Archives for December 2012
My family is passably matriarchal. I think this occurred out of my mother’s loneliness and dominance of our home. I don’t think we meant for it to be that way, but much can change in just one generation. My mother was a teenage runaway in 1944. Those years are somewhat murky in the history of my family; legend has it that my father married her that year. I inherited a ruby ring from my mother; my father says he bought the ring for her on D – Day in New York City. My father told me it was one of his first mistakes, he wanted her to wear a ruby ring because ruby was his birthstone and he said he never gave a thought to her birthstone.
My family of origin was not a blended family. My parents were devout Episcopalians who had seven children and never practiced birth control. My mother told me that she loved her priest. She says that after I was born (the 4th child) she went to the priest to ask to practice birth control and he wouldn’t have it. I know that they kept a close relationship for a bit more time because in 1960 when I got spinal meningitis and had to be hospitalized, it was the priest that my mother counted on. In all the stories I heard about that hospitalization, I don’t remember my mother mentioning my father at all. My mother tells me that she was panic stricken about my illness, because as a child, she had witnessed a cousin die a horrible death from spinal meningitis. She said that her cousin’s spine curled up into a circle and it killed her cousin. It was backwoods Louisiana in 1960, so they drained the infection from my spinal column and injected iodine. That’s my mother’s story anyway.
Later, I remember going to church potluck dinners and that our family was considered to be small. All of my friends’ families had 9 – 12 kids. I was holding my father’s hand and heard his embarrassment when discussing how small his family was.
Nowhere was either set of grandparents. I had no idea what grandparents were until we moved to Florida when I was in the third grade. We moved to Florida because my father’s parents had retired in Bradenton. They had moved into a trailer park. When I met them, I remember thinking that they didn’t like us very much. I was very much mistaken; my grandmother was a stern German woman who had the look of an angry suffragette. Again, a mistaken impression, she was raised in the European culture (born in 1900 in New York) of don’t touch / don’t show affection. The Victorian culture harmed so many people by making touch and love wrong…
In any case, we did not spend much time with my father’s parents and there was never a real life model for grand-parenting. When I had children, both my mother and my husband’s mother proved themselves to be exceptional grandmothers. We had a “poppa” and a “grampa”. Grampa was my dad and he made himself scarce while my kids were growing up. He followed his parent’s model of grandparenting and tried to stay away. The other 3 grandparents were excellent and the grandmothers took care of everything from Christmas eve until Easter morning. The only holiday I was allowed to hostess was Thanksgiving. I made dinner for everyone on both sides of the family, indeed, we cooked for forty.
My mother died quite suddenly in 1996 and from that time until my kids’ father died of his one and only heart attack in January of 2007, and my father died in November of 2007, all of our grandparents passed away.
Matriarchy wasn’t a plan, or a cultural thing, it’s just that our kids saw women as managing everything. We dominated where they went and what they did. We were in charge. I worked very hard to keep my family together and to make sure that everyone was supported lovingly into adulthood. Because I had such great role models, I also worked very hard at grand-parenting. Indeed, I felt that my mothers had been giants. I often felt inadequate, and of course, I was alone. After my divorce in 2001, I had not been willing to remarry, instead focusing hard-core on my career, a luxury I had never had in my life.
Okay, so then I married a man who is perfect for me. He is a “poppy”. Since we had a “poppa” when the girls were young, I can understand a “poppy”. I relate! So while we are preparing for the wedding my faraway daughters come to stay and therefore our grandchildren at-home multiplied. We have five grandsons born since June of 2009. Jaxsun is the oldest of this group, born on 6/6/09. My new husband loves these small people and they love him. As we prepare for our wedding these little people are under our feet constantly. They clean out the lower kitchen cabinets, gleefully allowing pots to drop onto the ceramic tile floor, they rampage through the house screaming and they ‘try’ every door and window, trying to escape, but who knows what they are trying to escape from?
