I was speaking with a coworker about addressing the barrier of negative family legacies and how we can all blame some crazy assed shit on our parents. It's only natural to parent the way you've been parented and when you try to break cycles and do new things with your own children it's easy to slip back into old habits. To go with what you know. To do things old school.
There are so many reasons for that beyond the biological propensity to do unto others as others have done unto us. Lack of support mainly. Lack of quick results when you choose to dedicate yourself to novel things like "time-ins" instead of "time-outs". Or when you try and go with the teachable moment that might take a lot of patience and minutes rather than a quick swat upside that little backside. Patience and minutes are in scarce supply when you are handling a household.
Anyway, family legacies.
Among the things I'm trying to avoid, there are some amazing legacies that I get to pass down to my children. Traditions and beliefs and customs and stories and ways of doing things that have been passed along the lines. Millions of billions of years of physical and mental and emotional and moral and spiritual and intellectual and social evolution that filtered down down down until the exact moment of conception for these two little boys. All those eons of build up for the sole purpose of my child being created. Your child being created. Me. You.
There is a fractal of a flash of time dedicated to each of us. All the happenings in all of history occurring for the sole purpose of us being formed inside our mother's bellies.
And then the hard part starts.
And that's where those legacies kick in. Good ones, bad ones, indifferent ones.
It's mind blowing to me.
I think about it all the time.
Tiny little specks of nothing we are, in the grand scheme of things. But we are so very very important. To ourselves and to each other and to history.
Anyway, family legacies.
We were talking about family legacies and how we can all attribute some crazy assed shit we do to our parents and that it's so easy to blame them for things and she suggested that we take parents out of it for a minute. That we might stop pointing the finger at people who, for all intents and purposes, did the very best they could with what they had while they were raising us and maybe instead look to a generation which we aren't so likely to place the blame. We can suggest that others do the same.
We women can look to our grandmothers or our aunts if that's easier for us. Sure they had their hang ups. Our grandmothers raised our parents, after all. Our aunts grew up under very similar circumstances as our mothers, usually. But we tend to be more forgiving of our extended family and they more forgiving to us.
Of course this applies to men too. And a woman can certainly look to the men in her life to help her shape her world view. But we were talking about lady stuff.
She suggested that we (women) all think about our grandmothers, and pull out a few virtues and values we admired about them. A few lessons they worked so hard to teach us. We should focus our efforts on taking those lessons and those virtues and those values to heart. We should make those the legacy that we pass to our children. To our students, to our friends, to the checkout girls and the trashmen and the neighbors.
To be sure to honor the things that our grandmothers, in all their experience and wisdom, filtered out of all the other crap in life to bestow upon us and we should, in turn, bestow upon others.
Not in years and years from now when we have finally stopped sweating the small stuff and stopped keeping up the appearances of some sort of Supermom lifestyle and stopped wondering if all the teeth were brushed and the hairs were combed and the socks were changed and all that other stuff that consumes our thoughts.
We should take those wonderful things that our grandmothers whispered in our ears when we were so tiny that we didn't even know words. Those wonderful things that they showed us through their actions. Through the grace of being older and wiser and having been around the blocks enough time to know what's what.
My mother's mother died when I was five. I remember her in feelings. In smells and in sounds. I remember her hands. And the nursery rhymes she'd sing while my head was on her heart. I remember the smell of her cigarettes and Freedent gum in the light blue packs. Estee Lauder face powder. Orange peels. I remember the chair she sat in and the view down her lap across her knees and over the chair and on to the burnt sienna carpet and the sounds of the hospital equipment at the end of her life. The smell of her sickness. The crepey feeling of her skin before she died.
I find solace in the antiseptic smell of hospitals and the beeping of monitors and staring at liver spots on the backs of hands.
I take from her a stillness and a song. The importance of holding babies and children. Of providing small people a calmness that they may not otherwise find among the hustle of early family life and the trials of learning how to be a person.
My dad's mom played a huge part in raising me. Education would be the way out, she said. She had a college degree and some grad school too. Study and read all you can. Stay busy. Stay social. Watch your spending. Watch the news. Know the weather. Have a plan. Be prepared. Keep your thoughts in a journal. Keep your hands in the dirt.
Push through mental and physical discomfort or it will push over you.
She smelled like celery.
And later, lemons.
She was rarely still and never held us and never sang a note but was so amazingly supportive and present in every little thing that we did. She was industrious. She woke by five and went down after Carson. She would relax by cutting fruit and vegetables. She ate more produce in a day than most people eat in a week and lived to be a bazillion years old. She watched television while snipping articles and comics and cute pictures out of the Sunday coupon fliers to paste on to scrap paper to make stationary for us as kids and later, when I moved to college, on which she'd write me letters about the different birds that came to the feeder and the lunches she'd go out for and the flowers that were blooming in the yard and what went in last week's rummage sale and what the neighbor kids were wearing to school and where the moon was in the sky and the projects my grandfather was working on out in the garage. I started saving them as her life started getting more simple. News of nothing was the best sort when I was in my twenties. She must have known that.
News of nothing is what I like to pass on to Jacob at the end of the day. News of nothing told in the quiet of his room, cuddled up together like puppies after singing silly songs while all the busy of the day past and the day next waits for me on the other side of his door.
Dandelions that grow up in bunches through brick sidewalks and the way that birds on wires can look like sheet music and silver diners with good pie and sundogs and stray cats and the way that chickens and goats roam about in certain neighborhoods like the city is the most natural place to be was the bedtime story last night.
Today will decide what tonight's will be.
It's really nice to focus on the best parts of the people who were able to give us their best parts and mash all those bests up to pass along to the people we love the best.