Tomorrow night is a special night for me: 6-year-old Caroline is coming to spend the night with us for the first time. Oh, she and her parents lived with us for a short time years ago when their house was being built, but she was just a toddler then, and her parents were there, too. Now it will just be Ed, me, and Caroline for a whole night.
When I first became a grandmother, I realized that I had never really had a grandmother role model. My paternal grandmother was a diabetic, half-blind old lady who lived in the room at the back of our house. She used to come out for birthday celebrations when my sister and I were little, but then she “took to her room” for the rest of her life, keeping her room dark, and all the interaction I had when we got older was catching glimpses of her down the hall, usually of Daddy trying to get her to take her medicine.
My maternal grandmother was anorexic, although they didn’t know about eating disorders back then, and she was hospitalized for most of my growing-up years. We traveled the 2-hour drive to see her every other weekend, take her out to lunch, etc. I remember that she loved to brush my waist-length hair, but a lot of the time she was confused or anxious. I don’t remember when she was younger and emotionally/mentally healthy.
When I became a mother, I finally got to see a grandmother in action, as I watched my own mother build a relationship with my kids. That was a fulfilling thing to see, but it’s not the same as being a child and forming your own idea of what a grandmother should be, how she should look, what she should do, how she should act - from a child’s point of view.
So through the last 6 years, I have had to figure out my own role as grandmother, and that includes learning to share the grandmother role with the other grandmother, who is a couple of decades older than I am. “Nana” has been a wonderful grandma for the kids, and we never try to compete, but instead use our unique talents and gifts to shape our own relationships with the girls.
Sometimes I wonder what Caroline and Charlotte (and any future grandkids from son Matt and his wife, Sarah) will remember about me. One day, they may write down their memories as I do. Maybe they will recall my playing the harp, or my making them Halloween costumes, or my love of Lincoln. Or, it may be just everyday things - things I can’t plan and can’t control, but things that will end up having sentimental meaning for them. Sometimes you can’t make memories; sometimes you just provide the environment and let them happen.
So, although we will take Caroline out to eat tomorrow night, and although I have a new book I’d like us to read together, this visit will be mainly unplanned and spontaneous. As a grandmother-in-training, I will pour out the love, hugs, and kisses, then sit back and let Caroline take the lead. I can only plant the seeds, and I’m sure I will be fascinated to see what comes up!