Grandmothers' ways aren't of the old days
By JAMES PETTICAN
Published July 14, 2006
Having reached a year beyond the halfway point of my ninth decade, I realize I have lived through a lot of changes, some obvious, some not.
One of the changes that might not be so obvious relates to grandmothering. Grandmothers are thought of as never changing. But is that really true?
My memories of my maternal great-grandmother are limited, since she died when I was 8. I can still see her, though, usually in the throes of an endless battle to keep warm and comfortable in the low-tech world of 1928.
She usually sat in a rocker, close to the fireplace if Jack Frost was nipping, sporting the traditional shawl and voluminous long skirt. She was either being fussed over or consulted as an oracle by an array of her daughters.
Her German-accented English was my first introduction to English spoken with a foreign accent. She came to this country in the middle years of her marriage.
Along with her other great-grandkids, I received the usual head pats and occasional smiles. She died in her early 80s.
My maternal grandmother was a different story. Her husband died suddenly at 28 and left her with a daughter to support. At first, she tried various jobs, one of them in a factory that made hand-painted china (some of her work is still around), but soon she opted for entrepreneurship and ran a boardinghouse. Eventually, her only daughter met my father-to-be, and I was their firstborn.
My grandma gradually gave up her business as she aged, but she lived with us and helped my parents raise five kids, one of them handicapped. She was a churchgoing, all-business type who nevertheless gave ample amounts of tenderness to us all, along with a guide to the straight and narrow. We called her "Mum," and I realize now that we, in a sense, had two mothers. Not a bad deal.
Mum died while I was serving in World War II, and I was not permitted a furlough home for her funeral, since grandmothers were not on the approved list. I still resent my enforced absence.
When my mother came to the role of grandmother, she honored all the cliches and took great pride in her grandkids, a couple of whom went on to impressive achievements. However, she broke no new ground in the field of grandmothering.
After her death, our family had no grandmothers for a short while, but during the l980s and 1990s, I was able to witness the rise of the "Me Generation" of grandmothers. They loved their grandkids but sometimes at a distance and often asked to be called by their first name or nickname rather than Grandma. They golfed, they swam, they traveled and they often enjoyed retirement in places where distance limited visits to or from grandchildren to once or twice a year.
Let it be said, though, that through all those years, grandmothers in our minority communities were many times pitching in on the full-time job of child-raising and supporting. To this day, they are the solid bedrock in their grandkids' lives.
Now a new sort of grandmother is emerging.
Lacking a better term, I call her the 21st Century Grandmother. She is a blend of the traditional and the present day. She bakes cookies and reads stories, but she also joins in her grandkids' activities, from bike riding to athletics. She knows that it is now socially acceptable for a grandma to introduce a grandson to the mysteries of cooking and even home repair. I am a firsthand witness to the 21st Century Grandmother since I'm married to one.
Where will grandmothering go next? Well, we'll know more once one establishes residence, on her own, at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.
Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor.
[Last modified July 14, 2006, 05:37:18]
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