My kids adore their grandmother.
The word “dote” wouldn’t be too strong to describe their attitude toward her. It’s a mutual doting. She tells me constantly how “brilliant, sweet, generous and good” they are. They, in turn, seem to not mind one bit doing the yeoman labors of making sure she takes her medicine, gets her meals and is constantly looked after.
Caring for an elderly parent is not all that difficult when the grandkids stop their rounds of work, dates and classwork to take on far more than their fair share of the tending. It amuses me no end that the first person they introduce their girls to is my mother. She always knows all about their date lives, while I am usually far behind on the information curve.
They feel so strongly about their grandmother, that when I tried to take on more of her care — in the mistaken idea that I was lifting a burden off them — they protested loud and long.
I felt much the same about my own grandmother. Grandparents are a healthy relief from the intensity of the parent-child relationship. They give a safe place for kids to spread their wings in the relatively low-key and tolerant atmosphere of adoring grandparents. I remember once my mother told me “we don’t do homework at my house,” when I asked her to make sure the boys did some sort of schoolwork that needed doing at the time. I don’t remember if my lower jaw hit the floor or not, but I do remember the amusement I felt when she said that.
I had the urge to tap her on the forehead and ask, “Mama, are you in there?”
This clearly was not the same woman who had raised me.
And, of course, that was true. She wasn’t the same woman who had raised me. At that point, I was the one on the hot seat. I was the parent with the task of shaping these babies of mine into responsible, productive adults who could earn their living and found families of their own one day.
My mother had done her time in the parental labor yard, and now she was deep into that other role of Grandparent. It was not her job to make sure they did their homework, and she wasn’t going to do it. Her job was to adore them and give them the unalloyed love and adoration that only a grandparent can.
Judging by their attitude today, when she’s a little bit dotty and a whole lot in need of unalloyed love and adoration herself, she did well.
Pope Francis spoke of this beautiful and unique contribution that grandparents make to the welfare of their grandchildren yesterday, on the feast of Joachim and Anna, who were Jesus’ grandparents. We often think of Joseph, Mary and Jesus as a totally isolated unit. But in truth, they existed within a community of relations and kinsmen, as do people in the Middle East, even today.
Scriptures mention this in the story of Jesus getting separated from Mary and Joseph when He stayed back to teach at the Temple when He was 12. There are oblique mentions of it later in His life when the Scriptures reference His mother’s relations, as well as His “brothers,” which is to say His kinsmen. Again, even today in the Middle East, people call their kinsmen, including cousins and more distant relations, “brothers.”
We don’t have specific information about how Joachim and Anna lived out their grandparent role in Jesus’ life, but since God had chosen to be born to this particular girl who was part of this particular family, I think it’s a good guess that they did it well. After all, these were the people who raised Our Lady. That’s a powerful testament to their child-rearing abilities.
Pope Francis emphasized on the flight from Rome to Rio earlier this week that the elderly are as important to the future of the Church as the young. There is a symmetry to life and this Latin American pope seems well aware of it. Traditional families, based on a mother and a father, and backed up with the loving help and support of the generation before them, are the best, most stable and healthy way to nurture and guide children from birth to adulthood.
People who grow up in this environment have learned the value of all people at various stages of life by seeing that value acted out in their own families. They’ve learned love by being loved. They acquired stability by growing up in stable homes. They’ve been supported, first by their parents and then by their grandparents who could pitch in and broaden their experiences and also fill the gaps in their experience that parents could not reach.
I had many of the most profoundly shaping conversations of my childhood with my grandmother. She had time to just sit and listen to my childish rambles that my mother and father did not. She was removed from the pressures of getting it all done and could give me her undivided attention for hours at a time. I basked and flowered in the soft sunlight of this attention.
My mother did the same thing for my kids. And now, just as I adored my grandmother, they adore her.
My youngest son drives a pick-up that sits high off the ground. When he wants to take his 88-year-old Amah out for a spin, he picks her up like she weighs no more than a potato chip and lifts her onto the seat. Then, off they go on a ramble.
She invariably comes back all aglow, telling me “that boy is the sweetest thing.”
I was setting up some work on my house yesterday. The lady who took my order was here for a while, measuring and writing down the particulars. I got calls from my kids who were at work and my mother who was at adult day care all through my discussion with this lady. I didn’t think anything about it. They call me all the time.
But as we were winding up our discussion the lady taking the order said, “Do you know how blessed you are?”
I said yes. And I do know. But it was lovely to have her remind me.
The generations, young to old, are good. The Holy Father is right: We should cherish the elderly, for they are vital to us and our well-being.