Category Archives: family

Different gender, same room

A year ago I asked all of you how you felt about siblings of the opposite sex sharing the same room as they grow up. Everyone was nice and polite in their response to such a touchy subject, with no one really leaning one way or the other. It was the exact opposite of what I expected. Same deal when I asked it recently on the forums. One mom on our FB page even said that she didn’t see anything wrong with it, especially if finances didn’t allow for any other choice. Yet, if you were to search the web for an answer to this age-old question about opposite genders sharing a room, you’ll find the majority of the answers leaning towards considering it obscene.
Note: There is no state law regarding room sharing of opposite genders. But there are a couple organizations that do have stipulations – military law requires opposite gendered siblings to have their own room after the age of 5 (ages vary from 5 – 10, depending on branch I assume), foster parenting and adoption usually require separate rooms age 6 and beyond, and welfare or public housing usually requires separate rooms by age 6.

But in general terms, society seems to be accepting the fact that less money means priorities are shifting – including the need for every kid to have their own room. And the majority of the population doesn’t fall under the organizations I listed above. It’s a different world these days. Because of the economy, the term “boomerang families” has become a common knowledge word. There are families living on tight budgets, one-income families, families with kids who are helping out a whole lot more, and families moving into tighter quarters to make ends meet. That means that a brother and sister might be forced to share a room long past the time they really want to, or what society would have once deemed unacceptable.

Families just like ours.

Tomorrow, my family is actually upgrading from our two bedroom apartment with the one room my son and daughter have been sharing, and moving into the spacious three bedroom apartment right next door (can we say easiest move ever?). For years, my kids have been sharing the same room, sleeping on a bunk bed in one corner of the room. And before this, we all three shared a room. And when we were an intact family, my daughter slept in my son’s room on purpose, leaving her room abandoned. So this is basically the first time they will ever have their own room. And they are more than excited about it! They are already planning out how their separate rooms will look, and how creative they will be to ban the other from their room (I’ve heard rumor of booby traps and police tape).

Thing is, sharing a room hasn’t been a problem for the reasons that many might think it would be. Yes, my daughter is 12, going through the normal changes a 12 year old goes through. Yes, my son is 9 and just now understanding the differences between boys and girls in a whole new way. But honestly, my kids could care less what the other looks like naked and are pretty respectable when it comes to giving each other privacy. The fact that they are brother and sister has basically ensured that seeing each other naked is pretty much gross. So if one kid is dressing, the room is off limits to the other during that time. Or one of the kids will just choose to dress in the bathroom. And it hasn’t been a big deal at all.

What has been a big deal is the amount of space in the room dedicated to each kid. There is none. A big bunk bed takes up a good portion of the room, as does their dresser. And the fact that one of the kids is extremely messy while the other is fairly clean (I’ll let you guess who’s who), has been an argument for years.

However, you wouldn’t know any of this at night. Long after they are supposed to be asleep, I can hear the two kids (who claim to hate each other) giggling and telling each other stories. It’s reminiscent of when my sister and I were their age and sharing a room, staying up late at night with a flashlight and some shadow puppets, telling stories about an older bossy sister and her annoying younger brother (eerily true), and giggling until our dad threatened to give us something to cry about.

Will they miss this? Will having their own rooms turn into more of a burden than a blessing? Uh, yeah. Highly doubtful. As of tomorrow, everything changes. I wonder if the mess in my house will lessen as they have more space to store their junk. I’m curious if the separate rooms will also cure the incessant fighting going on. Whatever happens, I am thrilled for my kids that they are getting their own space to be alone if they so wish. And perhaps they’ll even stay in their rooms more often and let me feel like I’m in a kid-free house.

Of course, everyone has a different view on opposite gendered siblings sharing rooms.  What’s your opinion? 

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The age of the boomerang

Art by the talented Gina Boyett

I posed a question recently: “Would you move back in with your parents if you had to?” and I received several very emphatic answers on the SR Mom Facebook page:

“H*** NO!”

“Never!”

and my personal favorite…

“Rather my mom, than my in-laws!”

