The Meaning of Objects and the Dagobah Frog Habitat

I overheard somebody the other day dragging on Star Wars.  What bad acting, what bad storylines, bad scripting, blah blah blah.  I wanted to smack them.

They clearly don’t get it about movies or “films”.  It not how they are made, although that’s fun to discuss endlessly over dinner, or whether they are good or bad [this is actually just how some people earn a living].  It’s about how the movie makes you feel.  If you don’t feel joy, anger, fear about a particular movie that’s perfectly acceptable, but you don’t have to slag it.  As my mother said, if you can’t say something nice …

Anyway, I loVe Star Wars.  I remember the first time I saw Part IV Star Wars: A New Hope in the spring of 1977 with my sister Cori.  I was just about to graduate from high school and was feeling very optimistic about my future because I was working, had a car and was about to move into my first apartment with my BFF, Sandy Penman.

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Cori [aka Catherine Pentland Design] and I exited the theatre skipping and humming the theme song.  It was a day that stuck in my memory so that when I see objects reminding me of that day, I get a rush of pleasure.  Like last fall when I was cruising Value Village and came across an AT-AT for $15 bucks.  As an adult, even as a huge Star Wars Fan, I could never justify spending $130 on a “toy”, but for $15, SOLD. Very quickly my three year old granddaughter showed me all the buttons, lights and gizmos and another fan was born.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a pack rat or a collector, but there are enough objects in my house to create an eclectic theme.  Art.  Books.  Movies.  Rugs.  Arts and Crafts Furniture.  Lots of things with texture.  As an anthropologist, though, I have noted that it is not the objects themselves that have meaning.  It is the meaning itself.  What we endow the objects with.  As a elderly person moves from the family home into a hospice, we see a momentary flush of pain.  It’s not loss of objects causing their pain, but the meaning of a place and of a time in our lives that we grieve.  You might note how that elder can let the house go if it’s going to a family he or she likes.  It honours and gives value to their memories.

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Yesterday, I found this Death Star Planetarium for $5 bucks.  I didn’t know whether it worked or not, but I thought it might make a lovely table chachka.  It only took three new batteries to light up the Star Wars galaxy including familiar planets like Endor, Naboo and Princess Leia Organa’s home planet of Alderaan.  This is strange since the planet Alderaan was blown up by the Death Star and shouldn’t be there at all.  One of life’s little contrasts.

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I was struck with wonder thinking of who had owned it and how they were ready to part with it?  Then, how it might be of comfort as a night light for my granddaughter’s sleepovers.  It’s now very difficult, having found two film treasures, not to be skulking about at Value Village when I should be working … but I am really hoping to find a Dagobah Frog Habitat.  Something else to help me pass on my memories, my loVe of nature and Star Wars, to a new generation.

Have you ever found a film treasure?

Mothers

I live in a family with many different mothers.  Among us, inter-generationally and internationally, adoptees who are now mothers and mothers and through birth, death, divorce or adoption.

I could share the story about my long road to motherhood and my sense of meaning and purpose in being a mother.  If I did share this, however, it’s likely to trigger someone somewhere to feel bad about themselves and perhaps rage at me.

It seems that this is a standard occurrence for just about anything today.   A commercial about a mom and a dad negates two gays parenting.  An ad with an Asian on the left and a Black on the right of a White causes an self esteem issues.  The choice to sponsor a blogger with a hajib headscarf is called political pandering.  Witches stricken from Halloween so society doesn’t equate Wicca with evil women on brooms.  The term biological mother becomes birth mother becomes natural mother becomes first mother, still it means mother or does it?

Myself included, when did we all get so fucking sensitive?  About everything.   So politically correct, especially in Canada, that one can hardly turn without fear of using the wrong term or offending someone and where we are legislating ourselves into oblivion.

A practitioner who works with troubled teens, that included one of mine for a time, gave me Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  Frankel was a doctor and holocaust survivor.  He questioned why some prisoners in the concentration camp he was in rose to the challenge of life while others, even once liberated, failed to thrive.  He observed, “…  There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that so effectively helps one to survive even the worse conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life.”

The idea of finding meaning and purpose in life is daunting.  How does one finding meaning in life when we are so sure the even out basic rights are not in our control?  The step-parent with no child-raising experience is thrust into parenting rebellious teens.  The 15 year old who finds herself pregnant and her  mother making the decisions.  The 19 year old giving birth in a war torn country with no family and no social services.  The 30 year old who finds herself unable to maintain a pregnancy.  The boy, whose father remarries after being widowed, who can no longer remember his dead mother.  The father who feels himself alienated after divorce.  The 21 year old adoptee who finds his birth mother and doesn’t like her.  The adoptee who chooses not to search and gets flack from his adopted siblings.  The adoptee who thinks his life will turn around if he given his birth history, but even then finds he’s still angry and confused.

