The Many Joys of Grandmothering

by Mary Jo Shannon

Grandchildren are like dessert. They are treats –  not a regular diet. When the baby won’t stop crying, you may give her back to her parents. You have the pleasure of her company, but not the ultimate responsibility for her care.

Harry and I relish our position in the family hierarchy as grandparents of seven, ages thirteen to twenty-six. He is called “Granddaddy” by all seven, but I have to remember who I am when I sign letters or write my name on gift cards – I’m   “Nana” to two and “Grandmother” to all of the others.

We have been privileged to care for all seven of our grandchildren at various times – usually in our home but occasionally in their homes – while their parents pursue other activities.   These times have enriched our lives, and hopefully theirs also.

At this stage in our lives we have more time to share with our grandchildren than when we were raising our own children. Stories of our past help bridge the gap between the generations and our particular interests and talents spark interests in activities that enrich a child’s life. Cooking and crafting have provided bonding experiences for this grandmother and several granddaughters – beginning with Christmas cookies and later involving more complicated recipes, such as making strawberry preserves, Italian bread, pie crust or chicken and dumplings. .

All grandmothers tend to share pictures and anecdotes, cute sayings and actions, with friends. Such as the time our two-year-old granddaughter arrived with her parents after dark, looked up at the sky and exclaimed, “We have a moon just like that in Maryland!”  Or the time when she was three and tried to con her mother into buying a Mickey Mouse doll. When her request resulted in “No; please put Mickey back on the shelf,” she obeyed without protest.  Then, as they walked toward the exit, a shrill little voice called out, “Erin, Erin! Please don’t leave me here – take me home with you!” (It didn’t work.)

One frustration for grandparents involves the necessity for “hands off” concerning principles of child care. All that wisdom you accumulated during the years from mistakes you made rearing your own children, cannot be shared. You are not the parent, so you must stay on the sidelines and keep your mouth shut. So you sit back and watch helplessly as your children repeat many of the mistakes you made.

The availability of modern transportation and communication enables closer ties between grandchildren and grandparents today. Although some of our grandchildren have lived as far away as Germany, e-mails have brought instant messages and airplanes shortened travel time.

The longer life span of adults has also affected the grandparent/grandchild relationship. When our first grandchild was born 26 years ago, she had four living grandparents and four living great-grandparents. Our children knew both sets of their grandparents and were able to see them regularly, since Harry’s folks lived in Roanoke and mine in Augusta County. But I knew only my father’s mother, who lived in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with her daughter’s family.

“Mama Jo” – the name she preferred to “Grandmother” —  visited us for two weeks each summer, arriving by train in Waynesboro. What a thrill it was to see her  step down from the passenger car, a bright smile lighting up her face. The scent of lilacs, her favorite perfume, surrounded her as she hugged each of us. Settled up front in the pick-up with Daddy, she chatted with him while we rode in the bed of the truck with her luggage.

For two weeks we listened to her stories, how she loved to fish when they vacationed in the Poconos, and how she fed a tame fawn that visited the cabin daily. Too soon her visit ended, and life returned to the usual routine, with only letters to and from this special person.  When she died the year I graduated from college, I no longer had a living link to the past. But I am thankful that now that I am at her stage in life, I have seven strong links to the future!

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