A Grandmother Is the Keeper of the Ancestry Cloth
The night before my youngest grandson’s simple preschool graduation, I read a horribly mean post online mocking the mastery of preschool activities like block building, dress up and eating snack in order to get a diploma that they can’t even read. She obviously thought her put down was really funny, but it punched my gut. It hurt me.
I struggled over it for some time. I know she was “just kidding,” so what exactly was hurting MY feelings? I’m not even the parent she was calling out…
That’s It! I’m the Grandmother
This writer was casually yanking threads out of the fabric of Our Family and stomping on them with glee. The precious fabric that Our Family weaves daily thread by thread. Meal by meal. Word by word. Hug by hug. Those tiny but reliable moments form Our Family Fabric, and the decision to send our kids to preschool is one of the threads.
Preschool, as almost everyone knows, is a big step for social and cognitive growth away from home. The writer managed to devalue all of early childhood education as well: the children, early childhood teachers, and most of all made fun of the parents who think acknowledging the ending of preschool is worth a moment of their time.
Well, a Grandmother is the Keeper of the Ancestry Cloth, for a lack of a better term. THAT’S why it hurt me.
Grandmothers Are Different But the Same
I guess this is more opinion than fact, but while Grandmothers come in all flavors, we sing the same songs. Once we look beyond our superficial roles as babysitters and/or gift givers, we see our greater purpose. In my case, I see Grandmothers as the transmitters of family traditions, skills, and stories. Ancestry. We try to keep the clan tightly woven together. I feel that responsibility because I know if Grandmothers forget or never get around to it, the family threads weaken and break.
Every Grandmother is different, of course. I think the role is seen differently by cultures. My memories are crystal clear of both of my Grandmothers. One of my Grandmothers, who was Norwegian, was very formal. She shook our hands hello and goodbye every Thanksgiving visit, but was also very kind and calm. She did not teach me anything directly, but I learned of patience, humility, and hard work indirectly by watching and listening to her speak. She also wrote amazing journals while she was young.
My other Grandmother, who was from rural Kentucky, was a very hands on mentor. She let me help her, and taught me to fry chicken, crack eggs, and make cinnamon rolls when I was very young. I hear her laugh and feel her warm touch to this day. My grandmothers formed my heart.
We learn how to Grandparent from our Grandparents.
Don’t Try Too Hard.
I see some families that seem to try too hard, or don’t recognize the ancestry that they already have. Maybe they didn’t know their Grandmothers. They are not satisfied, and so they look for new ideas in magazines or online to create some more modern family traditions. It’s OK, but not if they lose the authenticity of their real history. Don’t replace the Family Fabric with a shiny new “cartoon” cloth made without your true past.
I think Grandparents just being with grandchildren shares many threads that we are not even aware of. Mannerisms, sayings, and our way of being is enough. Time with us allows children to understand our uniqueness, but also our connection. Sometimes they see themselves or their parents when they watch us. We are all puzzle pieces of the family that fit together.
I remember how different my children’s relationship with my mother became when we moved across the country for just three years while they were young. She became a weekly phone call and a birthday card to my children. They were missing an incredibly important link to who they were. We moved back.
According to studies done by anthropologist Kirsten Hawkes of the University of Utah, Grandmothers throughout time have been responsible for the evolution of human relationships. As a hub of the family, Grandmother often keeps peace, brings members together, and models pro-social and cooperative behavior. Grandmothers have a longstanding and crucial role in keeping families from drifting or splitting apart, and Hawkes argues it was a key to our human evolution.
The Threads of a Life
Some Grandmothers make a point of passing down recipes, languages, or other specific skills like sewing, gardening, or art that run in the family. Some Grandmothers don’t think to, so you should ask them! It would warm their heart to know you cared to learn.
Others find that transmitting family traditions is their favorite role. Holidays are recreated every year as an homage to their ancestors and their own childhoods. Grandparents share stories that honor the family who are no longer there. They tell grandchildren about the history of some of their old dishes or blankets or photos. It keeps the family connected over the generations.
Some Grandmothers document ancestry. They research,preserve, scrapbook, film and photograph. Some give their time, some share their knowledge, or make something with their hands to keep forever.
Without her, the Family Fabric is lost.
Common Memories Survive and Build Ancestry
Every time we connect, even in the tiniest way, we create another fiber for our ancestry. The more threads, the stronger the family. That writer that claimed she did not understand why preschoolers should have a graduation ceremony, was missing the point. Our family coming together to focus on a young child for one hour, created a common memory.
Maybe it will be shared in my grandson’s stories long after I’m gone…