Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Road Not Taken

I was recently browsing through some old blog posts, and came across one which I wrote in June 2008.  I would like to dedicate it to all of the grandparents who provide care for their grandchildren while their parents are at work.  You are bestowing a priceless gift --

And, here is the original:

We sit at the kitchen table, morning sunlight filtering through the leaves of the maple trees, as I give Alivia bites of banana and place scrambled eggs on her tray. I am dressed in Capri pants and a soft, worn T-shirt, with my hair freshly washed and dried. A typical weekday morning. Then Alivia’s other grandmother drops in – wearing a stunning summer dress with a silver pendant, her hair coiffed attractively, looking every bit the executive she is. She breezes in and out, on her way to work, and I think of the road not taken.

I could so easily have been in her shoes – the important career woman with a long resume and impressive credentials. Instead, I sit here today, working in my home office trying to manage a family business that has suffered tremendous shock from today’s economy, while my ten-month old granddaughter plays at my feet.

In many ways this is déjà vu for me. I became a mother at the precipitous moment when women began joining the workforce in droves. Then, I was young and idealistic, and the thought of sending my precious babies to day care was abhorrent. I spent 27 years at home, raising my three children, working hard at an assortment of drab occupations which could be performed from home. I no longer take part in the old “Mommy Wars” – I have seen a generation of children grow up with both at-home mothers and working mothers, and believe that, for the most part, the determining factor in a child’s life is having a loving mother of any kind.

However, when I look into the innocent eyes of my grandbabies, I cannot imagine handing them over to strangers each morning.

As we raise children, the change from totally dependent infant to self-sustaining adult is so gradual we hardly notice as each stage ends. By the time my youngest daughter graduated from high school, I was already on my way to a life of newfound freedom. For several years I prided myself on the speed and accuracy with which I did my job in the family business, on my well-kept house filled with warmth and beauty, and on my lovely flower gardens. I began a genealogy of my family which required many hours of research and writing. My hours were filled with enjoyable pursuits and I was amazed at my accomplishments at the end of each day.

Of course, I longed for grandchildren; I envisioned myself as a doting grandmother who would play with my grandchildren, read to them, teach them about nature and be a loving and gentle force in their lives. I hoped their mothers would be able to stay at home with them.

Reality set in a few months before Alivia was born. My daughter-in-law had to go back to work when Alivia was 8 weeks old, and decisions had to be made about her care. Of course, I volunteered to care for her – how could I do anything else, when being home with my own children had been such a priority in my life. Then, a month after Alivia was born, we found that my other daughter-in-law was pregnant; she, too, will have to return to work at the end of the summer. And so began the latest phase of my life.

I had forgotten the demanding world of babies – my youngest is 24 years old, and the memories of her first two years had become rosy and blurred by time. The reality of feeding, burping, changing, rocking, and walking a crying baby were a mild surprise. However, I easily slipped back into this slower, gentler way of life. My work piles up on the desk as I rock my sleepy Alivia and sing to her, to be rewarded by her huge smile and wet kisses when she wakes up. At ten months old she has become a charmer, and I am so glad that I made the decision to care for her – the bond we share is a blessing and her laughter lights up my life.

Yesterday I snuggled my newborn grandson, Lucas, as Alivia played on the floor and his mother and I talked. He has changed so much in his first three weeks of life; his solemn eyes gazed into mine, and I felt the immense responsibility of caring for these precious babies, who so innocently give us their complete trust and love. Being cared for by a grandmother who loves them beyond expression will certainly be the next best thing to being home with their Moms. My days next year will be filled with baby needs and toddler antics, and most of my office work will be done in the evening after they have gone home.

Obviously, the day-to-day care of babies is a physically demanding task for a 57-year old grandmother. Gone are my days of efficiency and accomplishment, but they are replaced with the secure feeling that I am giving my grandchildren what they need most right now – a loving, supportive, safe environment. I will be able to pass on the important values so necessary in today’s greedy world of self-absorption and instant gratification.

