Twenty years ago, my two grandchildren, two daughters, my 73-year-old mother and three dogs clamored into our gray Sequoia and left rugged Kodiak Island, AK and headed toward Missoula, MT. Our home had sold, and we steered the car to a place with four actual seasons and long, warm summers.
Alice and Gregory, my grandchildren, had arrived two short months earlier battered and confused, rejected by a mother who could not care for them and a father who found other indulgences more inviting. In their disoriented world, and craving childhood intimacy, they asked to call me “mom.” They were given freedom to call me anything they wished—within reason, of course.
Thus began a trial of tangled hearts. Their lips used the word “mom” in every sentence. “Mom. Mom, I need to get something to drink, Mom.” Their hopeful tongues sang the word and balanced notes leaning into melodies of the right tones. “Mom, Mom, I need to use the bathroom, Mom.” My ears heard their songs as out-of-tune harp strings.
My ears became so used to “mom” and so tired of hearing it, that I wished their lips could not form the sound. Our hearts were all confused and saddened and hopeful in the prospect of connecting in this new way. It didn’t work. We three kept the persona for a time, then “Gramma, may I…”
In times past, seldom did children remain home beyond their early 20’s. Mostly, under extraneous circumstances, then, were grandparents found to raise their children’s offspring. Not so today. Recent census data reveals “Eight percent of grandparents share a household with a grandchild. A more specific number comes from a You-tube video called “Grandparents Raising Grandparents 2012,” which revealed that “4.9 million children [are] currently living with their grandparents.” The speaker added that many grandparents “provide for the bulk of their grandchildren’s needs.” That number is rising, according to continuing studies. This data shows that I am not alone in this venture.
Wanting to soothe my grandchildren’s sad psyches on our long trip to Montana, I listened when I preferred not to. I listened to them tell stories of television shows they had seen. My hope was that the children would link with me through stories about themselves. Later, much later, I realized that their hearts were so bruised that it was too painful to talk about themselves and much easier to speak of an accessible topic. Therefore, from then on I listened more patiently to their accounts of cartoons, mindless jokes and television shows. They loved that I loved their voices.
On our trip, I preferred to indulge with ice cream and lots of hugs, but they kept a safe distance from my petting and squeezes. They needed control of the sound inside the car, the restaurants, and the hotels and so were seldom quiet. The trip became a juggle of exhaustion and nerves. I learned to balance pain, misunderstanding, confusion and annoyance with a grandmother’s heart.
We arrived in Missoula in late September 2002 and began our litany of chores: school enrollment, who got which bedroom, where to settle the dogs. By mid-April, we had settled into fine comfort not available months earlier.
As I straightened 10-year-old Gregory’s bow tie on Easter Sunday, he said, “Thanks Mom. I mean Gramma.” He grinned. I grinned. We moved on.
Loving them. Loving myself. Learning to balance my love and protection of them with their many needs became a way of life until I learned that my love was greater than their needs. My love could not heal them. My love could not change their pasts. My love could not feed their constant demands for attention. But my love could put salve on their wounded hearts as they learned new songs.
Today they are both young adults making choices of their own. Both graduated. They both work, and one attends a fine university. They have found moms through other means, and I have the privilege of being plain old grandma. I am indulged by their love, their annoyance of my impertinent ways and their tolerance of my frustration with cell phones and computers. They are strong human beings who have faced some tough trials and arrived on top.
We three found that Mom is the woman who comes to them with open arms, wisdom and patience to care, discipline and love, and who helps them learn to trust in ways that only mothers can do. Perfect plans do not exist. But this route is a balance of time and love that sees us all through tough eras—a balance that has shaped us into tolerant human beings who have learned that the hard road is an okay road.
We have not had the chance to travel together these past 12 years, but we are gratified with the paths we have chosen. I watch these two make choices that are successful most of the time. They are maturing at a fine rate and making mistakes along the way. As our paths are cleared of large boulders and potholes, then more tumble onto the roadway. It’s okay—that’s life. Alice and Gregory have made the best of their short time on earth, and I expect their potentials will prove that two fine people emerged from the possibility of failed futures because they found the right climate in which to carve good, strong paths. Missoula offered greater opportunities than Kodiak, I believe, and these two have made the most of their choices. I stand in awe as they fashion new beginnings in this pliant atmosphere.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_rR2BLE5Mk A u-tube link out of San Diego, which claims that the factor is 4.9 million children currently living with their grandparents.