This week my grandmother passed away. She was the mother of seven children. She stayed home and raised those seven children in a four bedroom home on a very tight budget. She had no spending money for anything frivolous and struggled to have enough food, clothing, heat and hot water for everyone.
While most of the parents I know – would find this situation highly disturbing and would spend their afternoon chugging Pinot Grigio – she really didn’t seem to mind.
She spent most of her life in her home, (as she didn’t have a driver’s license) cleaning, caring for the children and doing laundry, including cloth diapers – which she called doing the “warsh. “
When I think of her life I really can’t imagine anything more horrific. When I had just a mere TWO babies, I remember packing them into the car to run mindless errands just to kill time and when Mr. Gaga would come home from work, I would literally sometimes already be in my car waiting for him and pull my car out as he pulled in. I would go anywhere for an escape, the gym, Starbucks….I would’ve gone to a hanging. The thought of being trapped in a house with seven children with no vehicle is just ludicrous.
But my grandmother really never complained. I don’t ever remember her even seeming unhappy. I believe this was possible because she had something that my generation of parents lacks.
pills, a boyfriend, whiskey an innate ability to not sweat the small stuff.
What parents stress about today and lose sleep over would never have bothered my grandmother.
The way we obsess about the food our children eat – was downright laughable to my grandmother. She used to walk to the local farm every day to buy “cracks” which were eggs that had cracked. She bought those because they were “on sale.” She was buying organic from “local farms” before it was cool. The fact that food poisoning could occur at any moment was of no matter.
She didn’t care about the latest styles and fashions for her children. She didn’t order designer clothing from Zulily and Crew Cuts like we do. My aunts and uncles always talk about how mortified they were when they were in school. Their clothes were rarely up to par and she used to make her kids wear Wonder Bread wrappers inside their rainboots to protect their feet – because the boots would usually have a hole in them. Nowadays we would be up all night worrying about the damage being done to our kids’ self esteem.
She slept soundly.
While we rush around spending millions on water slides and party favors for our little spoiled brats, my grandmother practically ignored her kid’s birthdays. One time she famously had a left over square of cake and a half of a circle cake and smooshed them together for to create a birthday cake for both my aunt and my brother. She saw nothing wrong with that until my aunt cried, at which point she said something comforting like, “Stop your crying.”
She had a zest for life. Music always played in her home. Any hairbrush or wooden spoon that was lying around nearby would be instantly transformed into a pretend microphone. I remember distinctly going to her house after school sometimes if my mother had an appointment and she would be ironing clothes out of a huge basket. She would take breaks to sing into her hairbrush and dance with my aunts.
She loved the arts and what little extra money my grandparents did have, was spent at the museums, ballets, and the symphony. She was an artist herself, and any spare time she had she spent sketching or painting.
She made some mean pancakes on a griddle (that I don’t think she actually ever cleaned over the course of about twenty years) and a chocolate cake to die for that she called a “Brown Betty.”
She made being a mother, even of seven, look easy.
Throughout the funeral and wake, people were sharing stories and mentioning things that she used to say. I got to thinking – what kind of impact would I leave for my children? What would they remember about me?
“Sam – if you had to tell someone about your mother what would you say?” I asked casually while I was tucking him into bed.
“Oh – I would say you were pretty and smart, and that you told me I should say excuse me when you fart or burp.” he answered earnestly.
“What about something that I always say?” I asked.
“Oh – I would say whenever we complain – you tell us that there are people with no arms or legs!” he answered excitedly hoping to have the answer I was looking for.
I was happy with that. Long ago I started to mention limbless people. in an effort to stop my children from complaining about insignificant nonsense and was glad that Sam remembered that.
The next morning I asked Michael the same questions.
“Um, you’re nice.” he answered mindlessly while he ate his cereal.
“Okay, well then what would you say if someone asked you what is something that your mother always said to you?”
He thought for a moment.
“Oh I know what you always say to me….”he said – excited that he thought of something, “What the “F”?”
I stared at him in horror.
If I want my legacy to be something to write home about – apparently I have to get a little better at speaking to my children.
I need to calm down and take a page out of Grandma’s book.
I need to enjoy life and enjoy my children.
I need to skip the trip to the mall for new rain boots and sing into my hairbrush a little more.
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XO, LADY GOO GOO GAGA