Friday, August 5, 2011

Families and Memories and Beaches (again!)

 Every day for her two-week visit, Nola's been taking someone to the park, generally in the morning. She's learned how to pump the swing by herself, to walk a curving balance beam, slide down the fire pole, and climb the monkey bars. She was already quite adept at squealing her way down the slide.
 Much of this activity is accompanied by a song, drawn from an astonishingly large repertoire, and demonstrating her musical heritage by being surprisingly pitch-accurate for her age. I won't say you haven't lived until you've sung "You are my Sunshine" together with a two-year-old, both of you pumping the swings higher and higher, but I felt a distinct click of satisfaction when I experienced that pleasure, a ticking-off of a life goal I'd never known I held.
 One day, as she and I sat on opposite ends of the teeter-totter, it was my turn to lead the chorus, and I started chanting that old classic "Teeter totter, bread and water." She chimed in to the end of the verse, and then she looked up at me and said, "We went to the park with Granny, Nana." And I was stunned that she had tuned into the same memory of that nursery rhyme as I had, of the day last winter when we visited the park next to Granny's (my mom's) place. She and Granny had played together on some of the equipment, and my mom had introduced Nola to "teeter totter."
 So guess who was sitting at the top of the teeter-totter, trying to hide her tears. The likelihood of my mother recalling that day is fairly slim, although I'll try to remind her of it -- that's the sad part of the tears. But on the happy side, the work we've done to make sure Nola knows the great-grandparents she's so lucky to have has paid off. It's not always easy to make the trek out to either grandparents' home, especially not while working around seniors' schedules and little one's nap time. Nor is it so easy to keep a little person entertained in the confined and slightly fussy interiors of their homes, filled with fascinating but fragile and/or precious objects. But we've made sure to keep those visits happening, wondering all along if Nola would carry memories of these important people forward, especially given that her days with them are obviously limited. Now, clearly, we know that she has images and anecdotes lodged in her memory bank to be polished and added to into her own future.

This weekend, my family (our own kids and their partners, plus 6 of my sibs, their partners, and a few of the nieces/nephews) is gathering again on our little island for a Saturday of grilled sausages, games, conversations, swimming, cake. Unlike last time, my mom will be joining us -- my brother's done some work to make sure that happens, insisting that it's really important for the family to have all the generations together. And while I have to admit it's easier to socialize without having to keep her in the loop and comfortable, he's absolutely right. Poised between my mother's failing memory and my granddaughter's newly and increasingly active one, I'm looking forward to a family weekend that will be remembered long into the future, four generations of us gathered together to play on the beach.

To close, may I ask a question? Obviously, there are few times and places in history that have offered long enough lifespans and short enough spaces between generations to allow families to have 4 (sometimes even 5, as with my grandmother who had a few great-greats). With childbirth being increasingly delayed into a woman's 30s, the 4th generation becomes less and less likely. Even though I was 23 when we had our first, I was 56 when Nola was born, and am unlikely to be around if/when she has children; I believe Nola's part of a disappearing phenomenon, at least in North American culture. What about your families? Were/are you part of a four-generation spread? Any memories you'd like to share?


  1. Great post! We also have the four-generation blessing -- at least for a while longer. My father-in-law is 89, and my parents are 79, and we have two grandchildren, 5 and 8. Our daughter had one child in grad school and one during her post-doc, so she was relatively young. It's wonderful to see all of them around the table together!

  2. I didn't have my first until I was 30. My grandmother died when my daughter was 5 months old. So my experience of the 4 generation stage was extremely brief. My mother is now 78, my daughter not quite 24. In another era I could imagine we'd have 4 generations. But for several reasons I think it's unlikely this time around. Not impossible, but unlikely.

    Your family reunion sounds wonderful. I realized, reading this, how much the history of divorce in my family leaves me craving just that, family. Especially because it was a privileged family, the material abundance cast a golden glow around our days together and increases the yearning.

    The time has come, I believe, for me to focus more strongly on moving on. Life is short. We have what we have.

    I hope you have a fantastic and fun reunion. Thanks for writing - I find you are a touchstone for me and I hope you don't mind.

  3. This is a wonderful post. My great-grandmother (father's grandmother) was alive until I was about 8, but unfortunately had started to lose her mental faculties by the time I was old enough to be aware of her. I do remember sitting outside on the porch steps with her, eating green apple slices sprinkled with salt. After my dad's death we found a stack of letters they had written back and forth to each other when he was a boy, and they were so sweet. It was obvious how much they loved each other. Have a lovely time this weekend!

  4. Nice post...I am 61 & our son had his first child at 32...another son at 30 not married yet...we are blessed to have baby at 9mths,his parents are 34, we are early 60's and we have 2 83, and the other 100:) The 100 yr old still has her mental faculties and enjoys seeing the little guy..who won't remember who she was except for stories and pictures.I guess we just take what we have and enjoy every wonderful moment as we have it..Thanks for the thought-provoking post..Coco

  5. I am part of a four genaration family - twice. My Grandmother died when my daughter was 10. Now my mother at 93, my daughter at 40 and my granddaughter at 8 all get together on a weekly basis! Until last year - my grandaughter had 3 greatgrandmothers - now she only has 2.

  6. What a lovely post. We are fortunate enough to have four mother is 89 and has three great grandchildren! Don't think my daughters will experience the
    four generations as I had my first at age 35. We have a wonderful photo of my great-grandmother (born in Ireland),
    Grandmother, mother, and sister as baby. Enjoy your
    Weekend.....glad your mother can attend.

