November 26, 2008 by 8junebugs
It is not unusual, these days, for me to cry a little on the way home from work. I used to talk to Mom on the afternoon commute, and I’m at a bit of a loss on the GW Parkway right now.
It is also not unusual for me to cry over Human Interest stories involving the incoming First Family. Since the election, I have felt the most raw, emotional sense of renewal and faith in leadership that I can remember. I think a lot of us are a little in love with the Obamas right now.
Combine that with a migraine and a fantastic piece on NPR about Michelle Obama’s mother moving into the White House with the family, and I smiled and sniffled all the way home.
My ex-husband used to say that I talked about my Grand the way he talked about his mom and seemed to find it strange. What I could never explain is how she never supplanted my parents or even tried to parent me — she grandparented me, and that’s just Not The Same Thing. (But it may be why, when HRC came out with It Takes a Village, I already knew she was right.)
KidBrother and I were raised tribally on what I like to call The Whipple Compound. There was the farm, where my grandparents lived (so, often, did my aunt and my cousin). The hill behind the farm was a cow pasture — on one side of the pasture was our house, on the other was my Uncle Steve’s.
Actually, his house and ours are still there. The farm fell out of the family and became a Historical Homestead Property, or something along those lines. Colonial Pioneer Quaker Frontier Farmers used to dance on the pine floors, I hear…
Either way, we spent our young lives all UP in each other’s business — it was me and Amy and Rob for the longest time, then KidBrother came along, and MyCousinAshley followed a year and a half later. We taught each other to ride bikes, curse, read and write, make cookies, climb trees, sneak into the haymow, whistle, ice skate…pretty much everything you pick up as a kid, we picked up from each other. I often feel like the first cousins who joined us later but lived 20 minutes away missed out on The Good Ol’ Days. We kept each other in line, but we were all the best of friends.
For better or worse, this was an awesome way to grow up, and Grand was right in the middle of it. She wouldn’t have had it any other way. She was the physical and figurative center of the family, and Grand’s word was law.
She “babysat” us after school, much as Mrs. Robinson will look after Malia and Sasha while their parents work. Except grandmothers don’t babysit — they grandmother. Grand looked after us and listened to us. She disciplined us and gave us treats, and most of us have specific memories of her in the Emergency Room. She made us laugh, held us when we cried, and defended us to each other, to the rest of the family.
Ordinarily, she didn’t interfere with the parental rulings. One time, though, just one time, I locked myself in her bathroom and wouldn’t come out when Dad wanted me to go visit my aunt in the hospital. Grand understood that the last time I’d gone to that hospital was to see my Pépère before he died, and I was scared to go again. She didn’t tell him to back off, but she didn’t make me come out, either. And she totally could’ve.
She treated bee stings and broken hearts with the same steadiness, the same love and understanding, as long as she lived. Which was not long enough.
So it makes me happy to think of the Obama girls (um, the real ones) growing up with a grandmother around to care for them the way only grandmothers can. And it makes me happier to know our next President is the kind of man who puts the care of his kids ahead of some of the macho bullshit I’ve heard lately — “Man, you just don’t let your mother-in-law move in. That’s just wrong.” — and respects the place Mrs. Robinson has in his family’s life. From all accounts, he respects her, too.