By the time I became a mom, three days after my 32nd birthday, my grandmother was in the advanced stages of dementia. And, like most new moms, it is only after becoming a parent yourself that you begin to understand the love, joy, and sacrifice of being a mother.
My grandmother did not have a childhood. Her mother, due to measles, was severely disabled from a young age, leaving my grandmother to step into that role with two siblings to care for. Her father was not a kind man. They lived in severe poverty.
After my grandmother married, she herself had five children, two of those were birthed at home. At a very young age, one of them almost died from pneumonia. My mother had rheumatic fever at age 8, which was first thought to be polio (can you imagine that fear?). My mom’s brother had hepatitis A, so my grandmother had to clean the bathroom every time he used it. They had one bathroom for seven people. She had no dishwasher, no washing machine, no ipad, no TV, no daycare, no MDO, no disposable diapers, no easy meals. She made all meals from scratch every day, including dessert with dinner. They had very little money. She made their clothes. They had one car.
Then, I got to thinking. When she needed a break, there was no girl’s night. There was no Netflix and popcorn/wine session. She couldn’t text her friend to vent or get online and browse pinterest for birthday party ideas. There were no date nights or beach trips. Self-care was not a thing. There wasn’t any time or money.
How did she do it?
My grandmother never complained. I also never, ever, even when I was a child and young adult, remember her sitting down until she was forced to by dementia. I would arrive and she would immediately make me something “real quick” from scratch like it was NBD.
At 4ft 11, she was small, but she was mighty. Once, when she was gardening, she literally shattered her ankle and crawled-CRAWLED to the house to get help. She had a super-human pain tolerance. Prior to her dementia, she hosted Christmas every year, with a family of close to 50 people, and bought gifts for every single grandchild and great-grandchild.
I want to ask her “How did you do it?” “When you were at your wit’s end and the kids were driving you bonkers, how did you deal?” “How did you find enough hours in the day?” “How did you keep five children clean, dressed, fed, alive, and happy without so much?”
My mother never remembers my grandmother raising her voice. She remembers a happy childhood full of love, making mud pies in the yard with her siblings, camping on Lake Ouachita in the summers, and always having a hot meal.
The last four years of her life were spent in a nursing home, where she still-STILL offered me her food when I visited her. Her husband, my grandfather, came every day from before breakfast, went home briefly, and returned until after dinner. Every. Day. For. Four. Years. They were married 69 years where she passed away in hospice care in January. She was in hospice for over a year (usually patients have a life expectancy of six months of less to be eligible for hospice-there’s that mighty thing again), tough until the end. A friend I attended nursing school with was one of her hospice nurses. This brought me so much peace during a difficult time.
I received news on New Year’s Day that she was not doing well. I packed as quickly as I could and headed South. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it past Fayetteville before I received the call that she had passed away. I was so upset, I had to pull over. I sat in my car and cried- big, ugly cried. I could never ask her those questions now. Yes, I am so lucky to have had 34 years with her. I am so glad she met my daughter, held her, and talked to her many times. I am so glad her recipes were passed down from my mom to me and that my family enjoys them.
But, I wish I would’ve asked. I wish I would’ve talked to her more about being a mom in the 50s and 60s. I wish that I could’ve confided in her about my wonderful, stubborn toddler. Dementia stole that opportunity. I know she would’ve laughed and shared memories and advice. Even with one child, in 2018, parenting is hard. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for her.
If you have a living grandparent, ask them. Even if you are not a parent yet, ask them. Seek their knowledge and wisdom about their life, their hardships, and their triumphs. Talk to your spouse and your children about it. Continue their legacy so it transcends generations. While technology and lifestyles change drastically over the decades, motherhood is innate. Toddlers still throw tantrums, babies have colic, and teenagers rebel. A mother’s love, unconditional love for this tiny human that sometimes drives you bananas, remains unchanging.