  7. Tricia: How lucky -- your grandchildren will already have some solid memories of their great-grands and still have time for more! (your daughter sounds quite impressive, children & grad school!)
    Lisa: As a trade-off, of course, we have those longer, richer periods of mother-adult daughter relationships, without the younger gen. being distracted by children. I do treasure those years with my daughters, which would have been very different if they'd had their children as young as I did.
    And I have to say, your family life sounds very rich from here.
    Sue: Both Nola's great-grandmothers are losing some cognitive function, although she doesn't notice that yet. I love your memory of the apples -- the precision of taste, texture, colour. And those letters must be a family treasure. Lovely.
    Coco: Wow! Such longevity in your family! Even if your grandson doesn't personally remember his 100-year-old great-grand, he has the family mythology to pass along. Lovely. And thanks so much for commenting. I'm loving this conversation.
    Ming: Thanks to you, as well, a new commenter. I'm treasuring the image of your daughter, granddaughter, and mother visiting each week -- your granddaughter is old enough to have a full relationship with her great-grand, which she's sure to remember.
    Pavlova: I'm picturing that photo -- wonderful! Now I'm off to finish cooking tonight's chili. Enjoy your weekend as well.

  8. I love to hear stories of families enjoying time together. I can picture you singing you are my sunshine and pumping a swing with Nola. So sweet.

    Growing up in my own family was not a happy experience, but I am fortunate in being close to my own children. Like LPC, I find it better to let the past rest and move forward. In 2010 I wrote a series of memoir pieces on my old blog and in the act of writing memory into perspective, was able to let it go. I had no idea writing would have this effect.

    I wish you a beautiful weekend. I'm off to San Francisco for some fun plans with my son :-).

  9. Fab post! My daughter spent time with her great grandmother this summer and they got along really well. My grandmother is 88 - my other grandmother is 92 - and Im not close to any of my extended family due to my nomadic, expat upbringing. Its sad for me but i cannot force connections that are not there. My mother was born when her mother was 25. She had me at 21. I had my daughter just before i turned 30. This does seem like a momentary phenomenon.

  10. I met one of my great-grandmothers, but she was already in a home and I saw her only the once (we didn't grow up in the same country as our extended family). Both my grandmothers were still alive when Kid 1 was born but he never met them as they lived interstate and overseas - but my maternal grandmother had about 15 great grandchildren by then already - a real family of breeders!

    My mother and my in-laws are both very fit and well, and we have theories that Kid 1 will probably settle down with the first girl he dates, so it's possible our parents may see great-grandchildren. I hope so. The one thing in my life that makes me saddest is that my father died before my children were born - but they're lucky to have a great relationship with all their other grandparents, including my stepfather.

  11. Susan: I agree that sometimes it's best to move forward. In your case, perhaps in writing you were able to retrieve whatever might have been good about the past. Or just let it go . . . Having visited SF last winter (as you know), I'll try to picture you visiting there. Enjoy your time with your son.
    Kristin: So honoured that you interrupted your Europe time to comment. And I absolutely agree with you that connections can't be forced. Our parents tried to do a bit of that, but it really doesn't take, even in the name of family. I'm glad that NOla got to sense the genuine article this weekend, no sense of obligation, just fun.
    Tiffany: My daughter was my grandmother's 35th great-grandchild (grandma had 10 children, as did my mom) -- and she lived 'til B was 7. I can imagine how sad you'd be that your father didn't know your children; even now, I wish mine could meet my kids' partners, whom I know he'd love -- and he'd delight in my granddaughter. Amused by your speculation re Kid 1. Does he know? ;-)

  12. I'm rather late in responding to this post, my intentions sailing far ahead of what I have actually been accomplishing.

    My great-grandmother (paternal) was alive until I was 12 and I have very fond memories of times spent with her. She lived on her own until two yeas before her death at 89. I rather enjoyed having a great grandmother and two full sets of grandparents, and I was also aware that most of my childhood friends did not have the same fortunate quantity of elders.

    I now consider myself lucky to have formed strong bonds with grandparents, especially considering that my own parents attitudes toward their parents and families was generally one of avoidance as much as possible, though they would happily ship us (the children) off to a parent's house. I suspect my parents apathy toward family involvement is part of why it seems so important to me now.

    That said, my own (step) children and grandchildren's lives will be different. Although most of my grandparents were long-lived, living into their late 80s or 90s, they also started late with the families. My father's mother was 30 when he was born and my mother's mother was 42. All of my grandparents, and my father, died while I was in my 20s. Only one lived long enough for me to be married (I was 28) and she died 6 weeks after my wedding at 92.

    My grandson has three grandparents, all on his mom's side (father, mother, step-mother) and one great-grand, my mom, whom he has spoken to on the phone but never met. One of the things I am hoping for in Tennessee, besides spending more time with family and my grandson, is for my mom to be able to come out and spend some time with him as well, as she has been able to do with my brother's children and grandchildren, who are all closer to her in Dallas.

  13. Mardel: You had a great-grandma 'til you were 12? That seems quite remarkable to me, and makes me wonder if some of my cousins'kids had the same privilege (my daughter was my grandma's 35th great-grandchild, and she was 7 when Grandma died). She'll be firmly in your memory then.
    I hope you're able to get your mother and your grandson together -- we seem to have fewer and fewer occasions for cross-generational mixing and it seems so important to me.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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