Long Distance Grandparenting

Nearly every Monday morning at about 5am, I wake to the sound of my cell phone vibrating on my nightstand. I don’t really mind this early interruption to my slumber. My weekly “Morning, GaGa!” photo makes me smile every time. Sometimes, if I am really lucky, I even get a video!

If you know me, or have read some of my other posts, you know that our only granddaughter lives very far away. This makes it quite challenging for us to see her (or her Mama and Daddy) with any regularity. I will say that we are well acquainted, though, thanks to the use of technology. We Skype at least once a week and my phone is full of photos (nearly 2,000!) and videos of their daily activities.

I love the fact that we can experience their daily life from afar, and I feel that Fee knows us pretty well, something that would not have been possible twenty years ago, when our children were small. She takes our weekly visits in stride, greeting me enthusiastically when the screen pops up with a “Hi GaGa” and a smile, or hiding away in the corner under a blanket fort while I ask “Where is Fee?” She is a smart one, that one. When I ask her if she could give me a kiss or hug she replies, “I can’t – there is glass there!” referring to the computer screen that is between us. He first question is always “Where has Poppa gone?” and when he is here he will sneak up and surprise her, receiving a squeal and a giggle when she sees his face appear behind me.

This is not to say that it is easy. I long to hold her on my lap and tell her a story, or to tuck her in to bed at night and kiss her forehead. When I am out and about and see other grandparents doing things with their grandchildren I feel a pang of envy. I am sure they see me staring, and probably wonder what kind of a creepy individual I am.

When our children all began to move away their lack of proximity was tough at times, but it was manageable.  They have all been able to come home quite often, and we text each other almost daily. It has been exciting to visit each of them and get to know the cities that they now live in. It wasn’t until Fee was born that we truly realized how difficult the distance would be.

Our girls were very lucky.  Both sets of grandparents lived close by. They were always available for birthdays and Sunday dinners. They babysat whenever we needed them to, and even watched them for the day when they were sick so that we could both get to work. My mother-in-law loved those days. She would settle them into her own bed and serve them toast and chicken soup. Our parents were close to the girls and very involved in their lives.

When two our daughters came home a few weeks ago they paid a visit to their paternal grandmother. She took them upstairs to the apartment that she had lived in with their grandfather when they were both little girls. It was wonderful to hear them reminiscing about the times that they had spent there as children. Listening to them recalling these special memories made me think about my own impact on my grandchildren and what their memories will be.

In less than a month Jim and I will be grandparents to two little girls.  These last few weeks are almost as hard for me as they are for their parents.  I wish that I could drop by and give my daughter a break from chasing a two-year-old around so that she can rest. I want to be there to see our new granddaughter soon after she makes her appearance in the world. I wish I could see the expression on Fee’s face when she meets her new baby sister, and be available to reassure her of her place in the world when she feels displaced and out of sorts because she is no longer the center of the universe.

After Christmas we will take another trip to see them in their own home. It will be a long plane ride that I wouldn’t even consider again if it weren’t for the prize at the end of the journey. When we get there I will have to load up on enough kisses and cuddles to last me until the next time we visit. It will be hard to leave not knowing exactly when that visit will be.

In the meantime we will rely on technology to keep us familiar. I think I may have to upgrade the memory on my phone!

Granddaughter, little girl, toddler, hello, greeting, sundress
“Morning, GaGa!”
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Coming Clean

I have a confession to make.

I do not own a dishwasher.

I guess that this is not very common these days, but to me it is normal.  In all of my adult life I have only had one (secondhand, portable) dishwasher. It was messy and sprayed water all over the kitchen. It was cumbersome and loud.  I used its butcher block top for extra counter space for a while and stored my Tupperware cake keeper in it, but I think I used it less than a dozen times.

A conversation that I had recently with an acquaintance went something like this:

She “I could not LIVE without a dishwasher.”

Me “Never really wanted one.”

She (horrified gasp) “That is unimaginable!”

By the tone of her reaction you would have thought that I had said that I preferred an outhouse to indoor plumbing! It is true, though.  In my 30+ years up here on the hill I have wanted many things…a hot tub, a sidewalk, even a bathtub for a time (but that’s another story), but a dishwasher is not one of them.

Another friend whose own dishwasher broke down right before the Thanksgiving holiday one year told me that she couldn’t possibly host the festivities without one.  To her the dishwasher was as important as the oven itself!

Don’t get me wrong – when I was a teenager and washing the dishes was a chore that had to be accomplished before I could slip away to be with friends, I hated the job.  I would do anything to get out of it, including trickery and deceit. I would make promises to my siblings that I never intended to keep so that they would relieve me of the job, and I was quite often successful.

