kids. And, having your Nanny is a treasure…yes, one day you’ll be a beautiful combination of Mimi and Nanny…what a gem for your grands xoxo ~love you littl’ one ~ally

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