Let Me Through, I’m a Grandmother!

Photo by John Bruder

The gloomy Danish philosopher Kierkegaard wrote a book called Fear and Trembling, which I always meant to read, but never quite managed. No great loss, though: I always felt deep down that I could have written it myself.

As a young child, and always really, I have been a mass of fears. Afraid of heights, tornadoes, bumpy air on a plane, spiders, rules, “the grownups”  — You name it, I’ve quivered at it. Now I’m an old lady, and truth to tell, I’m still afraid of most of those things, along with some new ones, like elevators and other claustrophobic situations.

I’m reminded of all this because I’m reading Anna Quindlen’s memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. (Anna’s not afraid of much, I’ll tell you that.) The reason I’m reading her book is that it was sent as a gift by a very dear, and much younger, friend, who’s at a critical point in her life. In the past couple of years she’s experienced three weddings and a funeral, within months become a grandmother twice over, and is looking at retirement, both her and her husband, within the coming year. Fear and trembling, indeed! And she’s basically a pretty fearless lady —

All this triggered (like Proust’s madeleine, perhaps) a happy remembrance of what happened when I became a grandmother for the first time, almost 22 years ago. Fearful me, a new grandchild maybe six months old (it took a while for the experience to kick in), and one morning I awoke to find myself saying, “Let me through, I’m a grandmother!”

The dream scenario I’d flashed on was a traffic accident in the street, people milling around, all chaos and upsetment. And in I strode in full command and confidence, saying loudly: “Let me through, I’m a grandmother!” Fully expecting all to give way, as they would before a priest or an EMT. And in my scenario, they did.

It was a revelation to me. Somehow achieving grandmotherhood triggered a kind of confidence I’d never had before. And — I’ve never lost it. That doesn’t mean I’m not still afraid of the physical things I’ve listed, the tornadoes and spiders and heights, all that stuff. But rules and authorities? I’ll make up my own mind about these things, thank you. The finishing stroke in becoming an autonomous grownup was achieved maybe five years ago when I decided to let my hair go white, which I’ve written about here; but the process, I now realize, was first triggered by this embrace of grandmotherhood.

What we’re talking about, of course, is age and aging. It’s what Anna Quindlen is talking about, and what my friend is engaged in assimilating. In the teeth of a culture that devalues every year, wrinkle, line, how do we respond? Do we devalue ourselves? Or do we make up our minds for ourselves, assess what we’ve learned over decades of living, ponder the judgment and wisdom and moral gyroscope we’ve accumulated along with our advancing years? Can we claim for ourselves what other cultures have always known and valued about their elders, that age brings physical weakness, but it can also bring strength of character and depths of wisdom that more than make up for the loss?

Some of you have grown old along with me, already have found yourself transformed by some experience, if not of grandmotherhood, than of something else (and perhaps you’ll  consider sharing your thoughts and experience here). To you who are young and strong and vigorous and still gaze on an expansive future vista — I offer some questions:

What have elders — your own grandparents, teachers, mentors, advisors — meant to you? What does aging mean to you? Fear and trembling, or something else? What are your expectations for yourself in the realm of the physical and of the spirit? As an old person I’ve learned that I don’t have any answers except provisional ones for myself, and really, none at all for other people. But I have learned that the right questions will last you a lifetime. So that’s my offering to you, it’s what I have to give.

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31 Responses to Let Me Through, I’m a Grandmother!

  1. grand-player says:

    Ah, you’ve found the GRAND in grandmother. I find that the things I used to worry about and fear are still there and – I CARE……………but not that much!!


  2. mybrightlife says:

    Oh Judith this is so lovely and just what I needed to read right now as l look in the mirror and try to deal with the sag! Thank you, again. I hope you made yourself a big bright T-shirt with your ‘Let me through’, grandma logo on it!


  3. Smallpeace says:

    I am no grandmother, but many of my contemporaries who started their families earlier in life are experiencing this joy for first time. I imagine the euphoria of this special love relationship provides a certain sense of purpose that far outshines our more superficial anxieties about aging. Because I don’t have those little ones to help me mark time, I’m noticing that the years tend to sneak up on me, something I recently wrote about in my blog.

    Now, when I remember my beloved, late grandmother, she is always the same age. Not young, certainly, as none of the best grandmothers can be, but vibrant and smiling and wise. Perhaps being a grandmother is the secret to stopping time…at least in a granddaughter’s eyes.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      “Vibrant and smiling and wise” — what a beautiful descriptor. Who could ask for more?
      I was never a raving beauty, not even in the flower of my youth, so I bring a very tough-minded attitude to the mirror nowadays. Neat and clean — and smiling, yes — and that will do. For women who are lovely, like you, the wrinkles and creases of time can be more difficult.

