Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Gratitude

It goes without saying that the most precious gift to come my way this year is our grandson, a strong and healthy boy with lungs to match and a smile that melts our hearts.  But there were countless other blessings as well for which I am most grateful.
One in particular came in the form of an unexpected gift.  In the fall, a very dear friend of mine lost her elderly mother. She had been chronically ill for quite some time so it was not a surprise when things took a turn for the worse. Nonetheless, it is always a shock to lose your mother and my friend was quite sideswiped by how intensely she felt her loss.
True to form, however, she and her sisters did what their mother would have wanted them to do under the circumstances. They got organized, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. There were phone calls to make, cards to send out, and an entire apartment to empty. Time for grieving would come soon enough.
I first met my friend’s mother some 25 years ago when she would come to our city to visit her daughter. My friend would pick her up at the train station and then give her free reign in the kitchen where she always took all the cupboards apart so she could wash down and then re-paper the shelves. It drove my friend nuts but she never complained because she knew it was a gift from the heart, something that made her mother feel useful.
Every time she came I would make it a point to go and say hello to her, partly because she was a very nice woman and I enjoyed talking to her but also because my friend objected strenuously to her smoking in the house. This meant she was often banished to the garden where she would sit alone puffing away, much to her daughter’s displeasure. It was her only vice, as she once told me, one she was never able to give it up, not even when her health went into serious decline.  As an ex-smoker myself, I was not as offended by her bad habit as my friend was so I would sit with her on the porch and we would have these brief little chats about motherhood, about recipes, her grandchildren and above all, my friendship with her daughter, a full ashtray on the table between us.
I was genuinely saddened when poor health prevented her from further visits a few years ago, sadder still when I heard that she had passed away. I was happy however, to note that all of her daughters had managed to spend quality time with her at the end and that they had had the opportunity to say their good-byes. Her courage was extraordinary for she did not want to linger and go piecemeal once she learned of her final prognosis. Upon hearing it she made sure that her ending would be dignified and on her own terms. This was a great comfort, even to me.
A few weeks ago my friend came to visit me with a little bag. Imagine my surprise and genuine delight when I opened it and discovered a beautiful china tea cup that had once belonged to her mother. What an honour to be given something that she had treasured throughout her life. A gift like that is immeasurable in value because you then hold a piece of that person’s history in your hands. It connects you forever to that person and to those she loved. In my case, it has added a new dimension to the bond with my friend because by entrusting me with this cup, she is telling me that I have a lasting place in her heart. There is no better gift than that.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


I have been very busy since becoming a grandmother. Our little man arrived ten weeks ago under blue skies which I pray is an indication of many such days ahead. One doesn’t want to be greedy but I wish this precious boy all the happiness this world has to offer even though I know he will not always be spared his share of hardship and grief.
When I first laid eyes on him, my throat constricted and my heart actually felt a physical burst of love.  I was so happy to see him and I  got teary at the mere thought that my daughter and her husband had finally had their dream come true. They had waited a very long time for this precious gift. Good things come to those who wait.

By no means is our boy an easy baby. He is a light sleeper and he has digestive issues. His parents have spent many nights rocking, cradling, singing, pacing, burping, coddling, worrying.  When I hear these stories I always remember my own time as a new mother, a time when things were done very differently.
For one thing, I think we worried less. My daughter’s crib had a bumper pad and she also had a thick blanket which I used without fear to cover her up to her chin. We had no monitoring device with a video camera for me to observe her 24/7. If I wanted to know how she was I had to climb the stairs, which I did many times a day. Back then we even laid our babies on their sides or on their stomachs to sleep which is absolutely verboten nowadays.  

The six year gap between my two children meant that by the time the second one arrived, the world had moved from cloth to disposable diapers (hurray, no more lugging a heavy diaper pail up and down the stairs!)  and Tommy Tipee had invented the monitor, a hideous set of plastic boxes with thick brown antennas which allowed even our neighbours, who also had this contraption for their baby, to listen in as I read my baby a story every night.
I was without fear when it came to my babies, believing with all my heart that only I knew best what they needed and wanted. It never occurred to me to heed the warnings on labels or government decrees. By today’s standards, that would likely make me a negligent mother. But I am watching my daughter's confidence grow and blossom as she has come to understand her own strength as a mother. It is like passing on am invisible torch.

I have discovered that I am willing to be taught new tricks. I like the video cam monitor very much as it gives you lasting peace of mind. I also like the natural fabrics that are now used for cribs and baby things in general. No more plastic and no more synthetics!  I could not use my collapsible baby stroller in winter but my grandson has a Cadillac model which will allow his parents to push their way through even thick snowbanks.
There are no rights and wrongs. Every generation has to find the middle ground of balance and harmony. For me it was all about getting my babies on to a schedule as soon as possible so that I could lead a life within those bounds. My daughter, in contrast, feeds on demand which means that her baby has no particular schedule.  She doesn’t have much opportunity yet for things not related to baby….but she is very willing to make that sacrifice for the sake of her son’s well-being. If only we had known then, what we know now…

As much as I am learning how to be a modern grandmother, my daughter has a new-found respect for me as a parent. You can’t really tell anyone how tough it is to be a parent until they are in the game. It’s nice to have that acknowledged.
So we are clucking along, my daughter and I, like the two mother hens that we are,  watching and loving our little man from our respective points of view. He will be all the richer for the unconditional love which flows so freely towards him, allowing us to cull the best from our combined experiences. Everyone benefits when things are done lovingly and respectfully.

As I said, I have been very busy.