If It Weren’t For My Mom…

If It Weren’t For My Mom…

BY BARBARA BARASH SIMMONS

Hurricane Katrina was destroying New Orleans at the same moment my first grandchild took his first breath. I had vacillated between staring at CNN and nervously watching the hospital waiting-room doorway for news of the birth. At two in the morning, my son came down the hallway with a wide grin on his weary face, and said, “A boy.”

My mother took to grand-mothering with a natural touch and spirit; it came to me slowly, just as parenting did. I was one of the last of my friends to become a grandmother in my 60s, so I didn’t ‘get’ the adoration that was involved, nor the strength of the tie. “Wait until you are a grandmother.” my friends would share, “it’s not like being a mother; it is even more than that.” 

I have a photo of myself cuddling my tiny grandson in my arms, gazing down at the boy who is now 14, and I look just like all grandmothers. But, for me, being a grandmother came with a self-warning – don’t be fearful like you were as a new mother.

Forty-five years ago, maybe the root of my new-mother anxiety was my ‘advanced’ age –I was in my mid-thirties when my only child was born on a raw January day, I became quick to panic and slow to show that I could be the competent mother he deserved.  He was perfect, I was not.

I was so relieved that my mother had arrived from out of town to help.

He seemed so fragile to me, and my fear was obvious as I let her take the lead in his new life.

I remained an observer watching her bathe and adeptly handle his slippery little body as she smiled and cooed, clearly enjoying him. It seemed magical that she would know his needs by hunch, decoding his various screams, sudden shivers, and strange nippy breaths as she ministered to him with loving touches and rapt gleeful attention.

He seemed so fragile to me, and my fear was obvious as I let her take the lead in his new life.

Each day I dreaded her leaving me alone with him. That came when the baby reached seven weeks. She walked down the stairs on a Sunday morning carrying her packed luggage, ready to travel to her own home hours away, away from me.

Distraught, I stared in disbelief that she could actually get into her car and drive away. Was it my flaw that I had come to depend on her calmness when the baby’s face turned bright crimson, seemingly choking or in pain? How could she disregard my crying, and my sobbing and my begging her not to leave? She parted ways cautioning: “You are not going to have any fun with this baby until you start taking care of him by yourself.” 

Panic and fear mixed ridiculously together in my gauche final plea for her to stay. I would like to believe that, at least in my subconscious, it twigged that she is the mother and grandmother I could someday be.

I am sure that if anything, it was the consistent quality presence of my mother in her grandson’s life that had so much to do with the man and the happy father my son became years later.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

She knew when he reached the perfect age for Cooperstown and did a road trip with the 9-year-old to mug cheek-to-cheek with Babe Ruth’s pudgy effigy at the entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They went to endless Disney movies in the early years, and later Woody Allen films; she joined him with gusto in over-eating junk. When he was a teen, she showed him the right way to stand when putting and they explored museums and galleries and went to Fenway Park with equal amounts of passion for the game and hot dogs.

She enticed him into reading good writers, first with a subscription to Sports Illustrated, and then by giving him first editions from her own home library which surely became the genesis of his love of literature, and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English and Journalism.

“…my mom was always at the core of my son’s life.”

From the difficult years of my marriage, the times when it was good, when it was hopeful, and then when it slipped into a void from which divorce was the only ladder out, through my years as a working single mother, my mom was always at the core of my son’s life.

My mother died nine months before he married.  On the day when the ICU doctor said, “It’s time, she is suffering.” My son held her hand as the respirator was turned off, the tubes removed and the nurses left the room with a quiet swoosh, leaving our little family all alone. He stood over her, muttering a prayer as he witnessed her last breath. Protective to the end, she would not have wished for him to endure that.

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My mom bonded so naturally with her grandchildren, and now, finally, I know I have too. My eldest granddaughter said recently, flashing me a smile while working together for a grade 7 project on ancestry: “I feel I know you well, and you know me.” 

My son and daughter-in-law don’t own even one television set, so my playfulness and attentiveness are real-time and it has inspired me to become a grandmother who is creative and involved. I even bought a bigger car to fit a baby seat, a booster seat and room to take equipment and kids to hockey practice and swim lessons; I watch dance recitals with the same enthusiasm of attending the New York City Ballet.

We talk about whatever is on their minds, like the recent toughie from the seven-year-old: “Are pirates real?” My five-year-old granddaughter considers me her personal assistant as I glue purple and pink plastic jewels onto bangle bracelets that are too big for her arms and will soon slide off, and their three-year-old brother spends every day in free-child lost in construction as we build LEGO towers that reach higher than his diminutive self.mom

Last week my daughter in law texted: “could you come over to babysit?” —I texted back “absolutely,” and in the car, I thought, what shall we do that will be fun? And I suddenly knew—so for the next two hours, my silky- haired 9-year-old granddaughter and I designed her birthday cake. With colored markers and thick craft paper, she and I drew what we would later bring to the bakery for them to make for her upcoming special day. Her face looked just like her dad’s had with my mom—happy.

These days, as my three youngest grandchildren pull me into the chaos of toys and laughter with sticky hands, bring me books to read and plan books to write together, I am a fun grandmother– and having great fun. Thanks, Mom.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR –  Barbara Barash Simmons

momI began my writing career for Radio Hong Kong during the late 1960s.
Now in Canada, I focus on writing for children and use my six grandkids for endless inspiration.

 

 

 

 

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