All want to label themselves as unique and call themselves down trodden.  If we are all down trodden on whose back shall we find true respite?

Frankl says, however, that while we have limited freedom with our circumstances, we do have ultimate freedom about how we react … how we take responsibility for ourselves.

He said that this choice [finding meaning] and action [finding purpose] for our suffering makes it an achievement rather than a tragedy.  How many people do you know like that, like Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama?

I  believe that suffering does not end whether we choose to parent, to place for adoption, to seek an abortion or remain childless.   Even under great duress we still make a choice and  all actions have consequences.

I am neither a sinner or a saint because I worked and eventually became a mother.  I learned that my role as mother is precarious and subjective.  You do not need to be a perfect mother, nor your children’s first mother, but I learned that you are only a mother when someone calls you mother.

Suffering is not something we can just get over or move past.  Suffering is the universal human circumstance which we must make part of our everyday lives.  It may shape us, but it cannot decide for us who we are and how we will act.

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Viktor Frankl

Sunday with Grammie

I love playing with kids.  I’m the kind of grandmother who gets right down in the mud.  Some times at parties, other adults will shoot me a look while I break dance with a seven year old boy or play a clap game with little girl.  I don’t prefer kids to adults, but sometimes, especially at parties, I don’t like the games adults play.  The idle gossip, the bragging, the heated political conversations when I know the other person hasn’t even voted in several years, the surface stuff that can now be transmitted by Twitter.  With kids it’s basic and it’s authentic.

My daughter is finally working [ another story] in a job that she loves and is very good at.  She asked me to watch her three year old on Sunday while she worked.  I’ve said no for many reasons, but the one that mostly stops me is that my granddaughter has anxiety when separated from her mother.  The quivering lip, tears rolling down her face, the endless “Where is Mommy?” and the experience of my being unable to console her, to the point that she vomits, was good for none of us.

This time I said, yes.  Yes I will watch her for the day.  Half way to Grammie’s House from the bus stop, she stopped and both our lips quivered.  It was such a beautiful day.  Suddenly an epiphany.  I’d forgotten how to raise kids.  My job was not to convince her nor to console her, as consolation is a choice to let somebody comfort you.  Maybe she wasn’t ready for me to console her, maybe my job was to distract her.

With renewed enthusiasm, I pulled all the arrows from my parenting quiver and this is what we did.

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Walked the Dogs

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Let Her Take Pictures of Me

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So I Could Get a Picture of Her

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Made and Hugged François, the Snowman

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Made a Tent Under the Dining Table

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Played with a Flashlight

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Read Books

We also went to the park to swing.  We played a memory game.  She played in the bath.  We  made scrambled eggs and while she crushed the shells with relish, she refused to eat anything I made until late in the afternoon.

It was not the first and last quiver, tear or question about Mommy, but we finally had an entire day where she did not get hysterical.  During the last walk with the dogs, dusk approaching, we walked in silence, only the crunch of snow under our boots.  I looked down to see her eyes looking shyly up at me with the smallest of smiles curving her rosy cheeks.  You know the kind of face a child offers up unconditionally and open and your heart lurches with love and gratefulness.

Ya that.

Golfing with Grampa – Guest Blog by Marius

ImageI asked my 23 year old son his opinion on what grandparents could do to stay engaged with kids his age.  I got a blank stare.  I then asked, well tell me what do you do with your grandparents.  He paused and said, “I go to their house.  I hug them.  I eat with them, maybe watch T.V.  I hug them again and then I leave.”

I was taken aback, and then remembered my own relationship with grandparents was not so different.  Ambivalence of your teen or young adult grandchild is not anti-social, nor does it mean that you are not close to or loved by your grandchildren.

I pressed Marius then just share a memory about his grandfather and this is what he wrote.  Marius says … About once a year, I’ll visit my grandparents in Calgary.  It’s a great feeling to be loved unconditionally.  I used to go to Calgary every summer for a couple weeks and bring my disassembled mountain bike with me.  At their house, I would quickly unpack and start to build my bike back to life.  Of course, my grandpa a retired auto-mechanic would help me.  They would love watching me doing wheelies down the length of street and were fascinated by my bike and my abilities.

When I wasn’t biking, I would ask grandpa what else he wanted to do besides watch me.  He said we could go golfing.   I loved the idea.   So I called up an old Calgary friend, Mike, and grandpa called a buddy — fuck I forget his name … anyways, off we went to the golf course and had a bite and were rolling before you knew it. I always get super excited to drive the golf carts, because I didn’t have a license.