Almost 7 years ago, I was faced with the same decision. I was packing up all the belongings of my house and consolidating them in the smallest amount of boxes possible. My father came and loaded everything into a trailer and the van. And the kids and I took our seats and were driven to our new home – or rather, a home that was very familiar to us.

The home of my childhood was about to become theirs too.

We are in the age of the boomerang, when grown-up children are moving back in with their parents, mostly for economic reasons due to job loss, divorce, and myriad different situations beyond their control. It was definitely an economic choice on my part. Having spent the past year as a stay-at-home mom, I had no means to support myself or my kids now as a divorcing woman. My parents were more than willing to take the kid and me in, putting us up in the largest room of the house. They had cleared it out completely, making room for my King size bed and their bunk bed.

Moving home definitely made life easier at a time when life was at its hardest, and it just made sense. But in doing so, I had to bite back a lot of pride. Now don’t get me wrong, when I made the decision to move back home I pretty much had nothing left. Pride was the last thing on my list of worries. But as I settled in, it became embarrassing to admit, as a mid-twenties woman with two children, that I was living at home with my parents. There is a prejudgment that goes along with an adult who moves back home with his or her parents. I felt like a failure already because I wasn’t instantly capable of being the head of our household, and I needed my family’s help to make it. And I knew that without them, I would be homeless.

The second part of the equation is that while I love my parents immensely, living with them totally changed the dynamics of our relationship. Suddenly I was a child again, and my kids were also like their children. There were different rules to abide by, stricter than what would have been in my house. And it became my parents’ say that ruled over mine. Of course, being that it was their house, their rules should be the ones to follow. But it blurred the lines over who was the parent of my kids. And it left me feeling powerless, and much like a rebellious teen. Not only that, you can imagine the frustration on my parents’ part with having to share their home with three other people, two of them being noisy kids who tend to leave messes wherever they go. My parents had raised their kids. And suddenly here they were, parents all over again. All of this caused a lot of strife between the folks and me.

As I neared the time of independence, the need to stretch my legs and have a space of my own was overcoming me. That need became so overwhelming that after 2 years in their home, I finally made the jump to start looking for a place to live. 6 months later, the kids and I were on our way out the door, moving on to a life brand new to us. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough thanks to wonderful friends and my family who made sure that we were set to start off on our own. As a housewarming gift, one of my friends painted me a picture that said “Home is where your story begins.” The “home” she spoke of was the home I was moving into, the very first place I had ever lived as the sole adult. But now when I look at that painting, I see something different. My story began long ago when I was a child. Home was where I was taken care of by the two people who would have done anything to ensure my comfort and safety. And later in my adult years, that devotion didn’t change. They took me and my two kids in so that we could heal from something very traumatic, and get back on our feet. My parents’ home will always be my first home, the place where my story began.

Would I move back home now? “H*** NO!” Well, that’s not entirely true. I love my parents very much, but we get along much better when we have our own separate places to go home to. I can say with assurance that they agree with this sentiment. But there is no shame in biting back pride and boomeranging back into your parents’ home. For me, if the only choice were homelessness (after I had exhausted every single option – such as applying as a live-in deckhand on a cargo ship that bent the child labor laws), then yes, I would move back home again and share one cramped bedroom with my two tween kids.

As you can imagine, this has forced me to be extra, extra careful with paying all of my bills and rent on time.

How about you?  Would you move back in with your parents if you had to?  Has this decision already become a reality for you?  How’s it going?

Post-divorce families

‘He is eating to fill the hole in his life you created when you left him fatherless (except for two weeks a year).’

This was only part of the comment that sat in my inbox all night long regarding a blog that had nothing to do with divorce. And while the comment was completely off-base in what they considered the gospel truth (my kids being fatherless, only seeing their dad two weeks out of the year, screwed up family life…), I found issue with it – that someone would look at the tiny window I have posted about my life and make such an unfair judgment of it. I considered deleting the comment, but then I decided it was better not to. And I thought that maybe this was a good time to say a thing or two about marriage, and about divorce.