      By the way, I have often thought (but not yet written about) another significant relationship of age to youth, and that is being an Aunt. Not written about, not talked about, and yet — I think of notable aunts I have known. (Not my own, friends of mine, or aunts in history, as Jane Austen). The love and dedication and patience and encouragement they brought to their nieces and/or nephews shone in the same way as grandmotherhood can shine, and were of profound importance to the young ones.
      Just a thought for now —


  4. Pamela B Maes says:

    Oh, Judy, what can I say, you are the dessert for my day to begin. Thank you for your
    wonderful insights, wisdom and patience you teach us all. We are all in this together with
    a lot of help from our friends!! and LOve.


  5. This has been a really thought-provoking post for me. Your question made me think first of my mother, who will be 86 next month and still works (following her passion of botany), reads widely, hikes and climbs mountains every week. Her 80th birthday present to herself was to abseil off the top of Table Mountain (apparently the highest abseil in the world) tied to a bit of rope, an experience she described as completely thrilling! Being physically unadventurous myself and inclined to be fearful, like you, I could never do the latter. But I guess what I’ve absorbed from her is a version of ageing in which one simply continues to embrace life in whatever ways are possible.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Your mother is a kind of person I admire extravagantly in general — an adventurous brave one! (I also admire her in particular for the loving and thoughtful and talented daughter she raised and encouraged…)

      There are, however, many kinds of bravery. A long time ago I came across this quote from Tolkien, in his work On Fairy-Stories, which spoke so directly to my physically cowardly, unadventurous self that I find I copied it TWICE into my commonplace book:
      “The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft.”
      In this sense, I think I am hard-hearted, and it will suffice.

      I love your last sentence; I think that is exactly the goal.


      • Mercy says:

        Judy, you pull off such insightful and provocative posts filled with questions that only the eternally youthful, optimistic and curious can pose!!
        For one thing, “fear and trembling” are not quite the adjectives or nouns (?) I’d associate with you by any means – and even before you became a grandmother! – even so I’ll let you have that last line – it does seem to be more apt – ‘for the heart is hard though the body be soft’ (another rendering of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak”?).
        While I have yet to scale that bright new frontier of grandmotherhood, I have to admit that I too find myself more often than not these days, carrying on with the bravado of age – got it by just trading in the bravado of youth ;)! – such a sense of freedom in not caring what “they” will say, or “they” will think – just being yourself, and doing things the way you think you’re meant to do it!


        • Touch2Touch says:

          Mercy, would you believe I totally missed it? Of course the Tolkien quote is a “translation” of the Gospel verse, and the it casts a whole new light on the original for me once you show me the connection —

          I love it, your trading in the bravado of youth for a more potent bravado, that of age. (Makes us sound like swashbucklers, doesn’t it? And why not?)
          If only more of us would realize our potential freedom — and power. Maybe that’s why society focuses so exclusively on youth — thus avoiding having to deal with the wisdom and strength of age.
          Let’s set a trend! Looking at the other commenters — we could be riding a wave —


  6. Patti Kuche says:

    I grew up in the shadow of a most fearful mother, a woman frightened of life but at one with the noble art of suffering. Happier people were complete mysteries to her – my father was a happy sort but that was only because he had been brought up “badly” by his widowed mother who enjoyed a drink and a cigarette and who could play the violin like a dream.
    Somehow we make our way through the tumbleweeds of family life to eventually discover where we as individuals want to be, to enjoy the freedom of who we are. I have no wish to climb a mountain but I love that others can and do and I want to hear all about the adventure.
    I love that you have your “let me through” attitude which has made its way through here to me and for that I am so grateful, thank you!
    BTW, you are not old, only older, as indeed we all are to someone else!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Yes, the tumbleweeds of family life —
      A great phrase to describe a far-from-benign situation. But you have obviously come through with shining pennons. I watch via your photos the fraught situations which you navigate with aplomb and good will. (Not to mention enormous talent.) And a “let me through” attitude of your own —
      I observe in the photos how people respond to your personality, which is both strong and well-wishing. I admire you very much as a capable and independent (and, I suspect, very kind) woman. I don’t like to use clichés on artistic grounds, but mostly clichés got that way because there’s so much truth in them. So hearing your story, I think to myself, Hmmm, what doesn’t kill us can indeed make us strong. Namaste!

      (Actually, Patti — I am on a secret mission, to rehabilitate the word “old” to its formerly noble (?) place. Don’t blow my cover.)


