The Wisdom of the Elders

Babygirl is learning to walk! She’s exactly one year old and has the independent streak of a pre-teen. I walk in the door and scoop her up,  my smiling fuzzy pink bundle, and it’s one snuggle from her, then “Ok mom, I’m outta here.” She wants to be DOWN on the GROUND so she can DO this WALKING thing, NOW.

Yesterday I worked a pretty long clinic day, trying to make up for some of the holidays. We’re in the midst of a multi-virus epidemic from Hell: Influenza which is not, apparently, responsive to this years’ flu vaccine; RSV (respiratory syncytial virus, a severe cold virus that hits the infirm and the very young very hard); and some GI bug that’s wreaking havoc in schools… suffice to say, it’s totally crazy right now.

So after this kind of a workday, and traffic, and the cold, I got to my mom’s house kind of late, to pick up the kids. My mom watches them for long stretches of the day many weekdays, with some help from my 86-year-old grandmother (who usually directs from her armchair), my sister-in-law (who is expecting her first) and my brother (though he works days, also a physician). It’s a full house over there, hectic and happy and messy and loving.

Babygirl grinned and crowed at my entrance, and then let me have one little cuddle before she squirm-turned, headed DOWN. I placed her in front of the ottoman and watched her cruise around it, like a fox around the mulberry bush.

And then, she wavered and plopped bum-down on the carpet, “Waaah!”

I moved to console her, but grandma lurched forward in her chair and ordered “No, no! Help her up again, but don’t baby her.”

Now, my grandmother is one tough cookie. She raised 5 children in desperately poor conditions. She was raised in an orphanage herself. Despite all she learned the hard way, she doesn’t often offer unsolicited child-rearing advice. She’s usually in the background, watching the kid’s cartoons with as much interest as they do.

What I have noticed, though, is that they listen to her. Her interjections are few and far between, but she’s no softie. If Babyboy tries one of his No-no toddler tricks, like pulling at electrical cords, picking his nose,  or pulling the cat’s tail, Grandma will order “No, you stop that!” firmly, no-nonsense, and loud. There is something in her tone and manner that effectively expresses the sentiment “I MEAN IT”, and he listens to her.

I listen to her too. I silently helped Babygirl stand up, and she set about circling the ottoman again, babbling and jabbering like nothing happened.

Grandma went on: “She’s fine, she landed on her bottom, no harm done. She needs to learn that crying and fussing won’t get her all the positive attention. Landing on her bottom is part of learning to walk.” Then she settled back into her comfy armchair and continued watching Angelina Ballerina on Sprout. “I like this one,” she commented.

Now, grandma’s living with my brother and mom for a reason. She’s frail; she has a terrible short-term memory; she has seizures; she falls. But we have all noticed that when the kids are there, she comes alive. She really perks up. She especially loved when they were smaller and she could hold them. She would light up and engage, chatting with them: “Yes, pretty girl, Yes, don’t you have the cutest cheeks! Don’t you have the brightest eyes!” she would coo and hush and smile and tickle for ages.

Now Babygirl will use her for cruising support, and she invites that. Babyboy plays a bit too rough and tumble for her, in all of his two and a half year old boy- glory, but he will run to her and give her a quick kiss, say “Hewwo!” or “Bye Bye!”. And, he does exactly as she says, more so than with any of us, that’s for sure.

I am so glad that we have her for our kids, and that the kids have her, and we’ll gladly take the wisdom she has to offer.

4 thoughts on “The Wisdom of the Elders”

  • Hopefully they will remember their granma when they are older. Unfortunately my grandparents (mothers side) never left Ireland and I never met them – they had 12 children.On my fathers side my grandfather died when I was 1, and my grandmother did not speak engilsh (only Italian) and I was too young to understand anything about who she was.

  • Beautiful little vignette. I envy you and your babies your multi-generational parenting. And I think about how much wisdom we waste in our society when we lock our elders away – or even when we self-segregate by age (along with race, etc) in our separate living quarters. … Love your blog. Inspiring for a med school mom.

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