My grandmother is a remarkable woman. She is the eldest in a sibship of ten, born and raised in the south, leaving her home to begin her life in Connecticut when she was barely a legal adult. My grandmother is a trailblazer. She knows what she wants, she is not afraid to work hard to make it happen, and if you even try to tell her that there is something that she cannot do, she will very assertively tell you to kiss her “grits” with a smile on her face as she does.
My grandmother has been married to my grandfather for over sixty years. Together, they raised four children while also owning and operating a successful business. She is an outspoken advocate for what is just, and was involved in local politics for over forty years, serving on numerous boards in town. She was also a justice of the peace, and she officiated the marriages of many of her seven grandchildren, including myself and my husband.
When I was a child, my grandmother’s home was a hub for our crazy family gatherings. Every week (and twice per week when I was very young) and every holiday, she hosted family dinners for the lot of us. There were always too many people crammed into not-enough seats, laughing and eating together.
Throughout the past several years, my grandmother has started to show signs of dementia. The progression has been slow and if you don’t look too closely, she may even fool you at times. She is still witty and loving and every bit as determined as she has always been. But, it appears that late every afternoon and early evening, she begins to exhibit signs of sundowning. It does not matter where she is or whom she is with, she becomes restless, eager to get home, worried that she has to start cooking because “the kids [or grandkids] are coming” for dinner, and reassuring her that “the kids” are not coming can often come at the price of increased agitation.
The truth is that “the kids” do not come for dinner anymore— at least not all of us and certainly not as often. In the interest of transparency, it has been years since I have gone for dinner. In part due to the busyness of my life now, in part due to the physical distance between our homes, in part due to my belief that entertaining is too much for her and my grandfather right now, and in part due to my own emotional challenges with letting go of what was and accepting what is.
Last night, as I was cooking dinner, my mind wandered onto thoughts of my grandmother as it often does. I started thinking about how full her life has been. She worked. She owned a business. She raised a family. She is an amazing friend. She was involved in politics. She served the town in various capacities, etc., and yet, at the end of every day, the thing that she feels pressed to do is cook dinner for “the kids.” At the end of every day, it all comes down to family.
I started to think about my own experience of the day-to-day tasks of parenthood that I perform. I thought about how much I do not enjoy having to decide what to make, actually preparing it, listening to my kids cry about how they “don’t like that,” ugh, and the dishes … I am often tired and feel underappreciated, and go through the motions because, well, somebody has to, but also because I find some twisted masochistic pleasure in being the one who takes care of my family and spending time together even when it does not go smoothly … and I wondered, am I going to miss this someday? When they are grown and have families of their own, will I long for these crazy, chaotic moments of togetherness?
Yes, I am sure that I will. The memory has a funny way of blocking out the negatives and longing for the positives of situations past. Although I honestly do not know that my awareness of that fact will in any way make my daily struggles any easier. I cannot promise that knowing that I will one day miss something that is hard will make it any less hard or make me appreciate it anymore right now.
But, what I can do right now is try to be more present in the moment. I can try to leave my stresses of work at work and take better care of myself so that I can enjoy my kids in real time. I can try to take deep breaths and remember that no matter how crazy things are, at the end of every day, it all comes down to family.
And, I can call my grandmother and let her know that “the kids” are coming for dinner. It is probably long overdue.