  7. pauline says:

    “To you who are young and strong and vigorous and still gaze on an expansive future vista” – that’s me, right? (Well, okay, let’s change young to [ahem!] middle-aged and vigorous to enthusiastic, as nods to my actual physical age.) I find that as the years chug along, I tend to look at the things I feared in my youth (many of the same that you cite) and say, “Oh hell, I’m tired of being afraid of that!” With the exception of spiders, I’d say I can brave my way through any number of upsetting circumstances with that same dream-daring that let you proclaim. “Let me through! I’m a grandmother!” And that may be because when one is a grandmother left in charge of a precious child, she will do anything to protect that little morsel of life. I felt that same lion courage when my own children were small and once actually plucked, with my own bare hands, mind you, an enormous spider off the blanket that covered my baby.

    I have recently volunteered to be a mentor for teen students in a program offered at our local senior center. I fondly remember a number of older, wiser adults that influenced my youth, from the woodsman who taught me the names and uses of many woods and meadow plants, to my adventurer grandfather who reminded me to look beyond what I saw with merely my eyes, to the rogue uncle who dared me to question authority, to a beloved teacher who taught me to look at the world through the eyes of a poet. I want to be all those for not only these teens, but for my grandchildren, as well!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      No wonder you are so various, Pauline, with so many different gifts. You have all these wonderful mentors incorporated within you! Fate may have brought them your way but it’s to your credit that you chose wisely, or perhaps I should say, accepted wisely, and took the best of the best.
      And now the Bean (and her cousins) reap the bounty —
      Lucky Sheffield teenagers, who will also share in the bounty.
      (Miss you, would love to get together soon.)


  8. 2e0mca says:

    You’ve conjured up a picture for me of a comic book hero – A Grandmother striding forwards to defeat the evil geniuses of the world with the contents of her carpet bag and a pair of knitting needles 😉

    Grow old disgracefully, that’s what I say. Don’t give in to the expectations of others – just be yourself 🙂


    • Touch2Touch says:

      I can see her now, an overage Mary Poppins. Love it!
      As for growing old disgracefully, great idea! (Another neat t-shirt idea. 😉
      (Mary P. was pretty disgraceful, if you assess her properly.)


  9. reb says:

    I have all those fears you mention, but throughout life I’ve managed to suppress them. I realized had I given in to them, I wouldn’t have had a life at all. It intrigues me a bit that you have them, as that’s not the impression I’ve gotten of you from online. One thing scares me ****less; ending up in a nursing home. We have this lady, 98, that we go and visit, and each time I’m down with fear to end up that way. That’s one of the fears I almost cannot handle.

    I have no children [own choice], so I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like, but I’ve seen, up close, the transformation my real life friends go through when they become grand parents.

    Just today, I thought about my mother … when she was the age I am today [soon 57], she had a daughter … [me] and I was fifteen. Was thinking how lucky I felt that I didn’t have a fifteen-year-old, whom I was solely responsible for now.

    I look at my face in the mirror and notice the visible signs of ageing, but I feel neither young nor old. I don’t care. The amount of commercials for anti-ageing creams and procedures is overwhelming and they just pee me off … as if ageing were some kind of disease?!

    I remember your post about allowing your hair to get white. It was about the same time as I decided to let my own hair grow long … one last attempt, and I’ve managed to get it rather long now. Haven’t got any of that confidence you mention though…

    Loved reading this post … and all the comments!


    • Touch2Touch says:

      The comments, and the conversation, are what really counts! Everyone’s got a piece of the wisdom. When we put them together, it’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle, more of the picture appears! So thanks for your contribution, Rebekah.
      A fifteen-year-old is rough duty almost always, IMHO. But what you mention, I could call the “I don’t care” syndrome. It’s wonderful!!!!!!!!!!!!
      So much time wasted caring what other people think about things that basically are none of their business. We may or may not be wiser now that we’re older, but we certainly see clearer!
      (Hey, you realize, my dear, I’ve got 20 years on you? And don’t feel a bit of them, except in the back and the sciatic nerve, sometimes. Or sacroiliac. Whatever. To quote the Crowing Crone, hee hee)

      P.S. Re the nursing home stuff. Yes, it’s a nightmare, but one we can do absolutely nothing about. So I just put it in the category of F and F: file and forget.


  10. My dear friend, as age slowly (slowly) creeps up on me, I look to wonderful, wise women like you who show me the way. Who say “Let me through, I am a Grandmother” with as much enthusiasm and inner strength and gusto to make me realize it is that kind of fortitude and ATTITUDE that will see all of us through.


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Guess so! I love love love the way you couple fortitude and ATTITUDE. I never noticed the similar sound, the natural rhyme, the natural affinity!
      Thanks for a great slogan. (I find slogans immensely handy in coping with the business of living.)


  11. This was a wonderful post, and all the comments and conversation were thought-provoking and inspiring.


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