Saturday, April 19, 2008


Today is my grandmother's 80th birthday. That's her on the right, as she was when she was 5 years old. I haven't called her yet. We're having the big family she-bangy bang in Texas next weekend. Why next weekend and not this, I don't know. I'm looking forward to it because I enjoy family gatherings - even with the fundamentalists on my mom's side. But I think I'm also looking forward to it because my relationship with my grandmother has changed for the better over the last decade or so.

My maternal grandparents are the only set I've ever known. Dad was orphaned by 24, before he and Mom started dating seriously. Grandmothers in our society are always painted as being doting and forgiving, lavishing their grandkids with unearned praise and affection. I never knew any of that from her. I never knew where that myth came from, because it certainly wasn't my experience. She and Grandpa provided my brother and me with afterschool care when we were younger, and when we lived in the same town, we'd sleep over at their house often. They were both critical of us, but Grandpa's was constructive and delivered lovingly; it was obvious he believed his corrections would make us better people, whether we agreed or not. But Grandma was a snapper and her criticisms were almost always personal in nature, even if what she was addressing wasn't personal at all. That I loaded the washing machine differently than her, for instance, was a poor character reflection on me, not simply a different - if less efficient - style. As a result, for years, I thought she didn't love me. (As another result, I'm often offended by people offering me a different or more efficient way to go about a simple, obvious task. I always have to remind myself it's not personal.)

But she's changed in the last dozen or so years. And I have, as well. With some family transitions that conflicted with her "perfect" script, she's mellowed greatly and is more accepting of me and others. Having grown into adulthood myself, and lived the married life, I've come to sympathize more with her than ever. Also, I knew that my mother felt similarly disdained by her mother growing up, but I've since learned that her baby sister always felt imperfect to Grandma for the same reasons Mom and I did.

After my cousin's funeral 12 years ago, Grandma stroked my hair, turned to a now ex-aunt, and proudly and lovingly told her when God made me, he broke the mold. That was the first time I ever realized that she truly loved me for me - despite the years of her attempting to shoehorn me into her narrow ideal. It was liberating. It opened my eyes to who she really is, beneath the shell and how her personal history shaped her dealings with her family. She's not just a meanie; there's a reason - right or wrong - she interacts the way she does.

As we both grow older, patience and delight seem to be the themes of our relationship. I actually enjoy talking to her now, and seeing her. Life is too short for her not to love me for the anti-ideal that I am and for me to get hung up on the emotional bruises she didn't mean to inflict when I was a child, anyway. We may as well enjoy this time.


mommanator said...

I loved my gannie so much, wish she were here so I could go visit. She was the perfect grannie!
I didn't know my mom's parents as they died when I was young and they lived in England. I've always wondered what they would be like. My mom wasn't too much into her mum-proper was what she had to be. She idolized her dad though. I suspect My mom's sister was like her mum and my mom was more like her dad-she was one of a kind like my grannie on my dad's side.
Wow can't believe I have written so much about my grandparents, and I have quiches to make! Have a great visit!

Molly Malone said...

i always fantacized about my dad's parents, too. especially when i'd feel particularly unfavored by my grandprents, i'd dream of my dad's parents hugging me and telling me how much they loved me.

isn't it interesting how much emotional importance we place on our grandparents?

Pearl said...

It is interesting. I only ever knew my grandmothers, both of whom are now dead, and they were polar opposites: Grandma girlie and silly and fair, and Gran tough and smart and dark. As a child I identified with the first more and felt that the second didn't love me as much because I was a frilly little girlie in amongst a troop of grandsons. As I've got older though, I've come to resemble my Gran really closely, both in looks and personality. I still think she'd be unimpressed by my eyeliner and heels and love of sleeping in, but she'd be right there with me when it comes to travelling and helping out and learning. She was a headmistress, and I wish I could tell her how much I love teaching. My Grandma died recently and I'm still adjusting, and accepting, like you, that she really didn't mean to bruise me when she pestered me about how she never weighed more than 100 pounds until she got pregnant at 40, and how did I come to be five inches taller than her with a bust and an arse? It doesn't seem to matter now that I'm an adult and she's gone. I miss her ridiculously doting love, and her unshakable belief that I am the most marvellous girl in the world, and the way she'd hold my ponytail to make sure it never got caught in escalators. Good grief, no wonder I have short hair! Grandparents, eh?