Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me


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When Grier asks new parents to share what would be more helpful during the early bonding period , a common theme emerges: And a lot of grandfathers are very enthusiastic to participate, because they feel they missed out as dads the first time around. And yet the classes are very popular and my students are receptive. Our choices to parent differently than our moms and dads did may also be seen as an implied criticism of their approach when we were kids.

Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist and the author of Connected Parenting , says she sees two types of battles—one where, for example, the grandparents want to give the kids sugar and let them stay up watching TV until they pass out, and the other where the grandparents want to set stricter limits than what the parents are comfortable with.

Surprisingly, she says the second scenario is more common. Often, she says, the grandparents are on to something: Kids thrive with clearer boundaries and a less-permissive parenting style. Sax, seeming to echo what some grandparents have said for years, suggests ceding too much power to our children results in behaviour issues. But no matter the type of conflict, Kolari advises that most parents are better off taking a step back and letting go. Of course, there will be situations when you need to stand your ground: Above all, agree the experts, make sure you appreciate the importance—and good fortune—of having loving and engaged grandparents.

Your child will have an independent relationship with them, separate from your own, especially as she grows older.

Other people play a huge part in raising you

We've sent an email with instructions to create a new password. Your existing password has not been changed. You have activated your account, please feel free to browse our exclusive contests, videos and content. The last time I saw my grandmother was almost 10 years before she died.

I visited her with my mother. My mother told me that when she was a girl she secretly unwrapped her Christmas presents ahead of time and then rewrapped them and placed them back under the tree. She had to plan in advance what she was going to say. A lot of people knew my grandmother to be as nice as pie, just as a lot of people knew my mother as an incredibly talented theatre arts administrator and overall fun person to be around.

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But there again, what can you say to that? In the history of the world, a whole story has never been told. I recognised my cue and walked over and put my arm around her, knowing this would create a picture she wanted people to see and would therefore console her. My father understood this cruel twist, though at times he seemed to understand little else. Since he lived a minute cab ride away and since their relationship, for all its animus, still extended to things like hospital visits and accompaniment to chemotherapy appointments, he did do his share of emptying buckets when she vomited and showing up at the emergency room when she had a crisis of pain or hydration.

Our family was not one to shirk its duties, even if we did not always perform them warmly. There were many ways my mother could have chosen to tell my father she was dying and there were many ways he could have chosen to respond. I said this not because I believed it but because it seemed like the kind of thing you should say.

My mother felt grateful and vindicated. My father felt snubbed. Or, if he did, he refused to abide by it. The code had to do with not just showing up but actually being there, which was no longer really a part of their social contract. All around us were family members of other patients, people who sobbed in the hallways or set up camp at bedsides or emerged from the elevators carrying piles of blankets and needlepoint pillows and framed photos from home.

He looked to be in his sixties. I assumed he was crying over his wife, though I had no idea. No one was crying like that for my mother. Our family had a significantly different style. Some of that time has now passed. One day some months earlier I had entertained a passing fantasy that my mother would get hit by a bus. The oncologist had just delivered the news that the chemotherapy was working. She was so happy that day that she actually ventured outside the apartment on her own to buy a frappuccino and I remember thinking to myself how great it would be if she were hit by, say, the M7 express on Columbus Avenue and killed instantly and painlessly.

I knew from the internet that chemotherapy for gallbladder cancer works when it works at all for about one cycle before the body develops immunity and the disease resumes the process of ravaging it.


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She would never have a better day than this day. That night she drank half a vodka gimlet to celebrate and regretted it for the next several days. She vomited from the chemo through the rest of the summer until she landed back in the hospital with severe intestinal and bowel trouble.

I had just got engaged to my longtime boyfriend, which had made my mother very happy. I did this because I felt that if we were in a play this would surely be part of the stage directions. If I just sat there with my arms crossed against my chest, as I was inclined to, the doctor would make a note in the file suggesting that I might not be capable of offering sufficient support to the patient. I retrieved her hand from under the blanket and squeezed it in my own. She did not reciprocate.

I think we were both relieved when I let go. The doctor said she would most likely make it through Christmas, so we should feel free to go ahead with any holiday plans. For three nights in a row, my mother made me stay in her hospital room. The people who came to clean her up were terse and tired and spoke mostly in heavy Caribbean accents.


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A few times she lay there in her own shit before they could get there. I know this because I was in the sleeping chair on the other side of the room, listening to it all while pretending to be asleep. I tell myself I did it out of compassion but the truth is I also did it, as I had done so many other things where she was concerned, out of rage. Later, when the horror of those nights had been eclipsed by other horrors — patient proxy forms, calls to an attorney, wrenching phone conversations with her friends — my mother was discharged from the hospital and my father and I took her back to her apartment in a taxi.

