By Marlena Maduro Baraf
As a grandmother, I recently had a revelation while playing with my granddaughters during a yoga session: grandparenting requires a whole new set of parenting skills, needing a less is more approach than daily parenting. Kids hearts are delicate things. My role as a grandmother is to be a soft cushion for their hearts.
“Grandma,” Penny whispers to me in the kitchen, “I’ll teach you yoga today.” Penny at four is the younger of my two granddaughters, the one who everyone says takes after me. I look at Penny who has cupid lips the texture of rose petals, and I try to imagine, what was I like when I was four?
I follow my granddaughter to the small room outside of my bedroom with a window to the garden. We lay down two yoga mats, my turquoise mat tired after ten years of classes and the new one that’s the color of a fresh, new leaf. Penny aligns herself opposite me, little toes grabbing the mat. She folds down into a “v,” places her hands forward on the mat, like the front legs of a dog. “Do Dog, grandma.”
We’ve only just begun, and Penny’s sister Elena, two years older, appears at the open doorway. “You are doing it all wrong! I’m going to be the teacher.” Elena’s hair is blond and long like the Cinderella doll. Elena puts her small hands on Penny’s circly shoulders and shoves hard! Penny falls off the mat. “First, you’ll sit over there,” Elena commands. Second, we’re going to do dance moves.”
Now Penny has clammed up. Only a month ago she’d retaliate unexpectedly, a sudden hit to her sister’s back. Lately, she’s come up with a new self-preservation technique: The silent treatment. Not a peep. Penny holds her arms straight and stiff against her sides and walks away. Elena is left without a class, because I, too, have decided to roll up the show. “Later,” I say to Elena, and I, too, walk.
Earlier that day as we sat together and Penny was coloring in the vibrant strokes of a Picasso, I told Penny how much I liked the picture. I could barely hear her when she mumbled, “Mickey says that I scribble.” Her lips turned down at the edges the smallest amount. I could see she was in pain. A “scribble” must be bad. I knew about that Mickey. Penny talks about him all the time, her first little-boy love. How did a little boy in nursery school learn this way of hurting?
“How would you like to color, Penny?”
“I’d like to color ‘beautiful,’ grandma.” A single tear slid down on her cheek.
I was struck at how early in life we can be hurt so deeply. And we protect that little heart by trying to avoid bad feelings. Only much later we will begin to understand that people have their own reasons for doing what they do. I see this in Penny, as young as she is. And I don’t want her to close up, and so feel a little less.
The most caring thing I can do as a grandmother, I see it now, is to hear the girls out, to listen for the why. Let me be a soft cushion for their hearts.
“Grandma, would you play with me?” Elena asks me in the afternoon while her sister naps. “I’ll tell you what, Elena, why don’t we take your Elsa and Anna dolls to a yoga class.” Elena looks at me from her left eye. Her lips are pursed. She’d rather play ‘store,’ but she grabs Elsa and Anna, Rapunzel, and Ariel by their slender Barbie torsos. She follows me out. We stretch out the mats. “Elena,” I tell her, “Fold over with your tail up in the air…pedal your feet…wag your tail.” Elena’s yellow hair hangs down onto the floor. “Now let’s take Elsa and fold her.” Elena pulls Elsa out of my hands. She takes stock of the other dolls and gives me Anna, the only brunette, like me. Elena shakes her head and laughs hysterically. She tells Elsa, “Get that tail up and shake it, shake it.”
Now Penny’s in the doorway, her cheeks pink, flushed from sleep.
“Penny, take Anna from Grandma,” Elena calls out. We’re having a dancing party.”
I walk my legs to meet my hands flat on the mat, and I lift up from Downward Facing Dog. I tell myself to remember something from the sweet practice with my eldest granddaughter: that these are young, tender hearts.
“Ok,” I say. “I’ll put on the music.
Marlena is a Panamanian-born writer and interior designer based in New York. Her work has been published in the Westchester Review and Blue Lyra Review. She is currently at work on a memoir.
Marlena Maduro Baraf
You can find her on Twitter @MarlenaBaraf