Though decades apart, the young and the old really do make a good pair in life. Why you ask? Well, read on I tell you. Instead of a duo, today I am featuring a QUAD (are you for real??) of generations! I invited Sarah, who is a not only a blessed wife, but a momma, a daughter, and a granddaughter, to share something about this quad of a beauty that she sees day to day. The photo, here, shows Sarah, her daughter, Charlotte, her mom, Diane, and her grandma, Rae. Thank you Sarah for sharing your family today. I LOVE and heart this photo x 10000!!
Oh wait, and before I start, let me tell you a little more about Sarah. Her gift is encouragement, she’s an amazing writer (as you will see), and OH MY GOODNESS, she can sing OPERA!!!! WHAT!?
Take it away Sarah!
Our Multigenerational Family
It’s Monday afternoon. My 8-year-old daughter Charlotte and I stop whatever we are doing, jump in the car, and head 12 minutes down the road to visit my grandparents. It’s a tradition that we started when she was a baby. We call it “Charlotte Monday.” It is unusual for a child to have 3 great-grandparents still living, and we know what a blessing it is. So when all of us are available and healthy, no matter what else we may have to get accomplished that day, Charlotte and I quickly scribble out the final sentence of a language arts lesson, agree to shelve the infuriating long division problem, throw dinner ingredients in the slow cooker, and head down the road to have a relaxing cup of tea and a very special visit.
I grew up, like many of my friends, visiting my grandparents about once or twice a year. It was wonderful, and I loved them all very much, but it was a vacation. It wasn’t real life. The cookies on the counter, the homemade ice cream, the treasure hunts through unfamiliar neighborhoods, all of it was magical, but all of it was rare.
For my daughter, I’m so thankful to say that it isn’t rare at all. It’s extraordinary, ordinary, real life. She bursts (often without knocking), through the door that her great-grandparents leave open in anticipation of her arrival. There is always a treat on the counter, a container of goldfish crackers magically refilled in a secret drawer, and lately, a science experiment or a page of riddles to solve.
When Charlotte was small, my ever-patient grandfather constructed a padded floor and placed a small outdoor swing set on top of it, so that she could swing in the winter. When she got older, he affixed a gymnasium style climbing rope to the beams in their basement ceiling. As a result, Charlotte was quite possibly the first female in our family to suffer no embarrassment when called to shimmy up a rope in gym class. When the weather is cold, they make art projects together in the basement. When the weather is nice, he buries little treasures (sometimes extravagant, sometimes a cherished “rusty old screw” like her cartoon hero Kipper found in a favorite episode), and the two of them set off for pirate treasure with a metal detector and spade in hand. When they return, my grandmother has a cup of fruit tea and a homemade treat ready to greet them. She has a gift for making everyone who enters her home feel welcome, and her hospitality is mimicked in our house when Charlotte entertains her friends. Before we leave, we all have “tea time” together, and as I drive away, I make a mental note to institute a daily tea time in my own house. It wouldn’t be the same, though.
Our multi-generational life isn’t limited to weekly visits with my grandparents. We live in the same house with my mother, “Grandmama” to Charlotte. Every night, the two of them beg for a special time together (10 minutes, no. . .15, PLEASE MOM?) to play dollhouse, or to mount an impromptu theatrical production, or to play Tetris side by side in bed. When Charlotte draws a picture of our family, there are 4 people instead of 3. There’s no question. Of course, Grandmama would be included.
Last month, my father had to transition to an assisted living facility. He now lives, instead of with us, about 3 minutes down the road. An unexpected delight has been that now Charlotte spends time with not only her grandfather, but many other grandparents as well. She is the life of the party during their high-stakes parlor games. She brings laughter and piano music and wild dancing to their halls. Last week, Charlotte was helping one lady read the numbers on her bingo card. As the other residents repeatedly told Charlotte that this lady “can’t play because she can’t see well at all,” Charlotte whispered to her, “I think you see great.” They shared a secret smile and kept on playing.
It is a beautiful thing to allow children to peek behind the curtain of aging. Things that would have frightened me at Charlotte’s age, like a dementia-related outburst, or a fall, or a medical procedure, just seem like a part of life to her. She is comfortable holding a hand that shakes with Parkinson’s disease. She is comfortable kissing a bandaged cheek. She is comfortable setting boundaries, showing compassion, learning to walk through life with people who have different needs than she has. And she’s not afraid. She bounds through the halls of the senior center that she has dubbed “Sen͂or Center,” as if she owns the place. She talks about how she will love to live there one day. I remember being afraid of nursing homes, but she’s already trying to put down a deposit.
Before our daughter was born, my husband and I always assumed that we would have two children. We each grew up with a sibling, and I am so thankful to have my sister and her beautiful family living just 10 minutes away. But after Charlotte joined our family, we couldn’t imagine having another kid. She was the child we were meant to have, and our family was complete. I realize now that the reason we felt so complete is because we live the multi-generational family life in a daily way. We even have four generations of women attending the same weekly Bible study. I am very aware that this is not a “normal” situation. And I’m so incredibly grateful.
Let me encourage you, if you have a young child, to not protect them too completely from the realities of aging. Let them learn what it is to be part of a multi-generational community. Let them learn what it means to “visit” around a kitchen table with people in different stages of life. Let them learn what it means to slow down and offer a hand to a shuffling walker.
This year we are beginning a homeschooling journey, and the most common question we are posed is “What are you doing for socialization?” Well, we have 3 days a week of activities and classes with kids of her same age. But socialization does not just mean spending time with your peers. It means learning how to relate and engage and converse with people of all ages, and all stages of life. So if your children are most often surrounded by their peers, perhaps you might think about what you are doing for multi-generational socialization. How can you prepare your kids for life by expanding their social circle to people beyond their grade level?
Perhaps you have an elderly neighbor who would find a monthly “tea time” to be a source of great joy and comfort. Perhaps you have an elderly relative across an ocean who could be a faithful pen-pal to your child. One of my grandmother’s greatest ministries has been writing notes and sending cards for every occasion you could imagine. It seems like a lost art, but it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps you have a child who could learn the art of letter writing. Perhaps you could spend an hour a week at your local “Sen͂or Center,” playing bingo or checkers, or reading to the residents. Or perhaps it could be as simple as a weekly phone call to a grandparent.
And if you are further along on your journey, if you are reading this in a quiet house that once was filled with the cacophony of children, or the pressures of a career—perhaps you could reach out to the mom who is still in the throes of young parenting. Perhaps you could put on the kettle, open up your door, and invite the beautiful chaos of childhood to invade your peaceful home once a week. I think that we could all use a break from the routine to expand our lives to welcome different generations and different experiences. And if you’re not sure how to begin, take it from my grandfather: If you bury a trinket in the backyard and lead a child to it with a treasure map, you’ll have a friend for life. Even if it is just a rusty old screw.
Readers, if you loved today’s post, please LIKE it, share it, and don’t forget to check out last week’s feature, It’s Not Just Me – Elle (Parent Edition). Come back soon for more!