Saturday, February 26, 2011

a grandparent's legacy

(This post didn't come easily, but it's actually been in my heart for many years.
I hope it hurts no one who reads it.)

I came across this photo recently. It's the only photo I have of my paternal grandfather and me together.
I'm about six years old and Granddaddy is about 75.

I didn't have a real relationship with him.
Granted, we moved far away when I was just seven,
but I hold many memories of other people in my life at that age.

This is what I wish my grandfather had chosen to do:
Be happy to see me. Though he might have been happy when I visited,
I never sensed it.
Be demonstrative. I never remember hugs nor sitting on Granddaddy's lap.
Share stories of his childhood.
Find out what interested me and talk with me about it.
Ask questions, tell me a joke.
Tell stories about life on the farm when my dad was a boy.

I doubt that my grandfather, a hard-working Arkansas farmer who
in the prime of life fought through the Great Depression,
gave a moment's thought to the legacy he was leaving
his children and grandchildren.
Maybe the terrible reality of survival sapped his capacity to love.
At least that's how it seems to me.
I don't mean to disparage the memory of my grandfather,
but he died over 40 years ago and I don't know who he was.
That saddens me. And if he had an unspeakably horrible childhood,
that saddens me, too.

I know this sounds judgmental,
but sometimes I wonder why some people have children at all,
if not to love and know those children, forge relationships, teach compassion,
and pass on the baton of faith.
Parenting means sacrifice and a commitment to mold little hearts to
love, respect and serve others.
I think the same can be said for grandparenting.

These memories have helped me decide what sort of grandmother I want to be.

I will hug the daylights out of my grandchildren, if they're ok with it.

I won't demand affection from them, but I hope to foster it.

I will be more tender and patient with my grandchildren than I was with my children.

We'll get lost in books, especially the ones their dad or mom liked.

I will pull a chair to the kitchen counter and let them bake cookies with me.

I will tell them a joke and laugh at myself, never at them.

I will spend time outside in the sun and snow, or walk with them in the rain.

In summer I'll sit with them on the sidewalk and draw with chalk. We'll stay at the pool as long as they want.

I will listen to their fears, hold them close and pray with them.

We'll go to the park and swing, slide and climb together.

I'll tell them about my pranks at Girl Scout camp and of my childhood with no computers, cell phones, or DVDs, how we'd wait a whole year to watch "The Wizard of Oz" on TV.

I will talk with them about God and point to everything around us that speaks of His creation and love for us. 

I will take a moment every time we're
together to look
deeply into their eyes.

I will spoil them rotten. Ok, I know I'm not

I will remember they are children and delight in them.
My grandchildren will know my smile,
my touch,
my laugh, my tears,
and especially my heart.
Without a doubt they'll know that
I love them fiercely and forever.

I won't waste time silently sitting on a chair
as my grandchildren walk through the room.


Bob said...

Oh, this post speaks volumns to me. I too had a set of grandparents that died when I was so young that I never got to know them and the other set was so emotionally unavailable that I wondered often why they had a child at all. I often feel like I never had grandparents at all and am so proud of how my own parents have been the most wonderful grandparents that anyone would hope to have. Thank you for a wonderful and well written post.

LPool said...

O.K. sorry Barb...that comment was from me...didn't realize that Bob was still signed into his account and couldn't figure out how to correct it....

Dan said...

Great and important post, Mom.
Everything you said can also be applied to mothers and fathers. I'm thankful that I know both, and I think I know my grandparents pretty well. I learned a lot about this topic when I went through the Men's Fraternity was very interesting, especially the part about emotionally distant fathers. That came out of the World War I and II generation of men who returned from war unable to healthfully process what they experienced. And for those who weren't in combat, I still think the era lent itself more towards men acting stoic and strong, which didn't allow as much for the emotional connection that their families craved. Very interesting stuff. Anyway, great post. I know you are dad have already made an impact on Ari! =)

Barb said...

Thanks, Lyn and Dan. These are perhaps the most thoughtful comments ever posted! Thanks for reading and commenting.

Jenny Haller said...

I am grateful for involved and loving parents and in-laws. I hope my babies feel and experience love and mostly, I hope they can learn the depth of history and wisdom that 'older' generations have to offer. You are doing a great job!

(Mark and Jill, join the club please!)

Rachel said...

I think a lot of this was also a result of the social commentary surrounding parenting at the time. It wasn't until the 50s and 60s that showing affection toward one's children was considered acceptable (Harry Harlow conducted a set of experiments from 1957-1963 to prove the necessity of affection in early development, if you care to learn more, and National Public Radio's This American Life did a fascinating episode on the subject called "Unconditional Love").

The general rule in the early part of the twentieth century was that parental affection was at best useless and at worst harmful to a child's development, causing weakness of character. The most famous advocate of this approach, John B. Watson, believed that the best way to express tenderness toward one's child was to pat them on the head, if that. A kiss on the forehead was allowed at bedtime, but anything more was thought to have the potential to spoil the child.