One of the goals for the weekly visits with my grandmother and my children is for the visit to be enjoyable for all parties. The reasoning is not because I am trying to make everyone happy, although it is always a lovely outcome when it happens. My reasoning is that if there is enjoyment, there will be less challenges maintaining that regular connection. But how does the real connection happen when those involved are at opposite ends of the age spectrum? How do people at such different points in their lives and from different generations find common ground?
When my kids were infants and toddlers, all that was required was “showing up” to visit my grandmother, and instant joy abounded all around. My children loved her warm gaze and being held while my grandmother was elated with the physical touch from her great grandchildren.
However as school-aged children who are developing into their own persons, with voiced opinions and thoughts, the weekly visits were evolving into some defiant moments. As mentioned in my previous post, I provided explanations to my children as to why they don’t have a choice for these visits. But I do prefer there to be some kind of reciprocal connection and common ground that create meaning.
So what do my 10 and 8 year-old children and my 97 year-old grandmother have in common? Enjoying a nice walk through the ravine and watching the leaves turn colours in the fall? Probably not. We tried that awhile back. Fifteen minutes in, my son managed to say while walking “I’m bored,” and my daughter asked “Why are we doing this?” And my grandmother who would have appreciated an activity like this the most has become too physically frail for a robust walk through this kind of setting.
Mutual skills? Not really.
One of the things my grandmother prided herself on when living independently was a spotless and immaculate home. I am not sure I would say that cleaning was a hobby but she was certainly very adept in this area. I remember calling her in my early days of professional work asking her for ironing tips. The other day I gave my son a dust buster and asked him to vacuum dust in his bedroom. He returned two minutes later with the dust buster in one hand and a puzzled expression on his face. “It doesn’t work.” Much to my amazement, the dust buster filter was clogged with paper and was completely jammed. I explained that dust busters aren’t intended to pick up sheets of paper to which he responded, “I know that.” Pause. “I ripped it up into little pieces before I put it back on the floor so it could pick it all up.”
Shared hobbies? Likely not.
One day my son and daughter actually asked with impatience “When are we going to see Bubi next?” This was followed by a fit of giggles. I soon found out that this much anticipated visit was to experiment with an app on their iPod. In this app, you snap a picture and it will morph you into being old. They desperately wanted to know if you snapped a picture of Bubi, would she look the same in the “before” and “after” picture? My grandmother being an extremely good sport agreed to the experiment and was much more photogenic in the “before” picture and protested vehemently when she saw herself as “old” in the “after” picture (basically the app added more sagging skin and jowls).
And then one day as I was preparing my son for a spelling competition, I had an a-ha moment. My son is a voracious reader and as a result, loves to spell. He loves to spell words that one would never use, not even at a dinner party. My grandmother, at one time, was also an avid reader, polishing off a book in a day, particularly after being widowed and once also becoming less physically active. Reading for her was, as it is for my son, an incredible journey of imagination and adventure while never leaving your seat. However when she began to have issues with her short term memory, her passion for reading seemed to cease. She explained “What good is it to pick up a book when I have to start it all over again after I put it down?”
I asked my son one day after testing him on some words, “Why don’t we see if Bubi enjoys spelling as much as you do?” He shrugged his shoulders. The spelling game was something he had seen me do often with friends….taking word lists and seeing if friends could actually spell the words from their head, after years of being accustomed to the “autocorrect” on their devices.
What unfolded during this visit was utterly amazing. I watched as my grandmother meticulously spelled the words given to her, not missing a beat, and spelling them correctly. Words like “bouillabaisse” and “resplendent” which often trip people up, rolled off her tongue effortlessly. When my son realized that he had a real challenge in front of him, he stepped up to the plate. And soon, the two of them were in their own competition battling it out for the title of Master Speller.
There is also my 8 year-old daughter who has been sewing her own skirt and dress after taking classes that teach young kids how to use sewing machines, an incredible skill that has skipped a generation or two. My grandmother loves to see the products she makes, just as much as my daughter loves showing them to her.
So while finding common ground between young children and their older grandparents or great grandparents may be tough, it is certainly there. The fun is in trying to find it. And who knows what can happen? I received a phone call recently from my mother telling me she discovered that my grandmother started reading books again. “Can you believe it?” she asked in amazement. Perhaps my grandmother realized you don’t need to remember the story to enjoy discovering the present moment.