I have been reflecting on the awesome responsibility of being a grandmother. It has been a transition to say the least. And with all transitions there is an adjustment period and an awkward sense of the unknown as well as the anticipation of what is to come and how it will all look once everyone finds their sea legs.
My gracious son and daughter in law let me choose the name I would like to be called by little Boe and it was a quick decision. Like my Sittis before me, I felt that the Arabic name for grandmother was more than appropriate because it speaks of a long history of Lebanese women who wanted nothing more than to cook, feed, and make a cozy home for their families. And even though I had the means and awareness to get a college degree and beyond and have a thriving and rewarding career, I have to admit my first goal when I stepped onto a college campus at 17 years old was to get my MRS degree, have a family, and create a loving home for them.
I was named after my maternal Sitti, Rosa Maloof, and of course like all good Catholic girls, the Blessed Virgin Mary. (My parents must have had high aspirations for me!) I had to do some fact checking with my brothers and as my memory serves me, I only saw my maternal grandmother three times in my entire life. She and my grandfather lived in Atlanta and were not fond of flying. We were a family of eight in California and traveling across the country to see our grandparents was a bit out of the budget. I was able to spend time with them once as a little girl, once as a teenager, and much later when I was 30. When my mother passed away at 61 years old, they did not come out for her funeral. It is still incredulous to me today. I would move heaven and earth to see my children in any state (or state).
My father’s mother, Louise, died in childbirth along with her fifth child. My dad was the oldest and we think (our collective memories) he was about 6 years old when she died. The baby’s name was John and I remember my dad telling me the story- never with a straight face- always with tears running down his cheeks. My brother John was named after my dad’s little brother.
My grandfather sent for a wife from Lebanon (cousins.. can you do some fact checking for me? This is part urban legend passed down through oral history). Her name was Madeleine and she had to quickly adjust to a new country, a new husband, and to my grandfather Thomas’ four children. They went on to have four more children of their own whom my grandmother favored. And she favored their children as well.
With that said, I must confess that I don’t remember having a Sitti who wanted to kiss me and hold me, babysit me and get on the floor and play with me and/or agonize over the next time she might be able to spend time with me.
I write all this not so that you will feel sorry for me. I write it for my own understanding and for my children’s understanding. I write it to rub a salve on a wound that has just recently been exposed as I reflect on my own experience as a grandmother. I write it to help me understand this longing in my heart to be near my new grandson and be a part of his life. I write it because I know I am not alone in this reflection and confession and to open a conversation about the role of a grandmother in a child’s life.
In the song Both Sides Now Joni Mitchell sings “Something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day.” Life is not always easy. Family is not always as Norman Rockwell would illustrate but I believe people try. In the absence of holding me and reading stories to me, my Sittis cooked and cleaned and fed me and I suppose they thought that was enough. But this Sitti wants something different with her grandchildren.
I would love to hear your thoughts on being a grandparent.
Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been so long that I can’t even remember when I last went to confession and these are my sins.
Or at least the latest ones.
Or the ones I can remember. BTW are we responsible for the ones we can’t remember?
Oh Lordy. Well here goes.
I did not attend any Easter services this season. Not Holy Thursday. Not Good Friday. Not Easter Vigil.
Zero, zip, nada.
I did this intentionally so now you know why I’m here today.
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
I cleaned my house and did my Target, TJMaxx and Trader Joes shopping. I worked in my garden, fertilized all of my succulents and marveled at the first spring flowers on my Cecile Brunner Rose. I cooked a bit and squeezed lemons to freeze for future Lebanese delicacies. I went to dinner and a movie with a good friend. I finished a novel and started a new one. Took a morning hike and photographed several cows with their calves.
For the grand finale, Easter, I shared a meal with my wonderful family, chased toddlers around the house and played with my little grandson.
For these and all my sins I am sorry.
Now, Father, I’m sure you want to know why this cradle Catholic defied all of the rules.
My reasoning? I wanted to see what it was like to live in a secular world without the sacred. I wanted to see what it’s like to not believe, to not have my Catholic community, to not sing and pray for my loved ones and the world at large. I wanted to see if God in nature was enough for me.
All in all it was a very spiritual experience. But here is what I discovered.
I realized that I missed the incense, the chanting, the candles and the ancient scripture. I missed the washing of the feet and the opportunity to meditate on service and being a woman for others. I missed the veneration of the cross and the church bells and the bowed heads. I missed the experience of humility that comes from believing in something that is beyond myself and out of my control. I missed the celebration and the lilies filling the sanctuary. I missed the Alleluia and the joy that comes after the sacrifices of Lent.
I missed the good old fashioned Catholic aerobics… standing for a half hour gospel and then springing up and down and up and down to the rhythm of the rituals and the liturgy.
