Thanks to the complexities of blended families, I was lucky enough to have grown up with three grandmothers.One of them had a birthday earlier this month, and another one turns 90 today! (Happy Birthday, Grandma. I love you!)
The flowers in my neighborhood are just blooming, which always reminds me of my third grandmother, who passed away just before my older daughter was born. In addition, my local Jewish Federation, CJP, is holding a Bubbe contest. All of this has gotten me thinking about my grandmothers, and just how amazing they are, and were.
One of them lived through World War II in Italy, and put her life at risk to help support an underground anti-Fascist organization. She spoke four languages, and after moving to the United States, she ran a ladies’ fine clothing store for decades. She thought “The Newlywed Game” was the best show on TV; she yelled at the contestants when they gave the wrong answer, and laughed out loud every time they referred to “making whoopee.”
Another one of my grandmothers was raised in an observant Jewish home, grew up to sing and dance on Broadway, and tells stories about Carey Grant and Anne Bancroft. She has culinary skills that would rival most professional chefs, and she once went to see “There’s Something About Mary” in the theater, immediately drove home, picked up my grandfather, and took him to see it again.
My third grandmother studied physics in college and was invited to work on the atomic bomb in New Mexico (although she didn’t know what it was at the time). She chose to focus on her family instead, and had a successful career teaching high school and college math. She’s also been known to skinny dip in mountain lakes, but you didn’t hear that from me.
Between them, they have raised and helped raise eight children, twenty grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren, with one more on the way. (For the record—not from me!) All of these women were devoted to their families, but never lost sight of their own interests and pursuits, which were quite incredible, especially considering the times in which they accomplished everything. They were experts in linguistics, the arts, business, and math and science in an age when most women were expected to stay home. (To be clear, I’m not stepping into the latest battle of the Mommy Wars here, which I think are a bit absurd. These were the choices my grandmothers made, but that doesn’t mean they were right or wrong for anyone else.)
None of my grandmothers are or were the cookie-making, doily-crocheting type, and I love that about them. They’re feisty and funky and funny, and they don’t put up with crap from any of us. Make no mistake, though, these women know, and knew, how to spend time with their grandkids, how to read to us and play dress-up and card games and tell us stories about their lives and listen to what’s going on in ours. My grandmothers are, and were, the matriarchs of the families, holding us together, keeping up on the family news, and reminding us of our roots, even as our family spreads throughout the country.
Parenting isn’t easy, and I don’t always know what I’m doing. In those moments when I’m feeling especially lost as I try to balance my career aspirations with my parenting goals, I think of my grandmothers, who raised families while pursuing their careers and interests. This may be par for the course now, but it wasn’t then. If they could do it, well, I’d like to think that I have their genes and guidance to help me out. For that, I am immensely grateful.