When my own children were growing up washing the dishes and folding the clothes were the two main chores that they had to do each day. They will tell you that if I came home to a sink full of dirty dishes there would be much commotion. It is true that when I was exhausted from a long day at the office and needed the sink for meal preparation, I did not relish the task.

The kitchen sink is the heart of our home. Each member of our family has spent a significant amount of time in front of it.  We’ve bathed our children (and now our grandchild) there, pulled up chairs so that they could help us and taught them to do it on their own.  Thousands of basins of soapy water have been drawn there. My memories contain hours of telephone conversations had while scrubbing and rinsing and drying, watching the seasons pass by through the windows that are situated just above it. Gossip was shared, tears were shed, good news was revealed and bad news received – if only those walls could talk! Long conversations had while cleaning up after large family gatherings – holidays, reunions, graduation parties and even a rehearsal dinner brought friends and family members together long after the meals were finished and the table was cleared.

I remember my mother standing at my sink washing the dishes, even as her health began to fail.  She would bend from the waist, leaning on her elbows as she cleaned each plate and glass and pot.  She taught my sister and me that it was rude to leave someone’s kitchen without offering to help with the dishes, and I know that both of us feel the same way to this day. Sometimes when I am at the sink by myself I catch myself standing the same way she did as my back begins to ache from a long day of preparation and celebration. I smile to myself remembering how important this task was to her.

I would love to have my big country kitchen remodeled. I have thought many times about how I would arrange things, and what kind of cupboards and flooring I might have.  I have added marble counter tops, farmhouse sinks and tile floor coverings to my Pinterest boards, dreaming of how beautiful it might be.  The one thing that I never make room for in my imagination, though, is the dishwasher.  To me it is just unnecessary.

Think of all of those missed opportunities for memory making….

“Unimaginable!”sink, kitchen sink, country kitchen, dishes, doing dishes, chores

My Mother’s Voice

I don’t really like to talk on the phone anymore.

There was a time when I would spend hours with it crooked between my shoulder and my ear. I could do almost anything that way….fold clothes, make beds, clean out the refrigerator…having a telephone conversation didn’t slow me down. When they were little, I think that my children may have actually thought it was a piece of my anatomy.

I still reach for it every time I do the dishes. Our main house phone hangs on the wall right there within an arms distance. It always seemed to make this tedious chore go faster, and it was usually the best possible time – after dinner, when everyone was settled into their before-bed routine.

I rarely make calls any more. The reason for that is that the person who I always called is no longer there to answer.

I miss my Mom.

I talked to my Mom on the phone nearly every day for years, even though she only lived a few miles up the road. I called her for recipes and advice about how to discipline my kids. I called to complain about my terrible day or (honestly) to gossip about people that we both knew.

My mother was a young mother and I often think we grew up together, more like friends than mother and daughter. She had a million friends, and always knew what was going on in our small town.  I could count on her to know the family of the boy who my daughter was dating or the name of a seamstress to hem a recital dress.

As my children grew older and busier sometimes the main contact that I had with my Mom for a few weeks was only over the phone.  She didn’t like this and would often complain that I was too busy.  I felt terribly guilty and we would even argue about it from time to time, but we still always managed to talk nearly every day.

The last time I really remember hearing my Mother’s voice was in a message that she left on my machine.  “Well, hello!! It’s just your Mother”. Her tone was self-depreciating as always, like her call was unimportant to me. I remember feeling guilty and thinking that I had better call her back as soon as I could.

A few days after she died I was all alone in the house and I had that urge to pick up the phone and I remembered the message.  I ran to the kitchen and pressed the button, but it was gone. We had never replaced the battery on the machine and the power had gone off recently. I cried for quite a while when I realized that I wouldn’t hear her voice again.

But I do.

When I play with my granddaughter her voice comes out. She sounds happy and silly and goofy and her laughter rings out. When one of my daughters asks how to cook a roast or what to use to remove a stain out of a good white blouse she answers them with patience and humor.  When my sister calls me in the evening frustrated at the trials of raising a five-year-old she is there offering support, love and understanding – if not answers.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  I know that I can’t call you today, but I know that if I could you would be there for me like always. Thank you for all of the wisdom that you shared with me over those many hours on the telephone. I know sometimes it felt like a phone call wasn’t enough, but I appreciate every conversation that we had. ❤Mother, Daughter, family, Motherly love, Mother's Day

 

My least favorite holiday

I have to admit that I woke up this morning feeling a bit sorry for myself. Eating, cooking, family drama….Thanksgiving has the makings for a stress-filled day. One that I usually face with a considerable amount of trepidation.