I missed it all. And now I feel an indescribable void.
So, Father, I guess you can take the girl out of the Catholic but you can’t take the Catholic out of the girl. I’m sure you have an appropriate penance for me? 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be? 100 continuous genuflections? A Novena with my head covered?
You missed it, my dear. Penance done. Amen. Hallelujah.
I just wanted to write to you and tell you how much I enjoyed our play date this weekend. I had been looking so forward to it ever since your mommy set it up for us.
I think I’m in love with you. Oh my…
I especially had fun this morning when we were crawling on the floor together, exploring all the ins and outs and unders of your living room floor. You were quite interested in the plugs and cables. Perhaps you will be an electrician when you grow up. Or a deep sea diver.
Or a secret service man.
You’re such a good crawler. You get around with finesse. Remind me to invite you to my house next time I need someone to get that thing that rolled under my sofa.
I’m home now doing my laundry. And I’m giggling at the combination of dog hair, snot and mashed bananas on my nightgown. Good thing I raised three sons and have lots of Shout It Out and I know how to use it!
I’m reminiscing of our time together. Sigh. And I’m thinking of you. ♥♥
You’re the avocado on my sandwich. You’re the frosting on my cupcake.
You’re the garlic in my baba ghanoush.
This kind of JOY is new to me. It’s wonder, awe and rapture all wrapped up into one.
It’s a little boy with eyes of blue. Oh, how I love you!
One wouldn’t get in a sailboat without a compass or embark on a grueling scenic hike without a map.
Or would they?
Myself? I have a tendency to get lost. Lost on a trail. Lost on the freeway. Lost in my thoughts. A good plan keeps me focused and on task. Goals help me to breakthrough inertia. A map helps me to reach my destination.
So I plan. And I plan. And I journal. And I plan some more. And I re-read my old journals to see if life has deposited me somewhere close to where X marks the spot.
How about you? Do you know where you want to go in 2017? Do you have a hankering for something different? Are you ready to change things up and see what sticks? Or are you plodding along the same path. Waking up to the same job. Shopping at Target and getting take out from the Chinese restaurant on the corner.
Benjamin Franklin once said “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Winston Churchill said this- “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”.
In either case, some self reflection seems to be in order as we embark on a new year.
I found this engagement announcement years ago after my mother passed away. I had inherited the “trunk” with all of the family heirlooms and photos. When I first saw the fragile news clipping, I thought nothing of it really. I assumed it had gotten torn somehow and my mom had saved it nonetheless.
Years later, while going through the trunk, I saw a different fragile news clipping. It was a reflection of a broken heart, a broken woman, and the life she had imagined torn asunder. She most likely carefully and deliberately tore the piece right down the middle and replaced it in a box of photos.
No accident here. It was a message. A statement. Perhaps a legacy.
My mother told me once in a private conversation weeks before my own wedding, “I never planned on being divorced”. It was during an argument between us when I foolishly told her that what happened to her would never happen to me. If only I could take those words back.
Not only because I am now a divorced woman. But because my words had a certain arrogance and a sting that hurt her deeply.
No matter how you slice it, divorce wreaks havoc on a family. It creates “teams” that don’t play well together. It rents the fabric of family life, rearranges every holiday plan and every summer vacation. The repercussions rear their ugly heads in the least expected moments.
Growing up is something we all have to do. Becoming wise and learning difficult lessons is optional. Knowing what I went through with my parents divorce, I have a difficult time digesting the fact that I had a hand in repeating this history. Perhaps it was my legacy. Or an unconscious attempt at solidarity with my mother.
Maybe it was an “I told you so”.
Nonetheless, I am the woman I am today because I had to grow through the pain and struggle of my decisions. If only I could have been this woman without having had to wreak so much damage and heartache.
We project a part of ourselves into what we see and observe. What we interpret has everything to do with our own experience. As a young married woman with three small children, I saw a fragile news clipping that had accidentally gotten torn. Years later I see with different eyes. It is a statement of grief. A message and a warning.
And sadly, a legacy.
in the secret of darkness
before I saw the sun
in my mother’s womb
Dear little Boe,
You are a miracle. A gift. Someone new to love and long to hold. A bundle of sweet smells and warm cuddles. You have us all in awe and wonder.
How beautiful you are. A blank slate. A crisp white page to be filled with lovely lyrics. An empty vessel within which we place all our hopes and dreams. Your innocence is compelling. I feel absolution in your presence.
I know that some little parts of you have been etched from my own body. That in itself is mind blowing. I look at you and feel such love and connection- and at the same time, a sense of mystery. Who are you? Who will you become? How will I fit into your life? What will we do together to build our relationship?
