Sunday, October 25, 2015

Grandparenting in a New Era

I remember vividly the comfort of my grandmother's lap.  She and my grandfather lived with us when I was growing up, and I basked in the warmth and security of their love.  It wasn't uncommon in those days for extended family to live together, although it was becoming less the norm than it had been a generation before.  By the time I was grown and raising children of my own, most of us set our course differently, buying houses of our own when we were young, and taking pride in our independence.  Our children's experiences with their grandparents depended on the amount of time and energy the grandparents were able to expend, as well as the physical distance involved, as families became more mobile and scattered.  It was not common for grandparents to share in the daily care of our children.   

As a stay-at-home mom, I was never forced to place my little ones into the care of babysitters or day care centers.  I was able to work from home in various part-time endeavors, so I could be there to capture all of the small moments of motherhood in my heart.  It was important to me that I be there to pass on values and provide comfort and solace to my children.  It was also my hope that my grandchildren would be fortunate enough to be home with their mothers.

That dream vanished, though, as the pace of life in our country, the increased cost of living, and the desire of women to chart a different course, meant that my grandchildren would need some type of child care during the day.  For the past eight years, I have provided that care for my three grandchildren.   

As I have walked this path, I have noticed that more and more grandparents are now walking this same path with me.  It seems each time I visit the grocery store, I see a grandma or grandpa shopping with preschoolers happily "helping."  Each year it seems there are more grandparents dropping off and picking up their precious ones at preschool, holding little hands on field trips, and attending the special parties and programs.  I see grandparents at the elementary school, signing out their older grandchildren at the end of the day.  One grandmother I know drives an hour each way a couple of times a week to provide care on the days her daughter works.  Often both grandmothers share in the care of their grandchildren -- alternating days and schedules to suit the needs of all.  Many of these grandparents are retired -- they could be travelling, spending time with friends,  playing golf, instead of rocking babies, washing hands and faces, and entertaining active children.  Many of them are still working themselves, and make huge efforts to arrange their own working schedule so that they can be available to fill in on the days when they are needed.  One 82-year old great-grandmother remains "on-call" to care for her granddaughter.  

What we are doing is a gift of love to both our grandchildren and our children.  We lighten the burdens of our children when they know that we will be there to keep things running smoothly each day, to provide loving care to their precious children, and to help them avoid the significant cost of child care.  Most importantly, we are providing our grandchildren with consistent love and security in today's world, which is fast-paced and often confusing to children.  We answer their questions, listen intently to their joys and worries, and provide that "comforting lap" that my own grandmother provided for me.  

To cite an example, one day a week, I wait with one of my granddaughter's preschool classmates as his grandmother rushes from her job to pick him up.  I hold his hand, and my little Emma chatters away to him, and he stands there quietly.  As soon as his grandma comes into view, I feel the tenseness vanish from his hand, and his face relaxes -- when she reaches out for him, he suddenly starts chattering away to her.  She is there; he is secure; he is loved.  What greater gift could we grandparents possibly provide.   

Monday, October 12, 2015

Owned by a House

We all carry our childhoods with us in one form or another, either as baggage that weighs us down or as wings that encourage us to expect happiness and success in our lives.  My family was fairly poor when I was young.  That wasn't uncommon in the rural community in which we lived; however, we didn't own our home, so I vividly remember the fear of being evicted from our little house each time our lease was up.  Would our landlady decide to sell the house, or would we be safely at home for another year?  How I loved that little house; I was happy there, with its cozy rooms and large yard, surrounded by fields.  I did envy my friends who lived in houses their parents owned; they never knew the uncertainty of whether they would stay or go, as I did.  And then, as I entered my teens, we were forced to leave.  My parents were able to buy a house then, but I was very unhappy there, uprooted from the home I loved and distanced from my best friend.