I just wanted to get up to the tee and whack the ball, whereas grandpa would always take his time.  Grampa’s balls went a good distance in a nice clean shot and me, I started the day with 20 balls and went home with zero.  He never lectured, just laughed it off.   His golfing buddy was just priceless.  They were both seventy something in age, yet still interested in playing golf and keeping up with two 14 year olds.  Like a scene from Caddyshack, his friend would try so hard to hit the ball, but it would go only 15 feet or less every time.  It was hilarious and endearing and made my day.   It was the first time that I was present, in a fit teen body, about aging and sports.

The golf course was surrounded by ranches with all these beautiful cows roaming the grassy fields ands the Rocky Mountains in the background.  I ran over to the wood fence and was mesmerized by the cows so blissful in their natural environment.  Grandpa walked over and was asking what I was looking at.  I said the cows, they are amazing!  He hadn’t realized that what is common for him, cows, was big deal for me.  He reminisces about this story on a regular basis.   We had a such a great day golfing that even today at age 23 and grampa in his early 80’s we still try to get out every time I am in town.

My grandpa is a great man, genuine and strong hearted.   He had it hard growing up in rural Saskatchewan and had to work for everything he got.  I mean everything.  He told me about how he got his first pair of leather gloves when he was 13.  For a farmer next door he helped install their picket fence in minus twenty degrees , but he had no gloves.  Having finished the job, he had earned enough money to buy his first pair.  It was shocking for me to realize that every time I needed a pair of gloves it was always provided for me.

I don’t believe a thing was given to him, but good health and a great head of white hair.  I’ll always appreciate the time I spend with my grandparents and even more so because I know that they are closer to the end of their lives.

Alison speaking … I would love it if my kids spent more time with their grandparents,  I am sure that some do, but working on this piece with my son brings me back to reality.  When my Nanny, my mother’s mom, died in 1979, I can’t say there we were close.  I was busy with my own life, yet when after she died I was heartbroken for my mother and myself.  So heartbroken that I made myself ill with remorse that I had not tried to get to know her better.   My mother, however, never nagged, bribed or cajoled me about my grandparents – I think she trusted and knew that all relationships have their own rhythm.

Choosing a Grandparent Name

Our grandmothers were called Nanny, of Scottish descent and PEI-born, and Grammie who migrated from Northern Ireland in 1928.   My own mother preferred to be called Grandie, a cute way of saying she was “grand”.  When it came time to choose my grandmother name, I leaned to the name Nanny, after my own who was a fiesty flapper girl with great stories and great taste.

My Grammie was soft, quiet and, except for her amazing shortbread, was rather nondescript.   A devout Methodist, she never smoked or drank and was always wearing a demure dress and an apron.  I’d thought I had a clear idea about who she was, then after my mother died I came across a large stash of old photographs.

Third from the Right, Lilian Pentland takes some air in the Canadian Rockies 1928.

Third from the Right, with some new friends, Lilian Pentland takes some air in the Canadian Rockies. Circa 1928.

From a Passenger List found through ancestry.com and our old sepia toned photographs, I got to know a very different person from the one I thought I knew.  For many Albertans in the 1900’s, exploring the great outdoors was the primary focus of leisure time with many a day spent on horseback or in canoes, swimming, fishing and, above all,  picnicking.  In all the pictures of my Lilian in Canada, before my dad and his brother were born, she wore pants like the jodhpurs seen above.  Since I’d only ever seen her in a dress, the pants shocked me and drove my an interest to learn about her life in Portadown and in Calgary.

At 24 years of age, Lilian Uprichard was still very much a girl when she landed in Canada to marry my Grampa, who’d come a year earlier to secure a job.  Not yet married and traveling alone, in the S.S. Montclare she crossed the Atlantic over seven days from Northern Ireland to Canada, then a train from Quebec to Alberta.  She married, set up house and birthed two children without family or girlfriends to support and advise her.

It warms the cockles of my heart to see my granddaughter running to me, little legs pumping, calling out, “Gwammie”.   I’m so grateful to have found that old photograph and know I’ve made the right choice of names.

Do you have a grandparent name story you would like to share?

Welcome 2014 … almost

It is amazing and inspiring that on theVickiSleepyHead cusp of 2014 I am writing my first words about and for grandparents.  In 2010, my entry into grandparenting at age 50  with a pregnant 19 year old daughter was resistive and startling.  The past three years have been humbling and stumbling as I learn to embrace my zoomerdom, my daughter as a mother and this tiny wonderful ball of fire, now age three.

I’ve always been a fan of the classics, but at my age that means Jack and the Beanstalk, Pippi Longstocking, I Dream of Jeannie and Adventure Time.  Please join me as I explore food, travel, play, Culture and relationships about and for thinking grandparents at To Grammie’s House We Go.