By Guest Blogger Deanna Shoss
We were sitting at the dinner table at Fitz’s in St. Louis last week. While my husband, son and I chatted at one end of the table, I overheard my mom getting a momentary-oh-so-cherished-one-on-one with her grandson, my 15 year old nephew, an avid St. Louis Blues hockey fan.
“So, how do you think the Blues will do with Elliott gone?” she asked him, me thinking who is this strange woman next to me?
“They’ll do okay,” he answered, with the new goalie team coming on.”
“You mean, Allen? Do you think he’ll stay?” she asked by way of follow-up question. An actual sports-related follow-up question.
“Yeah,” he answered, making this a full blown conversation. “And Hutton will be a good back up, too.”
At that the moment passed, the food arriving, and the attention focused back to the full group.
Later that night, I couldn’t help but comment. “Wow, mom…impressive…you really studied!” I knew that my mom actually hates hockey. One time when my sisters and I spoke of fond memories of going to hockey games with our dad, who had season tickets when we were growing up, my mom chimed in with “yes, I was glad when you kids were old enough to go so I didn’t have to freeze in that arena anymore!”
But now my mom beamed with pride, the fact that I had overheard the conversation was icing on the cake. My mom, like many a grandparent, has noticed the difference as her grandson has grown up, going from that bouncy excitement of seeing grandma and grandpa and going on outings to train museums and getting root beer floats, to one word, mostly grunted responses.
“Now I have to read the damn sports page,” she said, including the expletive for comedic effect for me. “And it’s even harder in person…I have to remember the names! At least if I’m on the phone I can say hey what do you think about so and so and just read the names from the paper.” Like having cheat sheets or cramming for a test. “Be sure to tell Jerry it works,” she added, referring to Jerry Witkovsky, his book The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection and his mission to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world.
“Read what they are reading in school; learn about what they are interested in. Ask them questions,” Jerry advises.
One could say “but I’m the Grandma…they should come to me!” Yes, you could…but what you really want is a connection, a way to enter their world and understand their lives. To connect, help and support each other because you find each other interesting as people.
As grandchildren become teenagers, you (and their parents…aka your adult children) all start to realize that the window for connecting to them as children is rapidly closing, just as the challenges of high school and pressures of growing up are getting harder. You want to help, but you have to get in the door first.
Hence studying the sports page. Hence making a vegan Thanksgiving. Hence learning to play a video game or text. Hence reading the Twilight Saga. Hence…
What are your grandkids into? What do you do to enter their world?
Ask someone what their favorite food is that Grandma makes (or makes available) and that can spark many a memory—the taste of the food itself, or where you were when you ate it.
For Elisa, it’s Grandma’s Banana Cake and the poppy seed cookies cut into the shapes of the four suits on playing cards. By coincidence, those cookies are also the favorite food of her Dad–remembering his Grandma. For Simon, he likes Butterfinger candy bars, because those were his grandpa’s favorite.
Grandson Jesse Rabbits shares his memories of Grandma’s Pancakes below.
What’s your favorite “grandparent” food?
My grandmother made me pancakes whenever I visited her. Without fail, I would arrive to the smell of hot butter, and the sight of a yellow Bisquick box on the kitchen counter. Even if I wasn’t hungry, she would sit me down for a heaping plate. Every time.
“Mimi” knew what I didn’t: that I desperately needed something dependable in my life. I was seven, and my parents’ divorce had shaken my family, and left them both helpless. I believe I could have been driven into terrible habits or a hopeless future. But she gave me the semblance of a strong foundation, even if I saw her no more than once a month.
Those pancakes became something to look forward to, a glint of hope in a wider story of despair. Mimi and her pancakes provided me with the stability I needed, something warm and nourishing in days that felt dark and cold.
JESSE J. RABBITS (22)
My grandmother, Marilyn Tanzer, was a knockout.
“I used to be a very pretty girl, you know,” she would regularly announce to her four grandchildren. Grandma was voted “Prettiest Face” back in high school and had pictures to prove it. But nobody needed proof.
Legend had it that the first time she trained her long-lashed eyes on her future husband, Sidney, she ran straight into a closet and refuse to come out. She was aghast at the thought of going out in public with him.
Sidney was decked out in waist-high, bright yellow rain boots, and that was just not acceptable for the glamorous Marilyn. But they were married for over fifty years, until her death in 2011, so I guess they worked things out.
Her beauty was outshone only by her spunk. She often recounted how she decided to get working papers at age fourteen, falsifying her age so she could earn money of her own—which she spent mostly on riding Coney Island’s famed roller coaster, the Thunderbolt, as often as she pleased. So I like to think that my own crazy New York City misadventures—armed (until last year) with my very own fake ID—were inspired by Grandma.
She taught me that you don’t have to take it when you think someone is treating you shabbily, and that here’s no substitute for “telling it like it is.” She did just that all her life, combining scathing honesty with blistering wit. Even just before she died, she told a nurse she was unhappy with, “I’m gonna beat you up on Avenue U!”
I’d like to think that Grandma’s wit, her edge, her fierce commitment to honesty even in the most uncomfortable of situations, have all rubbed off on me. As an aspiring journalist, I’m convinced that having such a tough cookie as a role model will serve me very well.
Myles Tanzer (22)
Staten Island, NY