I had worked myself up to a pretty good level of self-pity.  This year felt different. Two of our children (and a granddaughter and a son-in-law) would not be home. Two of our parents (my Mom and his Dad) are no longer here to share the holiday with us. My father has a different living situation this year and it has caused us quite a bit of family strife. I had even written a blog post yesterday to be posted this morning about the reasons that I dislike the holiday (hence the title, previously written).

Then I got a call from a friend’s husband letting me know that her mother had died last night. I haven’t been a very good friend lately – I have been too tied up in my own misery to pay much attention to anyone else’s distress. I only learned that her Mom was gravely ill a few nights ago because I had been so out of touch.  I didn’t know what to do to help, so I offered my prayers. It didn’t feel like enough, but it was all that I had.

The phone call made me think. I have been spending way too much time thinking about how I feel and not enough about everyone else in my life. So many people have it so much worse that I do at this moment. I felt selfish and petty. If I were TRULY thankful I should have realized how lucky I am to be able to celebrate the holiday at all. A lifetime of Thanksgivings had set me up with a certain expectation of what the day should bring, but I was looking at them with the wrong focus.

Tonight I took a look back at the photos that I have stored on my computer of past Thanksgivings that we have shared with our family up here on the Hill. Yes, there has been a good amount of stress and drama during our past 30+ years here, but there has also been much laughter and happiness. Looking in to the faces of the people in the pictures I saw what I should have been seeing all along.  We are, indeed, truly blessed to have what we have here in the place where my husband has spent over 50 Thanksgivings. A lot of living has happened here on the Hill.

I am thankful to have been a part of it.

It’s all over but the shouting…

family car packed for collegeThe laundry is all caught up, the cars are packed and in a little over two hours we will be leaving for our very last “move-in” of an undergraduate student. Our youngest is beginning her senior year of college in a few days and I wonder where the time has gone!

It seems like only a short time ago that we set off on our first journey – to Sewanee, The University of the South – with our oldest.  That 12 hour trip was tackled with my in-laws, who accompanied us to Tennessee, completely loaded down with what we thought were all of the necessities of college life. That was ten years ago! It is amazing that we have spent the last decade supporting the lives of our children in college. Since then we have moved in to three other colleges – St Bonaventure University, Penn State – Behrend and Baldwin Wallace University née College , and we have the T-shirts to prove it!

We have moved our three daughters into double rooms, single rooms and apartments. We’ve carried refrigerators and extra chairs and clothes up three flights of stairs in 90 degree heat with 100% humidity and into basement apartments in pouring rain – assisted by siblings and boyfriends and acquaintances.  We have unloaded in New York, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and met so many roommates and sorority sisters over the years that we can’t remember who belongs to whom.

Sam Walton has been the beneficiary of hundreds (if not thousands) of our hard-earned dollars as we purchased over-the-door hooks, and sticky goo to hang posters, clothes hangers, plastic tubs and shower mats. I have always been the official “bed-maker”. I am sure that it is my mothering instinct that wants to make sure they have a place to lie their heads when the flurry of that first day is over.

It seems as though this is the end of an era for us on the Hill.  Sure, there will be future apartments in new cities with new roommates and perhaps even spouses, but this is the last true college move-in day. As I explained in a previous post, these days are bittersweet to me, as I never attended a residential college. As exhausting as the day is sure to be, I truly do enjoy the feeling of excitement that I get when we arrive on campus – the shouts of welcome from their friends who they missed over the summer, the newly decorated (and clean – for a short time, anyways) dorm rooms, the bookstore, the ever-present oak trees, even the squirrels.

I am going to miss this annual ritual and the feelings of hope and promise that it fills me with each year. I am sure the year will fly by and before we know it we will be leaving for commencement!

Man, I am getting old.

All Tucked In

The whole family came home over the holiday weekend.  Each of our daughters, along with their  significant others (and Fee, of course), were here from Wednesday through Sunday afternoon.

It was a busy time – full of laughter and sarcastic banter, arguments and tears – the usual for our family. During our daughters’ teenage years because there were so many women living here the joke was that this was the “house of hormones”. Now that the girls have brought home boyfriends and a husband, the female/male ratio has evened, but the emotions remain.  There will always be squabbles and disagreements, but we also have our fair share of fun and hilarity. Our times together are precious and few and the conflicts fade away to be replaced by wonderful  memories and only a few battle scars.

