On Grandkids, Parenting and SARAH’S QUILT

My friend Hannah has a stepmother who picks out books for her. The books she picks, it seems to me, show something positive that she sees about Hannah. Last summer, Hannah’s stepmom picked out THESE IS MY WORDS by Nancy E. Turner. Hannah lent the book to me, and I reviewed it here.

Last week, I took the sequel to THESE IS MY WORDS, SARAH’S QUILT, out of the library, and although I should have been cleaning house and ironing and ….I read. And I am not sorry. While I liked THESE IS MY WORDS because I saw some of my younger self and some of my daughter in Sarah Prine, I see a lot of things that pertain to my life now in the story of the second half of Sarah’s life, the part that takes place after Jack Elliot, the love of her life, dies.

And what does this have to do with grandkids and parenting? Bear with me.


This is a picture of my youngest grandson, Tony, who is currently twenty-one months old.

Tony hasn’t been as quick to warm up to the hubby and me as his brother was. Sometimes I think this is because he has been in daycare for most of his life and therefore prefers the arms of his daddy and mommy any time he can get them, but some kids just prefer their mommies and daddies anyway. Used to be when we visited that the hubby and I counted ourselves lucky if he let one of us hold him. Let alone two.

But on our last visit two weeks ago, Tony did something he had never done before.  He stood on the deck behind his house, inserted himself between my knees, raised  his arms and said, “Grandma. Hold me.”

Those little arms did not have to reach twice.

I love my children more than words can express, but they just don’t reach for me like that much anymore. And there is a sweetness in the reaching that, until I read SARAH’S QUILT, I had not found the words to express. But Sarah Prine Elliot’s words do it pretty well.

In this part of SARAH’s QUILT, Sarah is holding her granddaughters when suddenly her eyes fill up with tears. She doesn’t live close to them. This is what Sarah says:

It hurt, too to see the babies. It was different from having my sons tease me that I was old, or for me to use my age as an excuse for some kind of laziness. Those times amounted to no more than squalling with no proof. This here was proof with no sound, proof that seeped into the small places of my heart where I never allowed any nonsense. The place inside that I thought of as me had just been informed that its owner was old. At home, when I was busy, there were days and weeks that flew by and I didn’t give time so much as a nod.

Now, I wouldn’t say that it hurts me to see my grandsons, but it sure does hurt to leave them! It is the order of things, but still… And there is something about being a grandparent that brings you face to face with the fact that a part of your life is over. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is still an ending.

So, Sarah goes on to hold her granddaughters, and tears fill her eyes. Her daughter sees the tears, and this is what happens:

“Mother!” April said. She took the little girls from me and set them back on the floor, then leaned onto my lap and put her cheek against mine. It was such an odd thing for her to do. How could I explain to a beautiful lady in a silk dress that when I picked up her baby girl, I felt that lady’s long ago chubby shape in my arms, smelled her sunshine-touched hair? That years and years of tiny memories flitted past my heart like a flock of birds spinning on invisible air? It was the smell of the girls, slightly wet, somewhat soapy, the smell of porridge supper and the taste of kissed-away tears. Here in my arms were the best parts of my life, going on, blooming like a strong tree.

Yeah. That’s what it felt like when Tony let me hold him. That’s what it feels like when either of those boys are in my arms. It’s a precious memory of holding their father. It’s “the best parts of my life, going on, blooming like a strong tree.”

Wise words from a pioneer woman, coming down through the eyes of her great-granddaughter.

But wait. There’s more. I don’t think that I will ever quit being a mother, although what I do in that capacity seems to change all the time. My friends and I joke sometimes that we raised our kids to think for themselves and then they went and did it! How frustrating! And it is. Sometimes. This is what Sarah has to say about that:

Reckon my being a mother is finished, like putting down a good long book. All this time they’d [her kids] been making choices of their own because I taught them to be clearheaded and go after what they wanted. I thought I was leading them, but the truth was I was just following them, holding up a lantern.

I really like that picture of being a mother. A mom is not one who dictates her children’s way. She is, however, the one who helps them find it.

So. If you haven’t read Nancy E. Turner’s books about her great-grandmother, I hope you will. They are worth the time. If you are a mom, take the time to enjoy the many aspects of that job. And if you are a grandma, remember that when you are holding your grandchildren, you are holding “the best parts of your life…blooming like a strong tree.”

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September 2006

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