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Prisms of Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jenni Person, BT Contributor   
September 2019

A grandparent nearby helps us reassess our own roles

A bigstock-Hands-Of-Old-Grandmother-In-Yo-304478425couple of weeks ago I was at synagogue for Friday night services with my family. And by “with my family” these days, I mean my own family plus my mom. Because that’s my life at 51. When I first moved to Miami 27 years ago, I was a free-wheeling 20-whatever-year-old living and clubbing in South Beach (when South Beach was South Beach) until the wee hours while quickly building my career -- and my mom never visited me. Now I have teenagers and my mom, now widowed, lives here.

So I was at synagogue with my family. The service was over and I was surrounded by my kids eager to move on and my mom eager to drink coffee and stick close to me. We were chatting with the mom of a friend of mine when another similarly grandparent-aged peer of hers came over and was introduced to us. “I know Jenni!” the man exclaimed, “We study together!” He asked my mom who he was meeting for the first time. “This is your daughter?” She answered that, yes, she was indeed my mom.

“Your daughter is brilliant!” he pronounced. And with that, I saw an amount of pride that I had never before witnessed in my mom. I’ve done a lot of things in my life of which I am very proud. Studying with my community is actually, by my design, not one of them. It’s just something I do on Saturdays to give my brain a nice stretch without it being related to work or any of my other earthly responsibilities. I also like the sense of community I experience in the weekly ritual of gathering around a table with others in front of big books.

This incident made me realize two things. First, clearly, there is a real evolutionary reason that many cultures and religions emphasize honoring our parents and our elders. My mom, and all of our parents and elders, not only require our support as they age, but they also are buoyed by the joy of our positive impact on the world. So while they have become precious -- sometimes even fragile -- vessels of the wisdom of time, stirring up this pride within them is good for their spirits, which in turn benefits their health. Thus, a service to them, a form of honoring them.

The second thing I realized was that this little thing I do purely for myself -- not something I do to accomplish something, not something I do to support my family, not something I do to further my artistic or writing practice, or my professional career, just something I do to feel whole and grounded -- was also serving the greater purpose of honoring my parent. Being part of a community, just being ourselves, creates the opportunity for that to reflect in ways our parents can witness when they mingle in that same community. This must be why, for millennia, communities were insular and tribal, keeping generations within the same “walls,” within which to know and be known.

As I mentioned above, for many years of my adult life, my world was distinctly separate from my mom’s. She knew a few of my friends here and there, but the person I had grown into since leaving her home for college was foreign. Now that she was flowing with my family, she was in my community. And here was a reward, a natural phenomenon of humanity that had been delayed.

Next I thought about how that translates to my own parenting. What makes me proud of my kids? I feel measurably more pride in them when someone, having had a conversation with one of them, remarks that my kids are articulate, bright, funny, or kind than when they win awards or get “good” grades. The former are reflected through living, by community, rather than the latter external material judgement superficially placed on them. And that swaddle of pride has the capacity to lift me out of the deep doldrums that frequently surround me, keeping me healthy and whole.

Instinct tells me that my pride in them is good for them, too. We get what we give. So if I want them to honor me when I am old and the tables have turned, they need to have a level of self-esteem and lack of resentment required to support that.

Sometimes I wonder what my kids witness as my mom becomes more a part of our family. I always land on the hope that while it diffuses the exclusivity of my attention to them, it’s teaching them a certain kind of compassion and connecting them to the value of family and continuity. They are also quite lucky that she spoils them, as grandparents have also done for millennia.

 

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