I always knew that having a baby would change things. I would be a mom. We would be parents. Our lives would be forever changed. But, one change I didn’t consider was what would happen to my parents.
When my daughter was born, my parents instantly became grandparents. Did that mean that they were old? My siblings and I have started to scatter across the country and my parents threaten to move to be close to us. Where would they live once they left our childhood home?
In all the advice columns people complain about their in-laws trying to parent their children. I bristled to think of how my parents might try to interfere. I didn’t really understand what living with, or near them would mean until I thought about my own grandmother.
When I was nine years old, my grandmother, who we called Meme, moved in to our home. It wasn’t because she was too sick or old to take care of herself. She had all of her faculties and plenty of friends and hobbies. In fact, although she emmigrated from France in the 60s, she still kept in touch with childhood friends and other women she met along her life’s journey. She attended church, exercise class, a French conversation group, and many other activities at the senior center and beyond. In short, she had a full and rich life. I wondered why she never re-married, or went back to her native country. I often thought of her international past as glamorous and her new life in the American Midwest as bland. What could be keeping her here when she had lived a life with fancy parties, fur coats and Parisian glamour.
At the same time, there were times when I couldn’t stand living with her. “Its like living with another mom,” I would complain to my friends. “She makes me clean and yells at me when I’m fighting with my siblings.” Worse still, she cooked weird food, like goose, or even escargot! She was another person telling us to clean our plate, and reminding us that there were starving children in Bosnia who would be thankful to have just a portion of our meal.
As I became a teenager, I noticed her aging as well. I hated repeating myself, and told her, harshly, that she needed a hearing aid. But, like the second mother I saw her as, she was selfless. Meme made special treats, drove us to events, and showered us with love. But most of the time, we were too close to the situation to appreciate her sacrifices.
It is probably clear by now that my grandmother has passed on. I hope I have also made clear the deep love I have for my Meme. The grumpy in-law is a funny trope on TV shows or comic strips, but if you ask my father, it just isn’t always true. The biggest struggle between them (her regular re-arranging of kitchen cabinets and drawers) is now a fond memory.
I recently asked my mother what it felt like to be a grandmother. “I love Linnea like I love my own children,” she said.
I have to forgive myself for being thoughtless as a child but I cannot be thoughtless as an adult. I don’t have a perfect relationship with my parents, and I am not sure that I would jump to live in the same home with them, but I am so thankful for their presence in my daughters life. In memory of Meme, I can overlook minor annoyances and appreciate that my daughter has a true gift in the form of four grandparents. For that I am truly thankful.
Well I had my ways, they were all in vain,
But she waited patiently.
It was all the same, all my pride and shame,
And she put me on my feet.
They call her love
She is love, and she is all I need.
“She Is Love” by Parachute