Little lovey, the day you were born we all experienced a life changing transition. Woman and man became mother and father. Mother and father became grandmother and grandfather. It may take some time for us to learn our new roles so please be patient with us.
I hear other grandparents brag that they can spoil their grandchildren and then send them home. All the fun and none of the responsibility. Then they laugh! But Boe, I have a little secret for you.
I would do it all again. The pain of labor, the sleepless nights, the diapers, the desitine, the sticky kisses, the million and one soccer, basketball and little league games, the waiting up for teenagers, the “sex” talks, and the endless and painful letting gos- witnessing three little boys traverse their paths into manhood.
But there would be do-overs. I would clean less, order more take out, play more games and be more attentive to the ebb and flow of raising a family. And most of all I would allow myself to enjoy it all. Not be so stressed and insecure. Not be so hard on myself. Not compare myself to other moms who appeared to be doing it better.
Little Boe, when your daddy was growing up, I wrote him letters on his birthdays and other occasions so that he would know how my love for him unfolded and developed as he grew up and became a young man. When he graduated from high school I gave him all those letters. It was a labor of love.
I want to do that for you, little Boe. I want you to see what I see in you. And in those moments when you are feeling insecure or a little blue, I want you to know how much you are loved, fearfully and wonderfully made, and carefully knit together in the secret of your mother’s womb by an even greater Love.
My heart is full. My life has taken on a new meaning with your birth. I have so many things I’d like to share with you. So many songs I want to sing to you. And I have all the time in the world to listen to you.
Stay sweet, little boy. Take in all the love you can. Learn honesty and integrity. Be generous and kind.
Grow up to be a man for others.
I love you,
It’s Mother’s Day and it seems appropriate that I would be channeling my mother in the kitchen this weekend. Tabouli, Hummus, Baba Ghannouj- salt, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, tahini, eggplant, and parsley dripped and splashed everywhere! You can’t make Lebanese food without making a mess, using your hands and taste testing along the way. The sterile kitchen police would have me under arrest.
My daughter in law is craving Lebanese food for my little Lebanese grandson still nesting just under her heart. A new little Shaheen boy in the works. My mom would be beside herself! Another man to cook for!
I found my place very early in life next to my mother in the kitchen. I had no choice really. I just grew up in there with my own apron and stepping stool, stirring the rice pudding, chopping the parsley and washing the dishes. Sometimes all at the same time.
I never complained. With a family of eight and so many brothers, it was the only way I could sneak something to eat before the food hit the dinner table. It was also my special time to be with my mom. To smell her perfume and sing songs with her. At a very young age, I wanted to be just like her. She was so loved and admired by everyone. And she was a fabulous cook. I think she invented that idiom about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach..
She always knew just what to do in every situation. What to cook for every ailment. How to take care of her family. She could have written the book on mothering.
I watched her as a young mother wrap up my babies and sing to them. When my youngest, Peter, was born, I found her playing in the sandbox with Patrick and Robert and their trucks. “Whose mother is that??” I wondered! My mother never got dirty. My mother had her nails and hair done every week and wore heels and hose. My mother didn’t own a pair of jeans until she turned 50!
As I recuperated from each pregnancy and birth, she cleaned my house and did the laundry and cooked delicious things for us in the kitchen. I just held my babies and watched. I wanted to get in there and chop and stir and wash dishes but clearly our roles had changed and I was no longer the little girl helping. I was the mother. Still learning from her. Still needing her advice and expertise. Still wanting to be close to her in the kitchen.
Now on the cusp of being a new grandmother myself, I’m feeling a bit insecure in the transition. What will my new role be like? What are the expectations? Will I know what to do with a new baby? After all, it’s been 30 years since I had Peter. Things have changed. Mothers are more enlightened due to the internet. Information is dispelled easily through a quick Google. Does anyone call their mother for advice anymore?
The new parenting trends bring natural fibers and toxic free toys. Gender fluid nurseries and neutral color schemes. Babies sleep face up instead of face down. Bumpers are no longer safe in cribs. There’s something called “sleep training”.
Maybe I will Google “gramma training”.
So I find myself in the kitchen where I feel safe and smug. I know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Or through his mommy’s stomach.
It’s a start. The rest will come in time.
As I chop the parsley and squeeze the lemons. Smash the garlic with the salt just how she taught me. Mix the Tabouli with my unsterile hands- I haven’t killed anyone yet with my cooking- I feel her standing next to me and I smell her perfume. I am infused with her wisdom and her strength and her confidence in me.
“You got this, Sissie! You’re going to be a wonderful Sittie!”
Feeling the Mom void..
The tracking number stated that my mini chandeliers had been delivered yesterday to my front porch! At 8pm last night I looked again…
Front porch, back porch, neighbor’s porch… no packages.
