Saturday, September 23, 2006
She would have been smiling to see me falling asleep on the sofa. She knew the routine.
She lived in an apartment just two blocks away and would often baby sit so that hubby and I could get a much-needed night out. Playing games like Husker Du or Pigs Are Poppin’ and then getting them settled into their beds, she doted on her two little grandchildren. We would return late at night and find her, head nodding, trying hard to stay awake. One of us would drive her back home. She never seemed to mind the late-night imposition.
My mom became a grandmother in her sixties. The role became her. She had grown up as the oldest girl, the responsible one who took care of the rest of the family. She lavished that same care on husband and daughter as the years went by. She was the product of an immigrant culture where the women were expected to be the primary caretakers; the men, the breadwinners. There were sacrifices to be made.
As a child, she loved to draw and the nuns would have her create holiday pictures of Santa Claus and winter landscapes. She thought of becoming a nurse but her formal education was cut short so that she could contribute at home by minding her younger siblings. When she grew older, she nursed her own invalid mother and ailing brother but never realized her original dream. Instead, she used her hands to bake and sew and crochet.
Becoming a grandmother brought out the child in her. She got to draw and play again. She got to sing silly songs and bake appetizing treats for an adoring new generation: a dark-haired little girl with deep, bright eyes and a wispy-haired younger boy who warmed to her attention. To be in her kitchen, to have her look at them as if they were the only two children in the entire world, was a reciprocal gift. They got the promise of unconditional love; she got back all the innocence and joy of her early youth. She laughed at their antics and beamed as they ate her special cakes and cookies. She crocheted dolls and capes and shared secrets in the middle of the night when they would sleep over. She was a good listener. She became a part of the fabric of their everyday lives. They, and she, were richer for it.
I baby sat for the girls last night. We watched Peter Pan and looked at American Girl catalogs and just shared time together. Their mom and dad were out on a special anniversary date. Hannah was so eager to see Peter Pan. When the movie started to play, I realized with a shock that it was the same movie I had watched over fifty years ago, not much older than she. I was suddenly transported to my own childhood and memories of a Peter Pan activity book which I played with for hours. I remembered the weekly visits to my aunt and uncle’s and setting up the Peter Pan play book on their dining-room table. I loved Tinkerbelle as much as Hannah! I looked into her excited face and saw something familiar. For one brief moment, it was like looking into a mirror of myself in another dimension. Little me, playing with delight and moving those Peter Pan cut-out figures all around my aunt’s table. I then looked at Sophie, the wise one, totally immersed in the movie. Her concentration often seems overwhelming but suddenly she reminded me of my own intensity as a child. When I engaged my Peter Pan dolls, I stepped completely into the moment and tuned out the rest of the world. I was like that whenever I played with my dolls and toys.
The movie ended and I marched them up to bed. Hannah tried to wager for another round of playtime but had to settle for “family rules” and a couple bedtime stories read to her and her sister on their parents’ big bed. Sophie settled into her bedroom with the American Girl catalogs while I put Hannah in her crib, gave her the customary tickle and told an accelerated version of Cinderella. She was asleep by the time I got into the hallway. Sophie, on the other hand, was busy printing out a list of dolls that she would love to buy from the catalogs with her allowance. Explaining the need for long-term strategies regarding enough cash flow for such high-end items, I tucked her in.
I came downstairs and sat on the sofa, waiting for Jenn and David to return. I found myself dozing off. Head nodding, I could not help but think of my mom.
A car pulled up and, like many years before, a grown daughter drove her tired mother home to an apartment just two blocks away.