What are You Doing With Your Grandchildren?

A renewed website seems the right time to blog about the things that are important to me. I hope you will find them of relevance in your life and decide to follow along the path where these irregular posts may lead.

White Nano

My first question, “What do you do with your grandchildren?” brings to mind the gifts my grandparents offered me. Most significant is the life skills I learned from my Norwegian grandmother, Dad’s mother. She showed me how to knit, to crochet, to embroidery, to make and serve coffee. Then when I was old enough, she taught how to sew a simple seam. I learned to manage using my left hand to guide the fabric, and my right hand turning the handle of her hand-cranked sewing machine.

We had no electricity there on the float, no refrigeration or roads to the outside world. We were essentially locked in by water and our escape was by water. With her quiet assured manner Grandma Gunhild, who I called White Nano for her silver white hair, made everyday life lessons interesting. Until I was nine years old, she was a daily influence on me. (My determined granddaughter requested a sewing machine for Christmas when she was nine, and then took lessons to learn to use it. Sadly, I was not in Alberta to teach her.)

Little Nano

My mother’s mother, Little Nano, was as different from White Nano as she could have been. I spent time with her during summer visits to their Jackson Bay farm. Short and solid with a wide range of farm and gardening knowledge, Nano taught me the difference between the weeds and the cultivated plants as we moved together along the rows. She showed me how to thin beets, turnips and carrots, then called upon me to pick the peas and beans. During my summers at the farm it became my job to feed the chickens and collect the eggs. Occasionally I was allowed to turn the handle of the milk separator and watch it pour out cream for our breakfast porrige. These were all life skills in her world but never as significant in mine. Both of my grandfathers made their own contribution to my knowledge of life, but that story is for another time.

Dead now for thirty years, I’ve had some time to think about what my own parents gave to my three children. They came to visit us regularly and were present at every Christmas and family celebration, taking a serious interest in what each of them was interested in and what they were doing. I think the important thing is they were present in their young lives and made a positive impression on it. Despite our distance challenges I have tried to follow their example.

Being a Grandmother

Having had no expectation of ever being a grandmother – my other two children had made different choices – when my youngest daughter had her first child I was thrust into learning about the meaning of ‘Grandma.’ With her enthusiastic assent I began finding ways of seeing Baby Tait every two, at most three months. Whether they came to me or I traveled there, each visit revealed new information and insights on his character and personality. Without that frequency it would have been easy to lose our comfortable relationship.

Now Tait has two sisters, Tessa and Tori, within a very busy household and I look forward to being with them whenever I can. Sometimes it has been to give Grandma-care when there are just too many priorities in their parent’s lives, other times the family comes here, or we vacation together.

Each visit has been precious time spent as I learn more about the developing personalities and interests of each of the children. We have fun together in new-to-them ways, like the ritual I showed them of hosting a tea party with real china and fabric tablecloth, puzzles and games they teach me, time spent in pool and ocean water learning of its powers and delights. I have enjoyed seeing them as they participate in sports and club activities. More recently they have been educating me on the merits and ways of using my iPad.

Immigrant Grandparents

Whenever I consider how fortunate I am to be able to come to know these children at all, I am reminded that my own grandmothers had no similar grandparent relationship available to their children. Both sets of my grandparents had a tremendous influence on me and taught me a great deal. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Norway as a young couple and their three children had no connection with the ‘old country’ where they had come from. My maternal grandmother came from Belgium as a child, with a similar result.

I find myself agonizing about how sad it is that both of my parents and their siblings did not have benefit of shared experiences with any grandparents. The loneliness those mothers felt in their new country without the familiarity and support of family members must have been dreadful. I salute them for all they endured, and although they have passed on, I thank them again for their gifts to me.