I recently returned from a quick and dirty fun-filled trip to Nashville to see Peter, Brianna and my two precious grandsons- Bear and Boe. It had been a while, so this Sitti (Arabic for Grandmother) was itching to get as many hugs and kisses in as possible during the visit.
I am filled with thoughtful reflection about my five days on the floor, climbing in and out of playground tunnels and zooming down slides, sorting through legos and trucks, jumping on pillows, bending down to help little hands drive little vehicles, playing Uno and Candyland, practicing reading and making silly words out of vowels and consonants and loving every head bang and diaper change while simultaneously singing “I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor” over and over again.
I won’t lie..
This 65 year old body was ready for a quiet four and a half hour flight home in an aisle seat with my glass of water and bag of pretzels.
It’s challenging being a long distance Sitti. You have to pile all the love, presents, angst and intention into a multi-day window of concentrated and intense togetherness that is probably better budgeted out into smaller and more absorbable portions. But it’s the best we can do with the 2000 plus mile distance between us. I find myself yearning to hear things like “Mom, can you pick Boe up from school today” or “Hey mom, can you babysit this Saturday night?”
My son Peter and I had a chance to talk one evening over an adult beverage after the boys were tucked in and then again before I left for the airport. We talked about raising sons and what it was like for me to have three little ones under 5 years old.
Frankly, I have trouble remembering! I just know that it was hard work and looking back I was crazy to not get more household help! I told him that I thought he and Breezy were doing a wonderful job and I was impressed with the “sleep training” and the 7pm bedtime, all of the kid friendly kitchen utensils and cups and the multi-bag deliveries from Whole Foods including fresh flowers for each of the boys’ bedrooms. Such a sweet gesture.
When I come to Nashville I walk into their world and it’s a different world than the one I raised Peter and his brothers in. We had no internet. No google to search. No “Alexa, set the timer for 10 minutes”. No grocery delivery. (Although there was a drive through dairy that was fun for getting the occasional popsicle!)
I got my parenting advise from my wise and highly experienced mom (of six), The Gesell Institute and T Berry Brazelton. I subscribed to the “toy of the month club” and diligently studied the instructions for each toy to make sure I understood the developmental milestones being reinforced. I depended on Le Leche to help me with breast feeding and I had my mother tribe to meet with at the park or call in a desperate moment from the wall phone in the kitchen. (Oh Lordy, I’m dating myself!)
I told Peter that we still live in different worlds. We each have our own peer group- he and Breezy have their friends who are immersed in the business of raising children. And I have mine. A partner who loves and supports me and vibrant women friends who have done their time raising families and who are now navigating the next chapter of their lives- finding an encore career or retiring all together- selling all their belongings and traveling the world in an Airstream!
Yet, most importantly, we are all asking ourselves how we might find a place in the lives of our children and grandchildren.
The generation gap is huge. Yet the chasm is manageable when we can have heart to heart conversations like this one.
I shared with Peter how devastating it was to lose my mom to cancer when I was 30. Peter was just one year old. I told him other things that he was too young to remember. And personal things about me that he would have been too young to understand. And why not?
How old do our children have to be before we tell them who you really are?
Are they old enough at 36 years old to know the struggles we had at their age? To know our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses? To unearth stagnant memories and harvest understanding? To change the narrative? To garner acceptance and forgiveness?
At the airport we circled a few times so that we could finish our conversation- to be sure that we ended our time together with understanding and closure. Peter suggested that.
Being a long distance Sitti and a long distance Mom is challenging. But it has its advantages. There is focused time to be together, to be intentional, and to dig deep. It’s like concentrated orange juice before you dilute it.
It’s sticky.. yet oh so sweet.