All the Awesomeness of Childhood — on Steroids!


Happy Mother's Day a week late, gentle readers! I took the day off to celebrate, so please excuse my tardiness with this post. Let's just say we're extending the celebration a wee bit!

Mother's Day is a bittersweet day for me and probably the hardest day to celebrate for two reasons. Both of our children are many miles away, one on the West Coast, the other on the East. Too far away to be with them on a frequent basis, and we are hardly ever together for holidays. But at least we can communicate via Skype or Facetime. Thank goodness for those technological advancements, eh?

My own mother, God rest her sweet soul, has been permanently gone for three years now. Each holiday is difficult without her, but Mother's Day is saddest of all. Seeing Mother's Day greeting cards and advertisements for gifts hits hard, realizing I'll never again be able to send her a card or buy her a present. My mother-in-law has been gone even longer, yet I know my husband misses her terribly. Both of us would give anything to have them around, sharing in all the joys and happiness of parent- and grandparenthood.

This holiday is sweet, though, because our daughter arrived — as I psychically knew she would — on Mother's Day! I think I willed it to happen because my own grandma was born the same month and day and I really, really wanted my little girl to be born on that day, too.

As I reminisced about and sorely miss my children on this special day for mamas, I knew I wanted to make this week's post all about my mom and mother-in-law and the influence they both had on our children as grandmothers.

My mom was the kind of parent that all my friends, and all my sister's friends, would often remark they wished was their mom. I knew growing up I wanted to be just like her. Our house practically had a revolving door. When we had friends stay overnight, Mom often stayed up late with us talking about everything under the sun. She included everyone in family game night, invited them over for holidays and meals, treated our friends as if they were her own children and welcomed them into the family with open arms, a big smile, and always, always a hug. Mom joked and laughed with us, commiserated and cried with us, and genuinely cared about our welfare. That was my mom and I loved her for it. She was my role model, my mentor and my friend. Is there any wonder I aspired to be the same kind of mother?

Oh, but when the grandchildren came, she kicked it up a notch. Summers were often spent at Grandma and Grandpa's house. Outings were planned, trips were taken, worlds were explored with my parents at the helm. Mom was usually the sillier one and it was very easy to make her laugh — often to the point she would fall off her chair, much to my children's delight. They loved her easy sense of humor and her willingness to be a little wild and crazy at times.

Some of my children's best memories of their grandmothers involve comfort and sense of smell. One of my daughter's favorite places to be was on her grandma's lap. It was "plump and enjoyable and the most comforting place in the entire world."

Her grandma was also "the best cook ever, especially her meatloaf and the astonishing number of cookies she made at Christmastime." That holiday holds the strongest memories of smell, probably for all of us. The minute you opened the door, pine and bayberry, clove and tangerines, not to mention the smell of woodsmoke from the fireplace, practically begged you to hurry inside. In fact, aside from Christmas, my daughter says she can still call to memory the fragrance of each and every room of that house.

My dad was an electrician by trade and created a special room of our childhood home's basement where we could paint on the walls. He installed black lights, bought neon paints and let us go to town. Parties in that room were so much fun! Our kids thought their grandparents were the coolest parents ever and they enjoyed the blacklight room as much as we did. Grandpa created a stage from a huge wooden spool and our son, daughter and niece used it to put on plays and performances. Seth was always the director, Katie and cousin Erica the actors/singers/dancers. Many, many performances were given as a result and the Hammen Club (a combo of the children's last names) was born!

My folks were quite creative, a virtue I like to think I inherited from them. We all have a talent for picking up on clues, remembering them and turning those into gift-giving ideas. One of my daughter's favorite childhood books was "Katy No-Pockets" about a kangaroo born without a pouch. Grandma read that to her over and over and over, so much so that she got the idea to make our Katie an apron with multiple pockets. Katie loved the apron and has it still today, along with a lot of the clothes my mom, who was a fantastic seamstress, made for her. And our granddaughters, Jain and Sofia, are wearing them now. What a legacy!

Nana, my husband's mom, was more serious as a grandmother. She was tough and strong; stern, but very kind, never mean. Gen took care of her own mother, and our children would often accompany her on visits to Grammy's house. Never one to like her own picture taken, Nana took pictures of Seth and Katie on the arms of Grammy's chair with their great-grandmother. Those photos, and many more of other relatives, ended up on tables and bookshelves all over Gram's small apartment and gave her lots of joy. Every time we took photos at home, or the kids' school pictures arrived, we always sent some copies to Gram.

Nana and my father-in-law also volunteered for Meals on Wheels. Katie still remembers the smell of those hot, prepared meals as she rode along in the delivery van. Likewise, she associates the smell of Nana's cooking with time spent at her house, especially her delicious ravioli. And Nana was the only one who would fix round toast (no crust) for her, and Katie adored her for it.

My father-in-law is Catholic; Nana did not adhere to any particular religion. While Poppa went to Mass, Nana let our children stay home with her. Katie was amazed that two people with such varying beliefs could be happily married. Unity in diversity was evident very early in her life and it made a huge impression on her, for she previously thought a husband and wife had to share the same faith.

Nana and Poppa were gentle grandparents. We played games together as a family, most famously UNO and Boggle. Vacations were frequently spent in Wildwood, NJ, at the beach. Nana, with her hat and beach umbrella, would set up the blankets and chairs, bury her toes in the sand and enjoy the day reading. No one in my husband's family would venture very far into the surf, much to our children's dismay. Nana was the only one who would take them out past the breakers. Naturally, they loved her bravery and delighted being "way out there" with her.

No matter where they went, Nana had two things she would always say that have been implanted in my daughter's brain. Heading out the door, she'd admonish the kids, "Go tinkle before we leave the house," and even if you didn't have to you went anyway. The other, upon returning home from anywhere, was "Home again, home again, jiggity jog!" as the car pulled into the driveway. Every time. And now my daughter finds herself saying the same things repeatedly to her daughters. It's true what they say, "Children live what they learn" — not only from their parents, but grandparents, too.

Like every child, you truly appreciate your own parents once you become a parent yourself. It's pretty safe to say the same thing happens to us as adults when we see our parents as grandparents. And when our own children see us as grandparents, the appreciation deepens. To quote my daughter, "Even after you develop a new appreciation for your parents, something even more magical happens when you discover your parents as grandparents," and I think it truly does. You realize they want to give your children as much fun and magic and wonder and awe as they can absorb. Not that they didn't do that when you were growing up, but now as an adult you can more easily witness it happening. And you begin to think, "When I have grandchildren, I'm going to be exactly like my parents are with my kids!" It's transformative! Or to quote my daughter again, "It's like all the awesomeness of my childhood on steroids, and I love it so much!"