A marriage is meant to unite two people for life. It’s something that must be worked at every single day with all your heart to ensure that it stays strong. It’s not a covenant made with the stipulation that if things don’t work out, you can just break it. It’s a promise that two people make when they have found their future in another person. And it’s what those same two people count on as they create a life together, create children together, plan a future together. So when the cookie cutter dream of growing old together doesn’t work out as planned, the result is something more than painful. No one goes into marriage planning their demise (and if they are, maybe the marriage should be seriously thought through some more). But life happens. People change. Situations arise.

Thing is, I get what the poster is saying about divorce. I am also of the belief that if divorce can be avoided, it should. But sometimes divorce is the answer, and there is no way around it. Sometimes things are so toxic that to NOT divorce would be cruel to not only the parents, but to the kids as well. If I’d done things over again, I never would have allowed divorce to be a part of my life. Divorce was, hands down, the worst thing that ever happened to me – and I’ve gone through some pretty traumatic experiences. But the only way I could have avoided divorcing was by never meeting my ex in the first place. And that would mean there would be no DQ, and there would be no Taz.

My kids’ dad and I were never what you would consider compatible. We, in all honesty, should never have married. But we were young and in love. And a year and a half into our relationship, we were pregnant. When DQ was 18 months old, we married in a beautiful and quiet ceremony in my parents’ backyard. 18 more months, and DQ was a big sister. And a year later, we were pregnant with our third. But that pregnancy ended 7 months in. We, for the first time, came face to face with mortality as we picked up the pieces of our lives after our son’s stillbirth.

We didn’t handle it well.

There are too many other personal events that happened in our relationship before and during our marriage that I will fail in mentioning out of respect for my family and my ex. The stillbirth was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the demise of our marriage. The simple truth is, we became toxic. And our home was no place to raise a healthy family. And so we ended our marriage, and went through the very long process of putting our lives back together.

Let me tell you what happens when you get a divorce. Your souls, that were intertwined when you made that covenant together, are ripped apart. Unlike a clean cut, it is a jagged edge. Some pieces of their soul still reside with yours, and some pieces of your soul still reside with theirs. It is so much more than the dividing of property, money, and time with the children. It is setting fire to all your hopes and dreams that were once a for sure thing, and watching it go up in smoke. Mourning a divorce is much like mourning the death of a loved one. And that is exactly what is happening. That person, whose eyes you saw your whole life in, has died. And the person that is left is someone strange who you just don’t know anymore. They look different. They sound different. They even smell different.

The person you loved is gone.

And once the smoke settles and all is said and done, a divorced person must pick themselves up and get on with their lives. Life doesn’t end with divorce, even when it feels like it. For some people it’s a stop on the path they are traveling. For a few, it’s a fork in the road. And for others, like me, it’s when the journey truly begins.

And what about the kids? I can’t speak for everyone’s children regarding divorce. I can only speak for mine. And in the beginning stages of the divorce, my kids were understandably devastated. Regardless of what our family life looked like, it’s what they knew. They loved (love) their dad. And they loved (love) me. And they wanted all of us in one house under one roof creating one life together. And if we had done that, my kids would have used our poisonous marriage as a model for their own relationships. They would have taken on the venomous way that we spoke to each other. Their future would have been bleak as they absorbed the ghosts of mine and their dad’s downfalls.

But what about today? Today, having two single parent homes is a way of life for the kids, their reality. And they accept it because it has become their norm. Today my ex and I are able to carry a conversation. We are able to discuss different things regarding parenting our children. We are able to team up when something is going on with either of the kids, and talk about it with them together. This last year my kids were with their father every single weekend. And during the summer they were with him just about every other week. He was there at many of our son’s baseball games, and will be there for many of our daughter’s soccer games this fall. Are things perfect? No. There are times when bitterness rises up in either one of us. But do we yell at each other or talk poorly about each other to our kids? Absolutely not. After 6 years of being divorced, both of us have matured enough to honor the relationship our kids have with the other parent. And I can honestly say that we promote that wholeheartedly. 

