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.
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.
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.
Don’t ever tell me that I cannot do something. It makes my resolve bubble up like saliva around a sweet tart. I love a good dare. It gives me a focus and a purpose and a drive. Dares might just be the only way that I move forward in my life.
But no one dared me to sell my house and move into a townhouse a couple short blocks away. I can practically see the out- of- control 50 foot curly willow tree from my front porch! They haven’t cut it down yet even though I disclosed the snapping branches in the escrow papers. But they did remove the beautiful buttercup blooming Magnolia that Dale planted for me in the front yard three years ago. And the potted flowers on the front porch that I left behind because they were oh so pretty and I wanted the new owners to enjoy them… gone now and nothing to replace them.
“It’s not your house anymore” says my wise middle son.
I know, wise middle son.
I found this “Dare” card as I was decorating my new place and I put it in my downstairs bathroom. The red matches the lovely framed print of the Virgin Mary and Jesus that I purchased at the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence, Italy way back in 2000. The picture hung proudly over the toilet of my red powder room in the house that I no longer own. I’m quite sure they have repainted THAT room. Who paints a bathroom red?? Right?
As I read this card I see that it has taken on a meaning that is utterly circumstantial and profound in my current state of mind. Dare to believe in yourself. Dare to trust that you have what it takes to make it happen. Dare to savor all that life has to offer.
Dare to grasp that your Kansas is within you. OK.. ouch!
Some people are nomads. Wherever they can lay their head and set up camp is sufficient.
But some of us are always looking for our Kansas. Our home. We click away at our red sparkly designer flats and tell ourselves that there’s no place like it. There’s no place like home. And then we find ourselves constantly looking.
For that idyllic home. The one we dream about. The one that makes us feel secure and safe.
I ask myself.. where is my home? My parents are deceased. My children are college educated and gainfully employed. I’ve given away the sweatshirts, the camping gear, the tents, whiffle bats and balls, beach umbrellas, boogie boards, shelves of required reading for high school students and the magical closet full of suits that my three sons wore with permutations of ties, socks, shirts and shoes. The paraphernalia of parenthood has been dissolved and distributed. I am no longer the keeper of things.
Where the hell is my Kansas?
Someone, quick, dare me to find it!
Occurring at a favorable time. Opportune. Involving divine foresight or intervention.
I think both definitions fit perfectly but I am leaning towards the latter.
I am finally in my new home. It feels somewhat like a new shoe. Super fabulous looking but in need of some breaking in.
My sons and my daughter in law have all come to share a glass of wine, Chinese food, snacks, coffee and bagels. My grand-dogs have run through the house, making my cat, Ethel, climb up high on top of the kitchen cupboards just like old times. I’ve had interesting people in and out buying items from my Craig’s List postings (thank you, Patrick), giving me some nice cash to buy lots of take out so that I can feed the “help” until I get this new kitchen organized.
Yesterday I met the most interesting couple- Sharon and Neil. They drove from Hayward to get my Pottery Barn chair and a half with the matching ottoman. Neil is a Marriage and Family Therapist like me and Sharon is a Pastoral Minister, a Buddhist practitioner and a future radio personality. They were so very compatible, finishing each other’s sentences and taking turns sharing their personal stories with me, my son, Peter, and my daughter in law, Brianna. Neil and Peter had a common acquaintance. Sharon and I could have talked forever about her work and her experiences ministering to the dying at UCSF.
We contemplated my parents’ dining room furniture and how difficult it was to fit into my new place. Sharon had so many insights about how objects carry memory and good “karma” so to speak and how passing them on is a blessing to the next owner. Perhaps I could also make a sort of “hope chest” in the closet under the staircase with the silver and other family heirlooms that I’ve had the pleasure of inheriting over the years. A future grand-daughter might fall in love with these items. I felt somewhat of a release from the old and permission to move into the future with not only my earned wisdom but also with fresh ideas and a clean slate.
After Neil and Sharon left, I experienced my new home with different eyes. How did these two intriguing and insightful people walk off the street and into my life? Even if I never see them again (although I have a feeling I will) they have touched something deep inside of me.
New concepts. New opportunities. New people traversing my life path and sharing their stories. This is not just my new home. This is an opportunity for transformation.
As Peter and Breezy piled the doggies into the car and prepared to head north, and we reviewed our visit with Neil and Sharon, I asked, “Providential. Is that a word?”. Peter said “I don’t think so, Mom. You made that up.”
I do sort of make things up sometimes. I embellish and take writer’s liberties. I’m a good story teller.
But when I got back into the house I Googled “providential” like a good student of vocabulary and there it was.
I couldn’t have made up a better word for the way I was feeling.
Imminent- about to happen, close at hand, forthcoming, in the offing, on the horizon, expected, anticipated, looming…
It’s like waiting for the wedding to begin. Everyone is giddy with excitement and suspense. Or waiting for a baby to be born where there’s a conglomeration of anxiety, longing, and hopefulness.
We spend so much time in our lives waiting for something to happen. My friend, Tom, calls it “waiting energy”. We wait for the clothes to be dry, for the turkey to be done, for the pudding to set, for the tomato plant to produce for us a bumper crop of sweet fruit. We wait for someone to “pop the question”.
We wait for the mail to come, for a phone call from a significant other, for the car to warm up, for our guests to arrive, for the guy from Home Depot to deliver the new refrigerator. We wait for the test results, for some good news, for a loved one to pass away from their pain and suffering into relief and peace.
And then we wait for our grieving to end.
I’ve been waiting all summer for my townhouse to be finished. But it’s really not about the townhouse.
It’s about me.
What is it about “waiting energy” that zaps our lives and renders us immobile, unproductive and frozen in time and space? Why can’t we stop waiting for something to happen and just start living our lives in whatever space we dwell in.
Physical space. Psychological space. Spiritual space. Inner space. Outer space.
What have you put your life on hold for- and why?
I recently traveled to Pendleton, Oregon via Portland to attend a wedding with my manfriend, Dale. Driving along the Columbia River, I requested to stop at Multnomah Falls, a place that I hiked often with my little family when we lived in Portland almost 18 years ago. I was totally unprepared for the flood of emotions I felt as we stood at the base of the falls.
The next morning in our hotel, after engaging in a ruckus round of early morning texts with my siblings- not an unusual exchange and something my son, Patrick, refers to as a Lebanese alarm clock- my brother, Johnnie, who lives in Pullman, Washington, singled me out in communication.
“Did you drive or fly in?” he inquired.
I responded: “We flew into Portland. Made me sad. Good memories.”
” Yes.. I bet.” He replied.
Me: “Don’t you wish you could have some do-overs in life?”
My brother, Johnnie, left the Catholic church years ago for a more fundamental Christian congregation and I quite expected him to come back with a bible verse that might elevate me out of the mundane into the spiritual realm.
But his response surprised me.
“Yes.” He said simply.
Now I would not bore/shock you with the list of potential do-overs that I have experienced in my life. Some are huge detours I’ve taken off the main road and some are on a smaller scale yet significant nonetheless. A few are so private and personal that I don’t even allow them into my conscious awareness, never mind share them with my closest friend. Most have had far reaching ramifications that were impossible to foresee.
I am going to make a list of those potential do-overs for myself, have a good cry, and then create a ceremonial burning so that I can face the future without regret, remorse and existential angst. If you decide to make your own list, I’d love to hear how that goes for you. Hopefully we can be the salve to heal one another’s disappointments in life, missed opportunities and painful mistakes.