When most people hear the word "grandma," they think of a little old lady who knits and bakes cookies. Me? I picture a badass, smart as hell, militant librarian who will wipe the floor with you at Trivial Pursuit. In other words, my grandma is a special lady. From the way she parented herself to how she helped raise me, my grandmother has taught me so much about motherhood.
My parents were separated before I was born, so my mom took my sister (13 months older) and me and moved in with her parents. I enjoyed what was nothing short of a magical childhood, full of camping trips, putting on shows for the adults, and watching Fraggle Rock before bedtime. Moving out was incredibly difficult, but since Grandma was the librarian at my elementary school, I got to see her all the time. As a teen, I was grandma's buddy for trips to museums and the theater. Once I became a full-fledged adult, I joined her book club. She's always been a central figure in my life.
So it was with great pleasure that I announced my pregnancy to her. I remember heading up to her retirement home with the ultrasound picture in my hand. She was so excited to be a great-grandma! I visited her every week as my belly grew bigger and bigger. When our little girl finally made her debut, she became the fourth generation of smart, spirited women in our family.
"You Can Do It Your Way"
Grandma was by no means traditional, and she was that way from the very beginning. She was always a liberal and a feminist and recalls infuriating her Republican parents by attending a Truman rally. She was no different when it came to birthing her babies, either.
In the 1950s, it was still common for expectant mothers to undergo what was known as "twilight sleep" (think Betty Draper in Mad Men). The drug was part morphine (for pain relief) and part scopolamine (to induce amnesia). The latter essentially erased the memory of the birth altogether. Gram was having none of that. She insisted on an unmedicated birth and was sarcastically dubbed "Mrs. Natural Childbirth" by her doctor. So, when it came to my baby's birth and pretty much any decision I made about her upbringing, I channeled my inner grandma and did it my way.
"Breast Is Best"
When Grandma became a mom, breastfeeding was in decline. In those days, most people accepted that science could produce a better way to feed babies than a mother's body. Consumers, thanks to aggressive advertisement, regarded formula as a viable and even preferable alternative to breast milk. Gram knew otherwise. She insisted on breastfeeding all three of her children. Research has proven her right.
Breastfeeding didn't come easily to me, even though I had significantly more support than my grandmother. Still, I persisted because I wanted my baby to have all the benefits breastfeeding offers. I ended up supplementing with formula (it is a viable alternative), but I fought hard to breastfeed and am proud to have done it for eight months.
Grandma never let motherhood, or grandmotherhood for that matter, slow her down. As toddlers, our grandparents took us girls cross-country skiing in baby backpacks. Gram took bellydancing classes for the first time when we lived with them, and I remember the jingling of her coin belt and learning to roll my stomach. (Even post-baby, I still can. Boom. Thanks, Grandma.) Even later on, she was dedicated to exercise, from Curves to Silver Sneakers.
I'm a little on the lazy side. I like to say I'm an "indoor" kinda person. However, it's important to me to be an active mom. I was pretty impressed with myself when I strapped my little one in a baby carrier along with three other babywearing mom friends and hiked around a local canyon.
"Give Your Children Experiences"
In the gospel according to Grandma, you can spoil a child with stuff but you can't spoil them with experiences. We certainly weren't wanting for toys, but the best gifts were our adventures with our grandparents. We had season passes to the Seattle Science Center and goggled at the IMAX films. Grandma took each of us to plays, planting a love of theater in me. We saw daVinci's Codex Leicester and the King Tut exhibit.
Perhaps the best were the trips. Grandma, Grandpa, my sister, and I went on a cross-country train trip through Canada to Niagara Falls and back through the U.S. Another year, we sailed through Puget Sound. The summer before my senior year, Grandma took me to England and Wales for the trip of a lifetime.
Now, my grandparents had resources that not everyone has. Still, I love the intention behind this philosophy: making memories. My lucky little girl has gotten to visit the Grand Canyon, swim in the ocean, and feed the cows at her grandparents' ranch.
"Teach Your Children To Love Books"
Grandma was always a reader. Gifts from her were usually books, and she always seemed to know which ones would delight each of her grandkids. As an elementary school librarian, she had access to authors and my autographed books are my prized possessions. Together, she and my mom raised readers, and I'm determined to do the same.
I loved calling my grandma to tell her we got our library card in our new city. I take my daughter to story time every week. She loves the rhymes and songs. Afterward, we check out new books (returning books via the slot is the highlight of the trip). Even though it drives me crazy to have her take all her books off the shelf in her room, I love that she takes them out to "read" them to herself. Our nightly ritual of reading on mommy's lap is the best part of my day.
"Keep Your Mind Active"
As a new mom, it's easy to lose yourself in all your new duties. There's so much required of you when taking care of a baby that it really saps your physical and mental energy. Grandma is my reminder that I need to honor myself with some intellectual time. This is the woman who used to do the New York Times Crossword in pen, for goodness' sake. When my day is full of dirty diapers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I take time at the end of it to read, write, and ponder.
"It's Never Too Late"
When you're in the mom trenches, it's hard to feel like there will ever be a time when you get to do something for yourself. Maybe when the kids are out of the house, you think. Gram is here to tell you that it's sooner than you might suppose. As a young mom of three, Grandma both learned to drive and completed her college degree. If she can do that, then I can surely learn a bit of German or give skiing another try.
"Never Lose Your Sense of Humor"
When I was a little girl, I hit my head on the corner of Grandma's car door. It hurt, but I was most worried that it would leave a mark. When I woke up in Gram's water bed the next morning, my forehead was black and blue. She let me freak out for a few minutes before she confessed to applying eye makeup to me to make it look like a bruise. Yeah, Grandma's a minx.
In my opinion, that's the approach you have to take to sanely navigate motherhood. Teach your kids to laugh at themselves, and do that by laughing at yourself. Even on the worst days, my darling child can make me giggle, like when she scowls exactly like her daddy. Laughter really is the best medicine, and Grandma knows best.