And finally, dating after divorce – ‘I will bet if you offer him this “i’ll give up dating and only focus on you untill your 18.” You may find he would be willing to exercise more and might be able to give up eating to fill a hole in his life for love.’ (from said blog) There are so many different aspects to post-divorce dating that I couldn’t possibly do it justice in one paragraph. Would the kids be better off if their mom or dad never dated again after divorce? Sure. Then they don’t have to deal with change, or another person entering the family dynamic. Of course, they would also be happy if you never had any kids after them, never moved to a different house or had them change schools, they never went through puberty, and the weather always stayed perfectly spring-like every single day. But life happens. And so does change. And kids are much more resilient than us stubborn old adults are. And while some people do choose to wait to date until after their kids have left the house, and my hat goes off to them for making that sacrifice, I just don’t believe that this is required of a parent. We are human. We have needs too. I’m not just talking physical needs, though those are important too. I’m talking the need to have someone accountable to every single day of our life. We want that person to create a life together with. We want companionship, someone to hold our hand in the times that are tough and to laugh with us when life is good. We want someone to go to sleep with every night and to wake up to every morning. We want someone to grow old with, who will be there once the kids do move away. Basically, we want that dream back that we let go of when, through divorce, we severed the toxicity that was overtaking our vitality. And more than our own needs, I truly believe it’s vital for a kid to see their parent taking care of their own needs while they are taking care of the kid.  After all, wouldn’t we want the same for our children?  We are still our children’s role models, and taking care of ourselves is just one of many lessons we can offer our kids.

Note:  With that said, a parent shouldn’t introduce a date until they are sure that this person has a future with them. That means that first, second, tenth dates should happen away from the house. The biggest reason for this, besides getting to know the person well enough to ensure they aren’t a child molester, is to avoid your child growing attached to this person only to force them to say goodbye. A child’s heart is not a revolving door.  End note.

Finally, post-divorce relationships, and sometimes, eventually, second marriages, can be a godsend to children of divorce. They have the opportunity (hopefully) to witness what a healthy relationship looks like. And they have something to model their own future relationships after. This is one of my joys with Mr. W – my kids get to see what a loving relationship looks like. Not only that, here is this man who has accepted my children, and loves them for who they are. He is not their father – they already have a dad. But when they enter his home, they are treated no differently than his own son. We are still two separate families. We are still families that are restructuring our lives after divorce. But we are now cautiously including each other’s families in that plan.

So, I’m sorry to disappoint this dear poster who is insistent that my family is going down the drain because of my divorce and my insistence to carry on a relationship with a wonderful man (going on 2 years come September!). My more educated opinion to my life is that we’re only getting better every single day.

Time Saving Tips

Show me a working mom, and I’ll show you someone who has less than enough time to get everything done in a day. With little ones underfoot, there are some days when relaxing is a foreign word that only exists someplace exotic. But in my own experience, I have found several time-savers that have allowed me at least a few minutes to sit before I’m off and running again.

1. Cook BIG.
Forget cooking just enough for one meal. What if you cooked dinner and the next night’s meal at the same time? Or better yet, keep a handy supply of freezer containers to store the leftovers for a different night instead of eating the same thing night after night. Or just cook an abundant amount of the meat and create several different meals. For example, if you’re making chicken consider cooking two or more whole birds. We’re talking chicken one night, tacos the next, enchiladas, the third, and soup the fourth.

2. Write your grocery list around your meal plan
While we’re on the subject of food, a time AND money AND calorie saving trick is to make a meal plan for the week, and then write your shopping list from it. Time will be saved because you won’t have to wander the aisles wondering what it is you need. And you will know what you are making each night for dinner instead of staring at the cupboard waiting for the view to change. Money will be saved because you will, in essence, be straying from impulse shopping. And that also saves calories as you avoid the foods that aren’t on your list, and stick to the foods you planned on eating each night for dinner.

3. Employ the kids
Yes, I know. Teaching kids to do anything takes more time than just doing it yourself. But think about this: If your kids learn how to do certain age-appropriate chores, they can TAKE THEM OVER. Just imagine your child putting away their folded laundry, taking out the garbage, cleaning up the cat box, watering the garden, and putting away the clean dishes. Sure, it takes time to teach them. But once they’ve learned, they can shave minutes, or even hours, off of your time dedicated to chores. Besides, you can’t do for them forever.

