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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Flashback Friday – The Carpenters “Superstar”

So many of my life’s memories revolve around music.  Specific songs take me back to places and times in my past that will be with me forever.

I think we were in 5th grade – maybe 6th. That would make it around 1971 or 1972.

I loved visiting my friend Jan’s house. She had a RECORD PLAYER! We sat in her room for hours listening to 45’s on the small portable…changing the little yellow disks each time we put on a new tune. I remember the Carpenter’s singing this song over and over.  It was a love song – what did we know about love? We were eleven!

Her brothers would bother us occasionally, which would result in a loud complaint to her Mom, and protests of denial from the younger sibs. We would slam the door and return to our music. What else did we listen to? Probably Donny Osmond or Bobby Sherman, but I remember the Carpenters the most vividly. I think I still know the lyrics to every song.

Their household was so different from ours. Her family moved to the area from an exotic, faraway place – Eastern Pennsylvania! They knew about things I had never heard about before like the Pennsylvania Dutch. I remember singing the song “Shenandoah” in the kitchen with (or maybe for) her Mom. Her Mom talked to us like we were adults and had certain expectations of how we should act and behave. She was astounded that I didn’t like peanut butter. Her Dad was an executive. He wore a suit to work. He also wore sweaters, like the Dad’s on TV.

We played cribbage in their family room and skated in their basement. There was a button underneath their dining room table that rang a bell in the kitchen. I believe it was put there to call the maid. I don’t think they had a maid. It was cool, though.

Sometimes at school we would switch lunches. Jan would bring me lebanon bologna sandwiches on white bread with cream cheese. I had a “Holly Hobbie” lunchbox. I don’t remember what my Mom would make for her. I am sure it was boring in comparison.

Every time I hear the Carpenters I think of Jan. I am so glad that we found each other again a few years ago via Facebook. We met for dinner a few summers ago and reminisced about all of these things and more. I learned about her family and told her about mine. We actually have a lot of things in common and she is a wonderful, supportive force in my life.  It is nice that we can still find that easy, comfortable rapport.

I went back to the house (where her Mom still lives) to visit with a group of classmates and plan a reunion last winter. We looked for the bell in the dining room, but we couldn’t find it. No matter…they still don’t have a maid.

Yellow record disk, record insert, triskelion, 45RPM, 45's

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

 

Dear Fee

It’s been a little while since I left you a note here.  So much has happened since the last one….you visited again last Christmas and we had a wonderful time! It was my pleasure to ring in the New Year with you and your Mommy and Daddy (and I think your Poppa enjoyed it as well). We had such a lovely time with all of the family up here on the hill.  It was a bit crowded at times, but that just gave us all a chance to get to know each other a bit better, didn’t it?New Year's Eve, Baby, Celebrate, Grandma, Celebrate

You have become such a wonderful, spunky, funny little girl.  I really enjoy our weekly Skype dates, even though you are usually a bit too busy to chat for long.  It is nice to get to know you as you grow and change.  I really wish that you lived a little closer, but I guess these video visits will have to do for now.

Now I hear that your life is going to change in a BIG way! Word on the street tells me…

YOU ARE GONNA BE A BIG SISTER!Baby, sonogram, big sister

What a wonderful, terrible, fabulous thing for you, my girl! Soon you will be able to enjoy the company of a sibling who you can talk to, boss around, and connive with to make your Mommy and Daddy crazy. You will get to be the leader, the teacher, the one with “experience”. I know that you will thoroughly (well mostly) enjoy your new role in the family. I am sure that this change in status will possibly cause you a bit of consternation, but trust me – it will be worth it in the end!

I remember very clearly the night that I went to the hospital to have your Aunt Kelsey.  I worried so about the fact that your Mommy would be upset to lose her status as the only child. I was afraid that she would dislike her new sibling and be angry with Poppa and me. I really didn’t need to worry. She did love her sister – most of the time.  Sometimes she loved her a bit too HARD by squeezing her a little too tightly, and there was that one incident with the potted plant, but mostly I think she enjoyed her role as the first-born, and to tell you the truth I think she still does. When we added Aunt Kylie to the mix she REALLY got to be in charge, but I think it may be a bit early for your family to think about three, don’t you?

In the meantime, little one, you and your Mommy need to enjoy your last few months of ‘just we two’ when you are together. I hope you make the most of your Daddy and Daughter Mondays, as they may be harder to come by in a few months.  I know you may not always remember this time, but your Mommy and Daddy truly will. Soon your two-year old tantrums and antics that keep them up nights and exhaust them for days will seem like a walk in the park in comparison.  These early days with just three will be precious memories to you all, but honestly once your family starts to grow the real fun begins!

As for me, I want you to know that you will always be my special girl. After all, you are the one who named me GaGa, aren’t you? Thanks for helping me to experience the joy of being Gram. My friends told me before you were born how wonderful being a grandmother would be, but I didn’t truly know until I held you in my arms and looked into your eyes for the very first time. It was magic!

I can’t wait for you to tell your new little brother or sister about me. Only good things, OK? And maybe you can talk your parents in to bringing you both back over here to live so that I can spend more time with you and spoil you. Does that sound like a plan?

Finally, I have to tell you that your new baby will be the luckiest one of all because he or she will have YOU for a big sister!

I love you forever and always and guess what?  Now I get to come see you again in November. This is going to be fun!!

❤ GaGaFee and Gram

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.