This day was no exception. Neither my brother nor I had ever shown an interest in reproducing. I had a dog, which she sometimes called her granddog. The three of us sat in silence through this advertisement and several others — for weight loss, for acne scar removal, for adjustable mattresses. It was a cold, gusty day and tree branches scraped the car while we waited at red lights. One thing I did for my mother that I would not have done for my father was get married.

That is to say, I got married pretty much right then and there, less than six weeks after getting engaged, so she could be in attendance. We spent three weeks discussing the wedding and five days actually arranging for it, which in retrospect I think is the perfect amount of time to plan a wedding. During the time we were discussing it my mother became fixated on hosting the event in her apartment and inviting her friends and associates.

She also made it clear she did not want children in her apartment for fear of their knocking over her pottery or damaging her art. The discussion period ended when my mother realised she was too sick to orchestrate anything. This was one of our more authentic conversations because it so happened that I authentically wanted her there. My father, as far as I could tell, regarded marriage as a fatuous institution.

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In moments, he seemed to regard my wedding plans as yet another complication that had been thrown into the mix of our crisis. My mother was the only person on earth for whom my getting married really meant something. Photos taken by another close friend later suggested my mother was in an extraordinary amount of pain. Wearing a wig, being humiliatingly pushed along in a wheelchair by my brother with whom, a month later, at Thanksgiving, I would trade earsplitting obscenities as she lay in the next room after vomiting at the dinner table , she is wincing in every shot.

After seeming relatively alert during the pre-show champagne at her apartment, compliments on the decor , she appeared to unravel throughout the ceremony, shifting from barely living to officially dying in the time it took me to slip from lack of official attachment into wedlock. The next day, the four members of the hospice team came to the apartment to introduce themselves. But the best part of my day was always when she came home from work at seven o'clock and I could finally see her and hug her and jump on her.

It made me deeply appreciate the moments we did have together, and it made them more precious to me. Since my mother couldn't always be there, the people who did do the usual parental activities with me were my aunt and my grandfather. My grandfather took me to and picked me up from school and made me all kinds of food special to our Armenian background.


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My aunt was a flight attendant, so on the weeks she was home and not in the skies, she would read to me which ended up being the reason I fell in love with writing and play made-up games. While my relationship with my mother was special to me because it was just the two of us as parent and child, it was my grandfather who gave me the comfort of home and my aunt who instilled in me a sense of wonder. A single parent just has to work, work, work — there's no way around it. So while you sometimes miss out on spending time with your parent, you also get to grow up with a network of people around you who chip in and care about you.

It wasn't only my grandfather and aunt who watched me and raised me; it was babysitters, too. To this day, I'm still good family friends with my favorite babysitter, who now has a husband and two kids. As an only child of a single parent, I got to branch out and keep lasting relationships with others, even if I didn't have the luxury of spending more time with my mom. Like I said before, being the only child of a single parent isn't easy.

They're gone a lot, and when you move along into your teen years and don't need to be under constant watch all the time, you can get very lonely. When I was a teen, I had my close group of friends that, to me, was my family. However, since my mom was always working and tired when she came home, I felt very isolated and distanced from her. No one's teenage years are easy — frankly, they suck. For me, though, teen angst and turbulent emotions were amplified because I often felt like my mom didn't care.

I translated her absence and lack of communication into apathy, which really troubled me for a long time. As an adult, I know now that she was far from apathetic as she worked relentlessly to provide me with anything I wanted. No family, no matter how many people it is composed of, is ever percent happy percent of the time. The kind of unhappiness I dealt with was particular to a single parent home, but other kids have their own kind of unhappiness with their home life, too.

When your parents suck as grandparents

When you're a child, all of your attention is focused on yourself and your life. As a kid and then a teenager, you don't take a lot of time to imagine life from another person's perspective; you zero in on what you want and what you feel. But there comes a time when you realize that being the child of a single parent isn't all about you. You may go through some rough patches because of the structure of your home life, but guess what: For me, that revelation came at a very critical moment in my adolescence.

When your parents suck as grandparents

Since a young age, I've always struggled with depression and anxiety — it's just part of who I am. My mother knew this, too, as I had been in child therapy as early as eight years old. So one day when I was about 14 and I refused to answer any of her phone calls — for whatever stupid teenage reason — she absolutely lost it on me when she came home. She bolted upstairs to my room, busted through the door and was visibly freaked out. I had never seen her so upset and scared before.

Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me
Growing Up in the D: My Grandfather, My Mother, and Me

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