4. Make lists
Ok, be honest. How many times a day do you pause to try and remember what it is you have to do? How about the time that is wasted letting that to-do list run circles inside your head? Keep a notebook with you at ALL times and get that list OUT OF YOUR HEAD! Not only will you NOT forget what it is you need to do, you won’t be stressing yourself out by making sure that you remember everything. And let’s face it, as a mom there is a lot of things we have to remember. Plus, it feels really good to cross things off that list, and know that they’re done.

5. Don’t procrastinate
Before I start, let me admit something. I am the queen of procrastination. By default, this also makes me the queen of doing everything at last minute. But at times that I have bit the bullet and just took care of tasks as they fall in my lap, I find that I have more time than usual to do the things that I would have been doing in my procrastination time – surfing Facebook, reading a book, or just watching a movie. But this time, it’s guilt free. So do this – Wash the dishes immediately after every meal, or even while you are cooking the meal. Do a quick clean-up before sitting down on the couch. Wipe down the counters after the kids are done brushing their teeth. Put your clothes away as soon as you take them off.

What are some tips you have found that help you to save time during the day?

Yin and Yang

We ended our day on the made bed, our bodies perfect Yin and Yang semi circles. We faced each other this way, an uneasy feeling in the pit of our stomachs as we unfurled the day in a heap between us, determined to tackle it and sweep it aside before it plagued our dreams and interrupted our sleep. For an hour and a half, Mr. W and I pulled and kneaded the situation at hand, tossing the dough of our mixed family dilemmas as we tasted bite size pieces of moving forward in some areas and reining it in with others.

The day had started out innocently enough. Mr. W and I planned a day to San Francisco, something we had talked about for ages as a fun event for us and the kids. After a family outing to church, I set forth and took down lunch orders for all 5 of us. Of course, that meant 5 completely contrasting sandwiches. But I didn’t worry about that as I boiled eggs for the egg salad, flipped the grilled cheese sandwich, and toasted bread several different ways for several different sandwiches. And as we ate, the time crept by slowly, picking up pace with each minute. And soon 2 hours had passed and we were still nowhere ready to leave. A little hustle and bustle that was reminiscent of herding cats, we were finally on our way.

Of course, we had three growing kids in the backseat – three growing kids who wanted their own leg room and weren’t concerned about their neighbors. I counted down the minutes until the first whine about space, and had reached 30 when it started.

“Move your leg!”

“No! You move yours!”

“I can’t! I’m all bunched up to the side! So move your (oof!) leg!”

“Ow! Mom! She kicked me!”

We crossed the bridge and finally reached Golden Gate Park with a bit of frazzled nerves, but still happy to be out of the house. At least Mr. W and I were….

“What are those for?” one of the kids asked us, peering into the trunk.

“It’s for scooting around the park,” Mr. W replied, starting to take a scooter and two skateboards out of the trunk. The idea had been that the kids would have fun riding circles around us, racing ahead of us so that we could walk hand in hand while enjoying the scenery.

“Uh uh, I don’t want it,” one of the kids said.

“I don’t want it either,” another said.

Our little fantasy of a happy family outing was slowly disintegrating as reality hit the fan and splattered us with little pieces of tween and teen “I don’t wanna’s”.

“Well, I’ll take it,” the Taz said, pulling his skateboard out of the trunk.

We left the parking garage and entered the fresh San Francisco air encased by a thick layer of fog. And we rode/walked up the hill to a playing field. The Taz paused to watch a kids’ baseball game for a bit, and was disappointed when the rest of us chose not to stay put.

“But I want to watch the game!” he sulked.

