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Gramma Rules

September 13, 2010

By the time my mother was my age, she was a grandmother five times over.

This declaration has been made each year around my birthday, starting when I was about 45 or 46 (when my mother was that age, my brother and sister-in-law had already blessed her with three grandchildren; since then, my two brothers, my sister and I have delivered a total of 12 grandchildren – my father used to say he could field his own baseball team – six of whom have married, and four of these couples have produced a total of nine great-grandchildren … but I digress).  

In the beginning, it wasn’t so much that she thought my children (who, when I was 45, were only 17 and 12), should be producing progeny; it was more of a lament about what she felt I was missing in my ‘advancing years’.  The joy of being a grandmother is something my mother clearly thinks I should experience.

With another birthday looming (and the certainty of the annual “When I was your age …” reminder forthcoming), I have been pondering what it means to be a grandmother and what kind of a grandmother I would be. (Not that I am in any hurry.  While my boys both have lovely girlfriends and I am confident they will – should they so choose – make great fathers ‘some day’, I can wait until I’m past 60 to have ‘grand’ added to my ‘mother’ moniker, thank-you-very-much). 

My Family, 1960

My Family, Circa Late 1960

When I was young, our family lived in an old house that my father had converted into three units.  Our family (mother, father, five children) occupied the main floor; my grandmothers lived in the two upstairs apartments. And while one or the other would occasionally come downstairs to ask “Why is the baby crying?” neither of them was particularly involved in our upbringing.

My father’s mother spent very little time with the grandchildren, and I have few memories of her beyond the sugared dates she used to make for Christmas dinner and the lessons she gave me on the proper way to iron a man’s shirt and the hem of a woman’s dress (which I recall to this day, even though I avoid ironing at all costs). 

My mother’s mother was more ‘kid friendly’.  I remember her allowing my sister and me to scramble onto the second-story roof and in through her bedroom window after we’d climbed the big cedar tree in the back yard – even though my mother had clearly told her not to. (My mother was quite clear on the policy regarding tree-climbing – if you could climb up, you’d better be able to climb back down; my grandmother’s bedroom window was a much-less-treacherous option in our minds.) My grandmother would also serve us tea in fancy cups and saucers, with Digestive cookies and peppermints on the side, and let us watch wrestling on the old black and white TV in her living room.  She even took my older brother to wrestling matches at the local arena!

My own boys had much more involved relationships with their grandmothers when they were growing up.  Their father’s mother – who lived a half-hour from our house – would often look after them when I had appointments or meetings to attend.  She taught them how to play all sorts of board and card games (including poker), chased balls around the backyard with them, and gave her cookie jar pride of place on the kitchen table whenever they visited (my eldest called her ‘Gramma Cookie’ when he was very young, and the name stuck; sadly, she passed away fifteen years ago).

My own mother lived (with my father) in a beachside ‘resort’ town two-and-a-half hours away by car; needless to say, we spent a lot of summer weekends and holidays there when the boys were growing up.  In addition to allowing sandy-bottomed little boys into her house after a day on the beach, she kept colouring books, old Matchbox cars, and building blocks in the cupboard under the stairs, jars of leftover paint in the sunroom for painting rocks (I still have a box of purple ones in my basement), and she made sure that every dinner ended with some sort of dessert.

It has often been said that grandmothers have the advantage of getting to spoil their grandchildren, enjoy the heck out of them, and then send them home just before they reach the ‘tired and cranky’ stage.  They have none of the responsibility or restraints that parents have when it comes to their care and feeding. They can re-experience all the best times of child-rearing (the fun, the laughter, the games) without the worst (the arguments at bedtime, childhood illnesses, last-minute homework woes).  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that being a grandmother is a pretty good gig!

But as I reminisced and recalled (with fondness) all the various grandmotherly experiences of the past, I came to a rather startling realization – grandmothers break rules!  And here’s the rub – not only do they override (or simply ignore) the dictates made by the mothers (and fathers) of their grandchildren (and get away with it) – but they break the very rules that THEY impressed upon YOU when you were growing up!  Here are just a few examples:

Making cookies with GrammyAs a Mom, she said:  “No cookies before dinner.”
As a Gramma, she says: “You helped make the cookies dear, you can have as many as you want before dinner.”

As a Mom, she said:  “You have to eat everything on your plate if you want dessert.”
As a Gramma, she says: “You can have dessert even if you don’t finish your dinner.”

As a Mom, she said:  “You need to eat a healthy breakfast. Have some oatmeal.”
As a Gramma, she says: “Strawberries and ice cream is a perfectly good breakfast.”

As a Mom, she said:  “Ketchup is only for fish sticks and french fries.”
As a Gramma, she says: “Why, yes, I do believe ketchup qualifies as a vegetable – put it on whatever you like!”

As a Mom, she said:  “It’s ten o’clock in the morning. What are you still doing in your pyjamas? Get dressed.”
As a Gramma, she says: “It’s the weekend. You can stay in your pyjamas all day if you want to. Who’s going to notice?”

As a Mom, she said:  “Change out of your school clothes the minute you get home. I don’t want you getting them dirty.”
As a Gramma, she says: “What are a few grass stains / chocolate milk stains / jam stains going to hurt?”

Licking the whipping cream off the beatersAs a Mom, she said:  “Bedtime on school nights is eight o’clock.  You can stay up until nine-thirty on weekends.”
As a Gramma, she says: “There’s a movie you want to watch that starts at nine? Okay.”

As a Mom, she said:  “No, you can’t lick the whipping cream off the beaters – it’s unsanitary.”
As a Gramma, she says: “Whoever gets here first gets to lick the whipping cream off the beaters.”

Mothers become grandmothers; grandmothers become great-grandmothers (and with luck and good timing, some great-grandmothers become great-great-grandmothers).  The circle of love repeats over and over.

As a Mom, she said:  “I love my children with all my heart.”
As a Gramma, she says:  “I love my grandchildren with all my heart.”

As a Mom, she said:  “I can’t wait to be a grandmother!”
As a Gramma, she says: “I can’t wait for you to be a grandmother.  After all, I was a grandmother many times over by the time I was … the other side of 55.”

My boys with their grandmothers

The boys with their grandmothers (many, many years ago!)

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