When everyone is here there is always a flurry of activity.  People spill from one living space to the next. Conversations are shouted room to room, and in the summer from room to porch to deck. Snacks and drinks abound and the dogs are thrilled by the attention and opportunity to beg at all hours. By around 9 or 9:30 PM when everyone has usually retired to the living room to watch movies  or play games I normally  begin to flag. Quite often I  excuse myself to the solitude of my own room to sleep while they all have a good two to three hours of merriment left to make.

I am a bit of a night wanderer. I have always been one, but middle-age (and a glass or two of wine) seem to wake me most nights around 3 am or so. It is this time, when everyone is unconscious and dreaming, that I feel the most peaceful and content. It is such a comfort to know  that everything I hold dear is here on the Hill, safe and sound, tucked in for the night.  I love to walk the upstairs hallway and feel the even hum of all of them breathing  and turning in their sleep.

moonlight shining through a bedroom window
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I will often sit in the darkness of the living room, surrounded by their things (they have so MANY THINGS) and remember nights when they were all small. During those early years I would be awake with a fussy baby, or a six-year-old terrified by a nightmare.  I spent many a dark night worrying about things….their grades, their boyfriends, their college scholarship applications…back then the early hours of the morning felt like a lonely time when nobody else in the world was awake but me.

Now when they are all here those wakeful moments in the middle of the night help me to realize how very lucky that I am.  I am fortunate that my children are relatively happy and healthy, living fulfilling lives on their own, away from us. I am grateful that they choose to come back to visit us as often as they do, bringing others along with them to spend time here on the Hill.  Their joyful returns to their childhood home – the home that their father grew up in, help me to appreciate the place a little more. I love to hear the stories of their memories here and now to have them share it with the ones that they love as well.

It will be some time before we are all together again. While I wait for that  occasion I will remember the feeling of contentment that I had while I listened to the quiet of the house as they slept. All together, here on the Hill.

Tradition, Family and Rememberance

Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in our family. For my own children it mostly meant the beginning of summer, a day off from school and a family picnic.  During family visits like this we would always gather around the table and gossip talk and laugh. My girls always liked to spend time with their Grandma Prudie, because she seemed to always have a funny observation or story to tell.  Every year on Memorial Day she would remind us of the time in grade school when she was required to memorize the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McRae, a remembrance written during the first World War. She would recite it word for word, and we were always impressed that she could remember it all of these years later. We would talk of their Great Grandfather, who served in that war, but whom they had never met. A few years before she died, she challenged my youngest daughter to memorize it as well. She did, and now she can recite it (almost) as well as her Grandmother could! The poem now serves to remind our family of my Mom as well as the soldiers that it was written about.

This past weekend I tagged along with my sister and my 5-year-old nephew to the cemetery to plant flowers at my Mother’s grave and to visit the graves of our maternal grandparents. This tradition is one that my sister and mother shared for years before my Mother’s death. I was never really a part of the ritual, but I respected the fact that they did it together every year and it was meaningful to both of them.  I have joined my sister and her son the last few years to keep her company. I felt that it might be difficult for her to do this without my Mom,  and also because I wanted to spend more time with her family.headstones, cemetery, history, marigolds

Cemeteries have never really been “my thing”.  I guess that I felt that I would rather remember loved ones in places that I had memories of them.  I have told my own family that I have no interest in being buried in a cemetery – I want my ashes scattered and have told them to “plant a tree or something” if they need a visiting place. Better yet – they can go to Mexico and feel my spirit there!

This year Memorial Day  seems to hold an even more significant meaning for our family, because we lost another of our children’s grandparents last fall. Grandpa Ray, who was such a large part of their lives, was a Veteran.  He is buried in the Soldier’s Circle at one of our local Cemeteries.  His stone was recently placed, and Jim and I had a plan to visit his grave later in the weekend.

The time spent in the cemetery listening to my nephew’s observations, and his mother’s patient responses, along with the first visit to my father-in-law’s resting place have given me a better appreciation for Memorial Day and what it means to those of us that are left behind when loved ones pass away. The history that is present there and the lives and stories that the sites represent seem so much more meaningful when there is a recent connection. The love and care shown by family members trying to give something back, to make an adequate tribute, is touching and personal. I have a new-found respect for this annual tradition.

My children are very lucky to have had such involved grandparents on both sides of our family. They had the chance to know them and love them and learn from them. I am lucky that my sister feels so strongly about keeping up this yearly practice. It gave me a chance to think about what family means to me and how much richer my life is because of all of them.

Happy Memorial Day! Hold your loved ones close today and be thankful for the sacrifices of the ones that have gone before us so that we could enjoy this day.Memorial Day Flags Sunset Hill Cemetery