“We didn’t come all the way to San Francisco to just watch a Little League game. We came to see the sights,” I said. But 10 minutes later, I was wishing we really had just sat down and watched the game. The smooth road we had been walking on turned into rocky pebbles, hardly suitable for a skateboard. And it was all uphill. The Taz huffed and puffed as he still attempted to ride his board up the hill, and we, in turn, ignored the “No Skateboarding” signs painted on the road. We pretended that everything was going fine, even though the two older kids were silently following us, and the youngest was very vocal in telling us how this was the worst day of his life and that the whole trip sucked. It finally came apparent that, even though we had only eaten a couple hours earlier, the Taz was having a sugar crash. He pretty much sat down on the side of the road and oozed all over the sidewalk, trying to hide his tears from every single stranger while simultaneously making them super apparent to me. I pulled a granola bar out of my pocket and practically force fed him just to get him to be able to see straight. And then we decided that we would just go back to the car, grab a bite of dinner, and go home. And that’s when the Taz decided that what he really wanted was a hot dog, and a smooth place to skate. So we went back to the park near our car, bought him the most expensive hot dog in all of San Francisco (‘it’s the dog with a snap,’ the hot dog man told me, referencing the crunch of each bite), and then let him ride all over the park with signs that said “No Skateboarding” everywhere we turned. At this point, Mr. W and I were frayed at all ends, unable to see up or down or even know which way we wanted to turn. I think both of us just wanted to go home and forget about this day altogether. We all sat in different areas of the park, collecting our nerves and taking a bit of a breather. And in that moment I never felt so far away from Mr. W, and so distanced from the kids. I watched Mr. W as he stared out across the park. I glanced at the older kids as one closed his eyes and pretended to sleep and the other worked on a doodle in a notebook she’d been carrying around all day. And I regretted having ever set foot out of the house for this “family day”.

It wasn’t long after when I realized I hadn’t seen Taz for awhile, and I started to worry. As if on cue, Mr. W got up and caught my gaze. He nodded down to the other side of the park, I nodded back, and he took off to gather up my son so that we could all finally leave.

After some searching, a few more arguments, and finally a snap to the backseat to quit mouthing off, we finally reached the area of town that housed a Vietnamese restaurant that would be either really, really good, or that would poison us from lack of clean facilities to cook their food in. Lucky for us, it was really, really good food in a filthy place. And we survived it. The apprehension from the day momentarily was lost as the food did its magic, sedating us with the mystical herbs and spices that laced decadent beef soup and rice dishes. Left in a trance, we lazily made our way back to the car.

But the rawness of the day still hung in the air, and bedtime was a somber event. When the kids were all tucked in and kissed goodnight, Mr. W and I retired to his room, taking our places as semi-circles on a perfectly made bed, not sure what we should even say to each other. But the words flowed easily once the first one was breathed. And all topics were permitted as we covered the issue of parenting each other’s children, harboring expectations that don’t go as planned, and the reality of the family vacation that was only two weeks away as well as the reality of co-habitating that we planned on happening in less than a year. And as we came up with solutions – including the kids in family outing planning, stepping up allowance of our verbal guidance for each other’s kids, going with the flow to be able to change plans if Plan A isn’t working – the thick fog in the room made way for a harmonious sweet air. And we were finally able to breathe once more.

We’d been sucker-punched by the day. But still, something valuable came out of it. It was the yin and yang of it – our ability to come together from moments in chaos, lay out our frustrations, and hash them out one by one. It was re-learning that even the best of intentions can go awry. And it was knowing that even in the midst of an all out war, and when we are left licking our battle wounds and scars, we will survive and still feel whole in this mixed up family we are working at creating.

Because of Grandma

Two weeks ago (June 9, 2010)  my grandmother passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, we had known it was coming. She had been dying for probably the last 3 years, getting steadily worse until she was finally 1/3 of the weight she once was and unable to keep her eyes open for more than a couple minutes at a time. Her imminent death was awaited upon to end the suffering she was going through. But once it happened, the overwhelming sadness that came with it was inescapable. And I was actually surprised to be overcome with tears upon the news.

She was gone.

