Saturday, December 3, 2011

Popcorn and a Runny Nose

When my two oldest children were small, I was a single mom and worked full-time.  On one particularly exhausting day, it seemed my work was insurmountable. I sat on the floor, surrounded by laundry and discouragement. 
Suddenly, my three-year-old son ran into the room with a runny nose and a big smile on his face. 
“Mama!” Jordan squealed.  “Look what I can do!”  He opened a fistful of popcorn and waved his other hand as if performing a magic trick.  Then he carefully took one popped kernel and pressed it against his upper lip.  It stuck. 
Jordan was thrilled at his new skill.  I laughed and cheered as he walked around the room until the popcorn finally fell off.  He insisted that I try it and even offered to give me his own snot-covered popcorn (I declined, insisting that honey worked just as well). We modeled our new, edible mustaches for my daughter, then a mature five-year-old.  She was disgusted at the thought of using snot for glue.  But she agreed to a board game and ate her own bowl of popcorn—sans snot.
As my family grew and three more kids arrived, life became even busier.  I learned that silly time was absolutely vital to our sanity. It was the glue (or snot) that held us together.  In moments of chaos, I reached for the blocks and we built castles that towered above the mountains of stress.  We raced Hot Wheels in the hallway and built rivers in the dirt.  I learned to sing more silly songs and clean less.  A lot less.

Now that my kids are older, the Legos and blocks are relegated to a closet shelf, but we still desperately need time to be silly.  Fortunately, we have someone who reminds us to do that. 

At 15 months old, my granddaughter inspires us to race cars and stack blocks for no logical reason.  She helps us stay grounded.  Literally.  The world is much less serious when you view it from your hands and knees.
This little bundle of energy is a gift; she makes us laugh more and worry less.  A lot less.

And each time I reach for a tissue to wipe a little face, I remember an important lesson from long ago:  you never know when a runny nose will come in handy. 

Back to School for Grandma

Once upon a time, college students were young, rosy-cheeked kids, barely old enough to vote and still dependent on Dad for a monthly stipend, delivered by an actual postman.  I know--I was there.

These days, college students come in all shapes and ages, including grandmas.  Yep, I’m still here.

Those of us on the 30-year plan are trekking across campus alongside those fresh-faced kids.  Two of them are mine.  I once joked that I would graduate from college with my kids, but who’s laughing now?  I’m older than most of my classmates’ parents and I expected to be greeted with rolling eyes, just like at home.  I had nightmares of sitting on a stool at the front of the class with a tall, pointed hat.
Boy, I was wrong.  No one even blinks an eye when I walk into class and sit next to them.  In fact, I’ve actually been invited to be in study groups.  I guess wrinkles make you look smart.
Middle-aged adults are returning to college in increasing numbers, lugging backpacks and cramming for midterms.  The number of college and university students age 35 and older has soared from about 823,000 in 1970 to an estimated 2.9 million in 2001 — doubling from 9.6% of total students to 19.2%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Phyllis Reffo is one of us.   After two years at a junior college, this 49-year-old applied at several universities and was accepted by all of them.  She picked Pepperdine where she is working on her bachelor degree.  Oh, did I mention she’s on the swim team?   A former runner, she turned to swimming to keep in shape after several injuries.  A swim coach spotted Reffo and asked her to try out for the team.  And it’s not just her time that is getting attention.  A former model, she is turning plenty of younger heads.  In her swim team photo, Reffo blends in with her teenage teammates.  Try Googling her—she’s the tall, sculpted one in the swimsuit.  
Reffo swims the breaststroke and individual medleys, fitting in classes, homework and time for her 12- and 14-year-old daughters.  She is proving that going back to school is easier than ever.  There are re-entry services and financial aid and online classes make scheduling a snap.  I juggle homework around carpools and track meets.
So the only thing I’ve got on Reffo is the fact that I have a grandbaby and Reffo doesn’t.  Well, I don’t swim either, but that’s beside the point. 
I bet my backpack is just as heavy as hers.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baklava and Lima Beans

My grandmother Chrysler, with
her two sons around 1945. 
My father is on the left.
 When my daughter, Holly, walked into my house looking rather pale and carrying a bowl, I had my suspicions.  I know morning sickness when I see it.  Especially when it lasts past morning.  Holly announced that she was expecting my first grandbaby.  At 26, she was six years older than I was when I gave birth to her.  Surprisingly, my emotions were mixed.  I was thrilled and concerned, since Holly obviously inherited my tendency to be very sick. 
But I was much too young to be a grandmother.  My youngest child, Abbie, was not quite 10 years old, and my boys would be 13, 16 and 23 when my new granddaughter was born.  I was still an active mom, shuffling between football, tennis and music lessons.  I still had a playpen and Fisher Price toys in the closet. 
I was suddenly in the midst of an identity crises. 
Apparently, I am not alone.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average age for first-time grandmothers is 47.  The memories I have of my own grandmothers are not of youthful women in their 40’s.  I can’t imagine them cheering to the point of embarrassment as their teenager crosses the finish line in a track meet.  I can’t imagine them serving more fast food than home cooked meals in a single week.  In fact, I don’t recall them ever eating at a fast food restaurant.  Not once.
My two grandmothers were polar opposites.  One was a product of the Depression and could have been very happy living in a Hooverville (Ironically, her surname was Hoover).  The other, my paternal grandmother, was rather well off and regularly dyed her beautiful red hair which was pulled up in an ornate twist.  In spite of their differences, they had one important thing in common:  they truly loved their grandchildren.  They showed their love in very different ways, but it usually involved food. 
Grandma Hoover let us pick cherries from her trees and my older sister and I sported red hands from canning and eating the sweet fruit.  From her, I learned to eat lima beans and brussel sprouts without throwing up.  Grandma Chrysler (who indeed drove a Chrysler), simmered her amazing spaghetti sauce all day while our mouths watered in anticipation.  She made delicious Baklava and sent chocolate tortes in the mail at Christmas.  Each of these women were comfortable in their aprons and in their grandmotherly roles.
As I awaited the arrival of my new granddaughter, I did a lot of soul searching, trying to identify my possible skills, which did not include cooking.  But before I could establish a firm set of goals, the sweet baby arrived.  She looked so much like her mother that it was almost déjà vu.  Suddenly, I felt right at home in my new role, which didn’t seem that different from the one I already have. 
And even though I’ve never made Baklava or served lima beans, I think I can do this.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In the beginning...

In the beginning...

there were Grandmothers.  Well, I don't suppose Cain and Able had one, but their kids did--her name was Eve.  I'm willing to bet that Eve missed her lovely garden and the abundant ready-to-eat meals served on trees, since she had to become accustomed to manual labor.  Like baking unleavened bread and weaving her own baskets. 

I was not cut out to be that kind of grandmother--or mother, for that matter.  So instead of being born during biblical times, I was born during the Baby Boom.  I dreamed of growing up to become a famous journalist or politician or a rich artist.

I never dreamed I'd be a grandma. 

But here I am, one of millions of first-time young grandmothers who is trying on this new role.  There are lots of you out there, join me in this journey.  I'll spring for an apron with a little bling.  You bring the unleavened bread.