So, as I wave Alivia’s other grandmother off to her adult world of work and gather my precious banana-covered baby into my arms, I feel only a tinge of envy; the warmth of these little arms wrapped around my neck and the precious giggles in my ear more than make up for the road not taken.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

May - The Month of Transformation

If I were asked what my favorite flower of May is, I would most certainly answer, "lilacs."  Today, after working diligently in the garden for much of the morning, digging up an older section to separate out weeds and grasses that had become tightly interspersed with my thyme and sage, I relaxed a bit by cutting some lilacs.  Lilacs are sparse in my shady yard, so they are a special treat to me.  I carried my armful into the porch and laid them gently on the little iron table while I went to find a vase.  Their sweet scent quickly filled the porch, and they looked so lovely jumbled together on the table, I just had to take a photo. 
Our winter was especially cold and long this year, and I was terribly impatient to get the gardens raked out and finally watch the little green shoots grow into flowers and greenery.  By the end of April, there were signs of life again.  Along the path spiderwort and bleeding hearts were sprouting leaves, and the barberry bushes were once again circling the maple tree.  Once the growing season begins, the garden changes daily.  The photo on the left was taken in late April, and the one on the right was taken one drizzly morning in mid-May.  How striking the difference.  Within three short weeks, the bleeding hearts were lush and flowery; the lily of the valley and ferns under the maple tree were thriving, the hostas growing larger daily, the raspberry canes now had leaves, and the Solomon's seal in the back garden were in bloom.  What a miracle we witness in the first few weeks of May.

Not only do we see this transformation in our own gardens, it seems the entire town is suddenly filled with the beautiful colors of spring.  Feathery little green leaves appear on the trees in our neighborhoods, and soon become a green canopy.  The flowering trees suddenly paint our landscape with shades of pink, purple, white.  The dogwoods, crabapples, magnolias, and weeping cherries line our streets and provide breathtaking, but short-lived beauty.  The lovely colors seem to appear almost overnight, and are gone within a week or so as the green leaves appear.
All too soon May will be over, and many of its flowers will disappear also, but we are left with the anticipation of June roses, and the multitude of new garden beauties which nature will bestow each month.  Finally, spring is really here; May has proven to us once more that there is indeed a rhythm to our seasons.  Our earth has woken from its long winter slumber, and May is most certainly the month of the most wild and vivid transformation of all.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mothers' Day Ponderings

Mothers' Day is a holiday which triggers myriad emotions in all of us.  Each mother-child relationship is unique; for some, this day represents an opportunity to celebrate their mothers, while for others it is a painful reminder of the loving care that was lacking in their childhood. 

We all remember our early efforts of making cards and presenting them to our mothers, along with droopy handfuls of wildflowers.  As we grew older and received allowances or earned money, our cards and gifts required more forethought and finesse.  Our efforts were influenced by the depth of our feelings, and the expectations of our mothers.

And then, we married, and this special day became even more complicated, as we added mothers-in-law to the equation.  In-law relationships can be loving and supportive or troublesome.  Regardless of the feelings involved, adding one more mother (and additional grandmothers) required a juggling act to find the perfect gift for everyone.  Often, the day was spent running from home to home to present our gifts and share in the family celebrations.

Mothers' Day took on a special meaning when we ourselves became mothers.  Some husbands understood this and helped even our youngest children to bring joy to us on this day.  Others didn't, and our hearts were broken a bit each year.  Even as we began to feel that this special holiday belonged to "us," we still spent our day in harried efforts to prepare brunches and dinners to honor our mothers and grandmothers, with babies and little ones at our feet.  By the end of our special day we were exhausted and disappointed.

Slowly, the years passed, and we began to lose these women who had impacted our lives so deeply.  Our celebrations were marked by their absence.  A tearful trip to the cemetery and memories carried in our hearts are now an integral part of Mothers' Day for us.

Now, we ourselves are grandmothers.  How thankful we are to our daughters and daughters-in-law who have gifted us with these precious little ones.  How joyful we feel as we celebrate this special day now.  Many young mothers today choose to celebrate their day with their husband and children -- making it a special tradition each year -- a wonderful way to make the day a meaningful celebration of the love between them all.  Sometimes this may cause hard feelings as their own mothers and grandmothers feel somehow left out, but I think it is a sensible alternative to the crazy juggling of Mothers' Day obligations that left us all worn out by the end of the day.

Those of us who had loving, supportive mothers were the fortunate ones.  Mothers' Day to me is one of thankfulness -- for the mother and grandmother who loved me so deeply, for my children who were my greatest blessing, and now for my precious grandchildren who are the "icing on the cake" -- the joy of my life.

Happy Mothers' Day!!!