This morning I pulled up the email to get the customer service phone number and there it was in black and white. Delivered to my old house on Del Monte Avenue.
Panic set in.. The new owners have sprawled “return to sender” on everything they have received with my name on it- even though I left them my email and phone number in case of said scenario.
I had formed an opinion of “them” as being uncaring and hostile.
I gathered my courage, washed my face, threw on some clothes and got in my car- destination Del Monte Avenue- before I had a moment to change my mind. I had not been back to my old house since I moved almost a year ago- not even to drive down the street- although I got a quick view in my peripheral vision when I would drive down Llagas Road before my new development created a street with more direct access.
Not even a quarter mile away yet worlds away… I pulled up in front of the house and jumped out. I had a handwritten note to leave just in case no one answered the door (which I expected). It was only 8am and even though I’m usually awake for hours by then, the rest of the world sleeps in.
She answered the door, clad in a bathrobe, mascara smeared and hair in disarray. She was so kind! “Oh, they are in the garage! Let me go and open it!”
In my imagination I walked with her through the sunlit entry and into my cheerful kitchen. Past the breakfast nook and through the faithful laundry room. I opened the garage door and then I met this stranger in the driveway.
And it was me.
I asked “Are you enjoying the house?”
She responded “Yes! I’d love to ask you in but…”
Little did she know that I had already been inside. And it was lovely.
I have done the grieving and I’m feeling quite content in my new home. But this has been the graced moment that I have needed to complete my transition.
On this very beautiful Good Friday morning I have received a special delivery.
And I am finally delivered.
We mount our bikes and get ready for a hardy workout. The room is dim but the stage is elevated and illuminated to spotlight the empty bike from where our instructor, Ian, will be leading our 45 minute session of blood, sweat, tears and redemption. We are warming up, adjusting our seats, and preparing our souls in anticipation.
Enter Ian left stage. He is ripped and torn and fit as a fiddle with a dashing smile and a charismatic personality.
“Who has not been to Soul Cycle before?”
“Who has not been to MY class?”
He makes a mental note of who might need some extra attention in the room. He is like a prophet bringing the good news to the flock who long for health and fitness.
And off we go. The music is pounding. My daughter in law inserts her ear plugs. Ah, those thirty something kids! They can’t handle loud music? Me, on the other hand, after raising three sons with a drum set and other accouterments of a noisy household- including broken windows and baseballs thrown through doors- can find peace at any decibel.
“I know you didn’t come here to just exercise! You came here to push your limits! To see what you can do! To be all that you can!”
Yes, I want what he’s selling! But I glance briefly at my 25 week pregnant daughter in law and say quietly to her not to push yet! She can’t hear me above the din of the rock music and of course the ear plugs.
“Get rid of any negativity. People tell you it can’t be done! You might fail! They fill you with doubt and cloud your dreams! Well, I have three words for you! THREE WORDS!”
I’m thinking “get behind me Satan?” No, that’s four words…
“STAND YOUR GROUND! Don’t let people tell you who you are and what you can do! STAND YOUR GROUND!”
We’re out of the saddles now climbing the imaginary hill of our challenges and struggles. The room is moving in synchronicity. Bodies up and down and up and down on cue. I am pretty sure that if Ian told us to do a flip over our handlebars we would all cooperate. We are mesmerized by his words and his commands.
“What are you holding on to today? Let me hold it for you! Let it go and BE FREE.”
I’m beginning to wonder if there will be a crucifixion at the end of class..
“Look around you. You don’t know what burdens people have in their lives. You have no idea what the person next to you is going through today. Perhaps the biggest challenge of their life!”
I move my sweaty hand and gently touch Breezy’s hand. I’ve been so cavalier about her being pregnant and having a baby. Women do it all the time. But this is her biggest challenge right now! Pregnancy, nutrition, getting enough rest, knowing when to stop working and start nesting, moving into a new place- maybe even being married to my son, Peter! Did I raise him to be a good enough husband and father?
We are heading for the climax of the class. We are sweating and panting and letting it all go and feeling free.
“I want you to leave here with an open heart! A heart ready to love!”
I’m thinking about how fortunate I am to have this wonderful relationship with my daughter in law. There is an intimacy that continues to grow between us. I couldn’t be more delighted with the woman she is and the mother she will soon be. And I love her as if she were my own daughter.
Cooling down now and stretching. The lights go on and I realize we are at a spin class- not a revival.
There have been so many changes in my life this past year. A new home. A grandson to look forward to. My new role as a Sittie. I have considered going back into weekly therapy with my 80 year old guru, Lucia. But now I’m kind of thinking that all I really need is this quality time with my beautiful daughter in law, Breezy, a positive attitude and an open heart from which to love, and perhaps a weekly visit to the Church of Soul Cycle.
Do I hear an AMEN?