Perhaps that is why I fell in love with the old house in which I have lived for over forty years.  This precious old Victorian had been in my husband's family for almost fifty years, and had a sense of permanency in its walls; when the chance came for us to buy it, I was thrilled.  We were young, and I looked beyond the antique kitchen and fading wallpaper, picturing myself tucking babies and little ones in at night in their own bedrooms.  The house has always been a work in progress; by the time we finally had finished stripping wallpaper, renovating the kitchen and bathroom, and repairing the porch, family life had taken its toll; there was always something that needed to be done.  Most importantly, though, I was happy that my children were being raised with the security of being in a home that was theirs -- they never knew the uncertainty I lived with as a child.

Maybe this uncertainty was the reason that I have always been a "nester" -- content to stay in the same house and the same town all these years, while others feel the need to stretch their wings and easily move from place to place, storing up memories and experiences as they go.  But I am content and feel rooted here.  My children don't understand my strong desire for them to own homes and be secure; sometimes I feel like I am a bit provincial -- never having experienced life beyond my little town.  Who ever really knows what life would have been like if we had made different choices.  Fortunately, the consequence of my choice has been contentment and security.  I am reminded of a quote from a book I read several years ago:

"It struck me that there are stayers, who always stayed, whether they should or not, and leavers, who invariably left, no matter what they were leaving, or whom, or how, or when."
Paula McLain, in Like Family


Sunday, September 13, 2015



September is a beautiful month of transition from the heat and humidity of summer to the cool, crisp weather in October.  Fields of purple loosestrife and goldenrod seem to arrive overnight, gracing the landscape with their vibrant colors. 

While many of the summer flowers have faded and gone to seed, our gardens still are filled with a variety of colorful flowers -- sunflowers, zinnias, morning glories, and assorted autumn show-offs.  There is a sense of quiet to September; the early morning birdsong is muted and sparse.  The late night air is no longer filled with raucous cicadas and crickets -- there is merely a quiet thrumming from the crickets now and then.  The mornings are often misty and cool, only to be replaced with bright sunshine and warm temperatures as the day progresses.  Darkness falls earlier and more heavily on us each night. 
 September's weather is erratic.  One day we feel again the heat of summer, and then a storm will roll through and leave us with a taste of the crisp, frosty weather to come. 
How lovely this month is, with its quirkiness and beautiful reminders of what was and what is to come.  We visit the apple orchards and the farm stands, and savor the beauty of the bounty to be found there.  Our thoughts turn from summer barbecues to the spicy scent of apple pie baking in the oven.  We buy small chrysanthemum plants to repot and replace the summer flowers on our porches, and provide beautiful color into early November. 
We are at a crossroad -- looking back at the pleasures of the summer behind us, and looking forward to the "gathering in" of October and November.  Our hearts need this special month of September to gently lead us from one season to the next.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

"Water Under the Bridge" -- Living With the Decisions That Define our Lives

The book I am reading is fictional, but the story revolves around one woman's experiences as the wife of a member of the German Resistance during WWII.  I find myself drawn into the decisions made by so many Germans during the reign of the Nazis, and especially this elderly woman, who married the love of her life, only to lose him before their life together really began. 

When I am upset and feeling sorry for myself, I often blame fate for my predicaments.  However, as I read this book, I am more and more aware that it is most often our own decisions which lead us down one path or another -- and determine the eventual outcome of our lives.

Looking back, I realize that I made numerous decisions which, while well-intentioned, were obviously not the best.  In hindsight, there are several life choices that I should have considered more carefully than I did. Sometimes, one wrong choice can impact the path our life takes in such a way that it is virtually impossible to change the forces that have been set in motion.  We must move forward on the path we have chosen and make the best of things as they are.