Grandma was a huge part of my cousins’ and my childhood. There were 10 of us grandkids (plus several step-grandkids she loved wholeheartedly) growing up, and most days many of us would populate Grandma’s house while our parents worked. Single-handedly she would take care of us, encouraging us to try new things like balancing on the jungle gym 7 feet up in the air or performing musicals in her front yard for the amusement of the neighbors and every single car that drove by. She let us roller skate through her house, her wood floors perfect for gliding from room to room. At night, we would all pile into her bed (5 or more of us at a time) while she slept on the couch. We would wait to hear her snore, a kind of wheeze-cough, wheeze-cough. And once she started sawing logs we would sneak out one by one, crawling behind the couch on our hands and knees until we had made it safely into the front room where my father had his office during the day. We would stay up well past midnight just to see if we could. Of course, if Grandma caught us we would all be sent back to bed with red bottoms, crying and wondering why Grandma was so mean.

Thing is, while Grandma was strict in keeping us in line, she was also very generous. All of her children were grown, yet she opened up her home gladly just to be able to spend time with us. She taught us how to curl our hair with an old fashioned curling iron (until my sister burned one curly lock completely off), how to make an apple pie (though I don’t think Mrs. Smith intended for the crust to be so black – just the way Grandma liked it), the wonderment of Velveeta, the magic of our imaginations, and the practicality of Muumuus and Smocks. She was the only grown-up in charge of us who actually let us walk to the corner market all by ourselves, as long as we stayed together. She bought us Easter bonnets and listened cheerfully as my sister and I clumsily sung songs on the way to church. She kept her candy dish full, and didn’t seem to mind when we ate all of the candy in a matter of minutes. When we got to the ripe old age of 12 (and for some of us, even younger), she even let us learn how to drive her car.

Grandma had been a single mother to my dad and his brothers and sister. She had been an artist who painted waves that looked like they could come crashing into the room at any moment. She loved songs from the 40’s, often singing them to us in her quiet, low tones. She thought that the music artists of today screamed too much, never failing to tell us so when we’d turn the television to MTV. She told us bedtime story after bedtime story. Even when her youngest son passed away in a car accident, she spent that morning reading stories to my 5 year old self from a book in a tearful voice. I didn’t understand why she was crying. And when I asked her what was wrong, she just told me she was very sad.

I’m very sad. But I’m sad in a way that I never could have explained until now. You see, I’m also happy in that sadness, and it was because my grandmother was such a wonderful lady. And I got to be a part of that wonderfulness. Because of her, many generations are living and creating life. Just this past weekend most of us were able to get together for a family reunion at my parents’ house. My dad and his sister and brother, my sisters and me, most of my cousins and their children, my own children… None of us would be here if it weren’t for my grandmother. And you could see snippets of Grandma in the lessons she taught us over the years, in the way we were now raising our own young families, in the conversations that traveled from table to table, and in the signature full lower lip she pouted so well in her 1940’s glamour shots with her sisters – the same mouth many of us inherited from her.

My grandma’s passing has also brought up thoughts about my own role in my family. One day that will be me, surrounded by the very family that I raised and created as I take my final breaths. And in the time before that happens, I hope to have taught my children well all of the lessons they need to learn in life, just like Grandma. I hope to have grandchildren to spoil and scold, and to be their escape from their parents. And I hope that when it is my time to leave this earth, I will also be remembered with as much love as my grandmother is.

A couple weeks before my grandmother passed, my family and I were able to visit her one last time. The dementia had placed holes in her memory so that most of the time she didn’t remember who any of us was. She looked so small in her bed and she kept her eyes closed, fighting sleep unsuccessfully. My aunt leaned down to her ear and told her who was there. She reached my name and her eyes opened wide.

“Well,” she breathed. And in that moment I saw that she knew.

I had been afraid that seeing her as frail as she was would erase the memory of the strong woman who had helped raise us in our youth. I had been afraid of being overwhelmed by this new image of her, helpless in a bed when I still remembered her as strong. But that one word, and the knowledge that even in the end she knew me, flooded back all the memories of my grandmother as I was growing up, linking the past and the present in a beautiful new way as I leaned down and kissed her soft forehead and laid my hand on her downy hair one last time. And that is the final memory that I am grateful to be taking with me of my grandmother.

Rest in peace, Grandma Estelle. We all love you.