Today is my Gram's 86th birthday. A day to give thanks for her life and how it fits into the family tree.
I have thought a lot about my grandparents lately because throughout my day I often reflect from where my parenting skills come. I watch movies in my head, recalling the relationships that make me who I am. I live a split-screen broadcast: I watch how my life was crafted and watch the lives of my daughters being shaped as I contribute. Sometimes I cringe, hearing my voice weighted by generations as I address my children. Most of the time I look at the smiles on my girls' faces that come doing the simple things of the day--a request while I juggle dishes and laundry: "Daddy, help...shoes...Tato Head...please? Thanks!" During those smiles I appreciate the vocation of my Gram and Mom--all the days they spent keeping a house and connecting with their children. It's what they loved doing. They still love that connection with children as I watch them spend time with my girls. I never really imagined I would share that vocation. Though all parents parent, regardless of where they work, I am at home most days, caring for the household--my wife and girls. I would guess they never imagined that life for their son/grandson. Here I am.
For years my Gram and I have talked about many things. When I still lived with my parents, those discussions came over games of Yahtzee and Gin Rummy, a Mariners' game, practicing putting, preparing for a holiday, a few songs on the player piano, a trip to see the latest Disney movie, a trip to see the Freedom Train, or a trip to Nordstrom, to name a few. We would talk about all the places Gram and Granddad had travelled, my sporting events, friends, baseball--whatever. With Granddad, the conversations might read like an editorial section of a newspaper. With Gram--more like the Life section. We would talk about almost anything. And she'd tell me stories about family members I had never met (Great Grandmother Alice, Aunt Bob, etc.)--trying to brings parts of the family tree to life I could not see. One thing about Gram, she always listened.
There's a stereotype about how grandparents "spoil" their grandchildren. I do not believe in this stereotype. Spoiled children (and adults) are people who think they can get what they want whenever they want it. I think it would be rare for a grandparent to spoil a child, unless they were doing most of the child rearing. I was not spoiled by my grandparents. There was a lot to share and a lot to learn. I remember my mother and her siblings being aghast on occasion for the things I was willing to talk about with my grandparents, especially Gram. I think it's easy and tempting to think that grandchildren and grandparents will have similar relationships to parents and children. These relationships are not the same. I don't know a parent out there who wouldn't do a few things different in raising their children if they had the opportunity. If age is blessed with wisdom, I think many grandparents learn the benefit of listening and treasuring the moment that they have with the gift that is a child; I think they end up doing a better job of listening to their grandchildren than they did as parents. I could tell that Gram had gained wisdom in some of the stories she shared of her childhood and her days parenting young children. This is wisdom I have missed the most as I live several hundred miles away from her. That wisdom is more difficult to tap. But if I go into that split-screen broadcast while I eat a meal with my daughters, I see my Gram with her children on one screen, and see another screen eating with Gram, Granddad and me--flank steak, some slaw (maybe with some shrimp), a Gai's roll, blessed with a prayer I will never forget:
We thank thee for our daily bread.
Let also, Lord, our souls be fed.
O Bread of Life, from day to day,
sustain us on our homeward way.