Blaming fate is easy, yet taking responsibility for our own choices is difficult and sometimes heartbreaking.  We do the best we can, but we must live with our decisions, and hope that our poor decisions do not create a ripple effect for our children and grandchildren.  Life is not always fair; fate does throws us curves, but, ultimately, we make decisions and choices, and we must live with the consequences.  Sometimes those consequences break our hearts and break our spirits, but, it is all "water under the bridge."  We must move on and find happiness in the small things in our lives.  We cannot change the past, we can only do our best to appreciate whatever good has resulted from the choices we made.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Photograph

Recently, as I was reorganizing my storeroom, I moved a box, and this black and white photo fell onto the floor.  The photo was taken in Stockbridge almost fifteen years ago.  I was reminded of the wonderful days I shared with my mother and my sister in this lovely little town.  Since I was in the middle of quite a time-consuming project, I put the photograph aside to save.  By the end of the day, though, in all the confusion, I had misplaced the photo.  How bereft I felt.  I had so much wanted to study the photo and remember details of those days.

The calendar page turned to July last week.  July holds the terrible memory of my sister's slow and painful death six years ago, and as I began to once again relive those saddest of times, I remembered the photo that I had lost.  How I wished I could remember where I had put it; fear also lingered that maybe it had inadvertently found its way to the trash.  Yesterday, I walked into the storeroom, and saw a photo lying on the floor, face down.  It hadn't been there before, and as I turned it over, it was my beautiful Stockbridge photo.  As you can see, it is merely a fading black and white photograph of a little shop which was tucked into the back of an alley near the Red Lion Inn.  But what lovely memories it evokes for me.

I actually loved this tiny gift shop.  There were exquisite vintage clothes and jewelry, all sorts of trinkets and lacy Victorian treats -- a shop that spoke to my heart, even though I couldn't afford many of its beautiful wares.  There was so much I loved about Stockbridge -- the perennial flowers that were scattered about for all to enjoy, the peaceful shrine set apart from the bustle of the tourist town, the little shops sheltered in the historic old buildings.  And how I loved the Red Lion Inn.  It was a favorite of both my mother and sister.  My mother and I often celebrated her birthday with lunch at the Inn.  My sister and I sometimes drove over early and enjoyed breakfast, sitting at the linen-covered table and savoring the slower pace of the breakfast crowd.  We wandered the halls of the Inn, and visited the gift shop.  

On our many day trips, we would often drive down to Great Barrington, enjoying the antique shops along the way, and stopping at a nursery to browse among whatever plants were in season.  I vividly remember one Saturday when an unexpected storm arrived as we started back from Great Barrington to Rt. I-90.  At one point, the road was closed due to a downed tree, and we had to take an alternate route.  One side of the road was thickly treed, with high winds blowing treacherously, and the other side of the road was bordered by the Housatonic River, which was rising at a terrifying pace as we drove along.  I could barely unclench my hands from the steering wheel when we finally arrived safely on the highway to home.

Many of the memories are blurred by time now, with my mother and sister both long dead.  I treasure those special days, when we strolled through town, chattering and laughing, lingered over breakfast or lunch in deep conversation, thoroughly enjoying each other's company, never realizing how little time we really had left together.  I have not been back to Stockbridge since my sister died.  Each year I think, "maybe this year," but somehow I cannot imagine walking those streets with someone else.

And that is why this photo is so important to me.  As I look at it I am filled with bittersweet longing to go back to those days -- to just one more time walk arm in arm with my mother, and to spend a July afternoon lunching on the porch of the Inn with my sister.  Times change, life changes, and maybe even Stockbridge has changed.  I hope not.  But, now I have this photo which I can place gently in a frame and remember the happy times.  And, I wonder why, after all these years, this photo returned to me in the month of my sister's death -- a gift from God, perhaps?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Finding Inner Peace Midst the Chaos

There are times in life when weeks slide past us in a blur.  These can be periods of joy and happiness or of stress and worry.  April and early May have been chaotic for me.  There has barely been time to ponder one moment before another hurried into the forefront.  Finally, this morning, I had some time to myself, and, of course, I headed to the garden to slow down and gather my thoughts a bit.

There is a natural rhythm to the seasons and in the garden.  Sometimes when life is filled with craziness it is important to revisit nature -- to recapture this rhythm which has gone asunder in our own lives. 

