Two weeks ago, Pap and I hosted our twin sweeties for a week. It’s something that we’ve been doing with the girls since the summer they turned two. This year they turn six, so it’s quite an established tradition by now.
We occasionally take the girls for a week or so at other times during the year, when their parents need to get something done that can be slowed down by running after two rambunctious little girls: moving, repairing flood damage, and once in a while even a few days away without little ones. Add to that the times the whole family visits and the girls are quite comfortable here.
Pap and I have scoured garage sales and secondhand stores and have outfitted our home with all the necessities for the girls, and now for their little brother. Toys, books, and their mother’s old Barbies have their regular places and the kids run right to them when they get here.
This year, when Son1 moved to his own place, we turned his bedroom into a princess room just for the girls. They have their own twin beds all decked out in princess bedding, with princess decals on the walls and Barbies in a bin in the corner. The girls are ecstatic. They love having “their” room at Mimi and Pap’s.
Although they’re identical twins physically, they have very distinct personalities. They both love music and dancing and fashion, but Molly seems to have taken it to heart very deeply. She is passionate about all forms of the arts, somehow working that perspective into everything she does. She is a loving child, but she keeps her emotions close to her vest.
Harper, while also loving artistic endeavors, is the more openly sweet girl of the two. She is a nurturer, always asking how everyone is doing, making sure that if you’re sick she takes care of you, and prays daily for her family. She is the one who takes the lead on arranging birthday and anniversary celebrations, and fusses over everyone as though she is much older than her six years.
The sweeties’ other grandparents live several states away, and get to see the kids in person only a few times a year. But some of today’s technology is downright miraculous. Grandma and Granddad Skype with the kids regularly, and speak often on the phone. Harper’s nighttime prayers always begin with a prayer for Grandma, her Dada’s mother, and often during the day, Harper mentions Grandma and Granddad in some way. She speaks of them as matter-of-factly as if they lived next door.
This recently got me thinking about the different kinds of relationships we have with our grandparents. Family dynamics and individual personalities can give us as many types of bonds with grandparents as there are stars in the sky. Physical distance is no longer an obstacle to a close and loving relationship between grandparents and their sweeties.
Or was it ever? In my own case, it wasn’t.
My father’s mother, my beloved Nana, lived just four blocks away from us when I was growing up. My mother’s mother, on the other hand, lived for most of my childhood all the way on the other side of Pennsylvania from where I lived outside of Pittsburgh. Grandma moved first to West Virginia when I was in college, and then to New Mexico after I was married. But I was just as close to her as I was to Nana, albeit in a different way.
There were three places outside of my home that were sanctuaries of sorts to me growing up—the local library, my best friend’s home, and Nana’s. I spent hours and hours on end with Nana, listening to her tell me stories of raising seven children in the two-bedroom little house where she still lived, making dresses for her girls from flour sacks, sending one of her sons out to the yard to wring a chicken’s neck for supper. Sometimes I’d just sit with her for the afternoon, watching her “stories” with her and munching on the snacks she absolutely insisted that I eat. On special occasions, I would be allowed to eat dinner with her. Usually it was broiled chicken or lamb chops, but every once in a while, someone would bring her a squirrel or rabbit and we would dine on the special treat. I adored Nana. I didn’t have to earn her love and approval in any way. She didn’t care about my report card (as long as I was doing well in school), or if I had finished my chores (as long as I was being a good daughter), or any other objective measurement of accomplishment. She loved me and I loved her and that’s all that mattered.
I learned how to choose a good cut of lamb from Nana, and how to grow basilico (basil) and dry it to store for the winter. She made “Nana” cookies—traditional Italian anise cookies, and let me dip the cookies in the powdered sugar icing and sprinkle the multi-colored sprinkles on top. Every Christmas Eve, she attended Midnight Mass with us and then slept on our couch so she could be with us at the crack of dawn on Christmas morning. When she was too frail to attend Mass I stayed up to watch the Pope’s Mass on TV with her. To this very day, I still watch the Pope’s Mass and feel Nana’s spirit beside me.
She called me “my Michele” to the day she died, six weeks shy of turning 101. I grew up believing that I was her favorite of all her many grandchildren. It wasn’t until her funeral when I was in my mid-30’s that I learned that all of her grandchildren thought the same thing. That’s the kind of love our Nana gave us. This tiny little immigrant woman, who spoke broken English and never learned to read or write, gave a whole generation a foundation of feeling loved and cherished. She was remarkable. Nana gave me my strong faith in God and family, and showed me how to keep a firm hand with my children, all the while showering them with love and attention. I owe the way I show my children unabashed love along with discipline to Nana.
My mother’s mother, Grandma, on the other hand, was cut from a whole different cloth, and yet I cherished my relationship with her no less for the geographic distance between us. Grandma was a trailblazer of sorts. She and my grandfather divorced when my mother was a child, at a time when divorce was rare. Their four daughters stayed with Pap Pap, as Grandma moved away with her new husband, an unheard of situation in those days.
Grandma also worked outside the home, unlike any other grandmother I knew. She was an outstanding seamstress, making draperies, winter coats, and men’s suits in addition to the traditional women and children’s outfits. She was active in local events and traveled the world.
My mother encouraged me to correspond with Grandma, and we exchanged letters until Grandma died. Visits with her were few and far between, usually yearly when I was a child, but less often once I went off to college and then started my own family.
Grandma handed down her sewing skills to her own daughters, and my mother handed them down to me and my five sisters. I began sewing when we were around ten years old, and by eighth grade, I was making most of the clothes I wore when not wearing my Catholic school uniform.
When she visited, Grandma would bring us the most wonderful gifts—bolts of fabric for us to sew with. Each of us sisters would get a different pattern. Once Grandma had left, we would race downtown and spend hours at the dime store pouring over the pattern books and deciding what to make with our treasures. I made a patchwork quilt in high school that was made from the scraps of fabric left over after I made an outfit. I can still look at that quilt and tell you what type of clothing I had made with it.
Despite the great differences in distance and time spent in person between my two grandmothers, I enjoyed a very close and loving relationship with them both. I am so happy to see that my own grandchildren have developed the same type of closeness with both sets of grandparents despite similar distances in place and time.
If you are a grandparent, or a parent of little ones whose grandparents don’t live close by, download Skype, buy a book of stamps and some paper and envelopes, or use some of your phone’s allotted minutes to contact your loved ones. It’s never too late to create the kinds of connections between generations that will last your own lifetime and beyond. The fullness in your heart is worth the effort many times over.