It’s a mad house with kids screaming from 0700 to 2200 hours (so if you are medical or military that’s 15 straight hours). Jaxsun starts calling my husband-to-be ‘brown gramma’. So I ask him, what is a brown gramma? So we talk and laugh about this, Jaxsun is 3 and ½ years old and he speaks quite clearly and certainly lets us know what he is thinking and feeling: “I am berry mad right now, gramma.” Still, he cannot tell me what a ‘brown gramma’ is. Then Jaxsun starts calling me “Grampa”. Now earlier, I heard his mother telling him that my new husband is a grampa, but instead of calling him grampa, Jaxsun calls me grampa. I look at Jaxsun’s father and I think to myself, how sad. How sad could it be that while we have lamented the lack of grandmothers in our generation, we have NOT lamented the lack of grampas? Jaxsun has no living biological grandfather. He has no living grampa to speak to and has never, ever understood the concept of grampa. I think that this is an oversight in my family, and I think this oversight must be corrected. We know when grandma is gone, we cry and we grieve, but we take it for granted that yes, our grandfathers are gone and there is no one there, but we do not comment on this. I think that this is sad. I think that grampas must be as necessary as grammas and I think that my grandson Jaxsun and all of those grandsons that follow him should know that yes, grampas (who are male) are missed! We need grampas! We need them and love them as much as we need and miss and love grammas. As long as I am here, I want to be sure that my grandsons and granddaughters love and value gramma and grampa.
What does that have to do with blended families? Sometimes I think that we believe we know what is right and what is wrong. We will put our beliefs on our new blended family as if our belief is the gospel of humanity. Sometimes it takes a 3 and ½ year old grandson to show us the error of our ways! Grampa is important and necessary, even if we come from a matriarchal family. We will not and can not function by ourselves, alone. Thank God for grandchildren for needing and loving both of us: gramma and grampa!
So our children are not “the” original children. I think that nature helps us by giving us parenting hormones and these hormones make us ferocious protectors and providers for our offspring. I do not think that our children are all that original; just as ‘we’ are not all that original. We are part of the human tribe. We like being individual and we like belonging to certain groups and this is all part of being human. Being individual is part of the universal human experience. Being individual makes us more universal.
I find this endearing. I find it endearing that the very thing we seek, in order to be different, is the thing that identifies us as universally human.
Somewhere along the line, I got married, a real marriage, and Russell became the oldest, of many. He was the best, he is a genuis, he is beautiful, he is responsible, he is caring. He is the quintessential big brother, ultra responsible, ultra stable. In those halcyon days, we focused on “the kids” and somewhere along the line, Russell got lost. I don’t know how, but I lost him. When I sent him away to college, I was completely bereft. I drove 100 miles every week to see him. I couldn’t get past it. What I could not get over was this idea that Russell had somehow slipped through my motherly fingers and somehow I had missed him.
Russell always stepped aside because his younger siblings always needed something and that something was needed from us, his parents. Russell thinks of others first, and that sacrifice and my ignorance, cost us, at least some of our relationship. We served others and within that focus became our loss of each other.
Once again, I grieve for my son. I am inadequate to the challenge of being the warm and considerate mother that he could benefit from. I am distracted, lost in the glamour of his younger sisters, working diligently on salvaging his younger brothers. Again, I am bereft. I want my first born son to know that I love him, that he is, in fact, perfect. He is a man that any mother can be proud of, he is a man who deserves his mother’s attention, love and regard. I will not miss him anymore, I will be with him, I want to know him. I want my son to know that I love and admire him. Russell, you have always been my north star. You are the beginning, you are the one who started it all. It was always my love for you that motivated me to continue, to do, to move forward.
It is fitting, it is appropriate, it is the future for you to give me away, the bride to my new husband. You are the one who encouraged me to look for happiness, to enjoy it, to pursue it. You remind me of Atlas, at times, you seem to carry the weight of the world. Please know that every step that you take, every where that you go, you are your mother’s heart, the center of a family who reveres and loves y.o.u. unto all time.