As I look back over the past two months, it is difficult to remember all of the events which have kept me so busy.  April began with Easter Sunday brunch, then an overnight hospitalization for my husband, which resulted in doctor visits and tests, followed quickly by a week-long sleepover for my granddaughter while her parents were away.  May has brought a baby shower, bridal shower, class reunion, and the funeral of an old friend.  Of course, all of the normal daily routines continued, as well as garden clean-up in any spare time.  While many of these events were joyful, there have been underlying worries and stresses in my family and those of several of my friends.  Stress has been my constant companion.

So, I welcomed this quiet morning.  I gathered together my gardening tools and my camera, and set to work -- mindless work, which allows your thoughts to clear as you feel the sunshine on your shoulders, the breeze ruffling the leaves, hear the trickle of the water in the pond, and the birds singing and cavorting in the bird bath.  How lovely to see my Bridal Wreath bush, now well over forty-five years old, blooming faithfully again.


I drank in the peaceful little spaces in the garden where St. Francis keeps watch over all of the little creatures who make their homes here.  I watered the hanging pots of flowers by the front steps, and the seeds planted here and there during the past couple of weeks.  I was excited to find that already my patch of wildflower seeds has sprouted, and the zinnias in the little patch by the mailbox have burst their first tiny leaves through the soil. 

I pulled weeds and pruned away a multitude of tiny little maple trees that have taken root.  If I let these little maples grow, in no time my yard would be one large maple forest.  Working in the garden is often hot, sweaty and tiring work, and by late morning, I was ready for a shower.  I took some photos with my always-ready camera, and felt the inner peace that comes with hard work in the beautiful lushness of a garden.  Obviously, the worries and stresses that have plagued me these past few weeks have not miraculously resolved, but this quiet morning, working in the lovely surroundings of nature has soothed my soul a bit.  My heart feels quiet and at ease.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why is STEM more important than the Arts?

The constant promotion of STEM education - science, technology, engineering, mathematics -- troubles me.  I realize our world today, as well as our economies, rely on technology to a frightening degree (but that is a story to be pondered at another time).  I understand that to be competitive in this global economy, we must encourage strong curriculums in the technological sciences, beginning in elementary school.  We strive to empower girls to enter these courses of study at a much higher rate than in the past.  I also understand this, because for generations many girls were not encouraged to choose a scientific track.  We will need highly intelligent, competent STEM graduates as our technological world spins at a faster and faster pace.

However, my worry is that in placing so much emphasis on this area of education, we risk providing a well-rounded education to all of our children.  We must be certain that with cuts in school aid and budget constraints, we do not put all of our efforts into STEM education.  I have noticed in the past few years, as taxpayers cringe over budget increases, the first program cuts that are discussed are arts and music, and this is not wise.  In a world as complicated as ours has become, we need to be sure our children are raised to be competent readers, those who can think and problem-solve, those with imagination; we don't want them to be little robots who can interact with computers, but not other people. 

We also need craftsmen, construction workers, teachers, writers, philosophers, artists, and musicians who bring life to our innermost feelings and joy to our souls.  In a technological world, we will need good leaders to make the best decisions for our nations -- those with a knowledge of history, the ability to "see the big picture" and analyze situations, and to work well with others.  These people need humanities and arts education.

We are each born with particular aptitudes and gifts.  Mine did not include math and science.  I excelled in basic arithmetic, but hit a wall with algebra.  And not only am I totally incompetent in science and technology, I have absolutely no interest in them.  When a conversation turns technical, I simply "zone out."  But, I am intelligent and competent-- a reader, thinker, writer, and was a highly qualified secretary at one time. 

I am not questioning the importance of STEM education, but I do fear that we will make a grave error if we sacrifice the arts and humanities in order to produce more STEM graduates.  Not only will the quality of life for our world in general suffer, but we will also be sacrificing millions of our young people with great minds and great talents who do not fit the technological mold.  They will feel like failures, when, in fact they are the students who will one day contribute the common sense, color and joy to our world.