I remember my grandfather’s 80th birthday party. We had it back at my parent’s farm and back then, there were more great aunts and uncles alive and pretty thriving. I tell this story all the time – to my friends, to this blog, and even to the cashier at the co-op. It needs to be told: It was Poppa Joe’s 80th birthday and we were setting up his cake. My great uncle Milt, then 90, said: “He’s so lucky to be only 80. He still has so much life to look forward to.” I remember nudging one of my siblings and saying, “See that? 80 is the new 21.” I was 23/24 at the time, and felt positively ancient. I wasn’t.
I have a complicated grandparents relationship, which is definitely why I get weird about my kids and their six grandparents. On one hand, I want them to be as youthful and exuberant as they are now – pretty much forever. It’s like I think I have control over it. They’re porcelain figurines on a shelf and I’d get upset if you tarnished even one part of one of them. Sadly, they are all tarnished. We are all tarnished. On the other hand, I hold them to high standards. I don’t like when they flake out or push me too far or pull away from us. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Too much, too little, just right.
I had 7 grandparents – sort of. I had my father’s parents, who somehow thought after he died that they were no longer my grandparents. FALSE. And I had my mother’s parents and they were far away. Both passed away within the last six years, two years apart at age 100, and it was hard and weird and stilted. I don’t know how good I really am with grief. I feel so broken and cracked. We don’t know as much about my dad’s first wife’s father. Her mother outlived her by decades and for the last decade of her life, I didn’t have much to do with her. We sometimes came to terms with each other in my teen years, but mostly butted heads. I’m not proud of that – it is what it is. My dad’s parents are the ones above – only days gone.
When we were little kids, we saw each other a lot and we were in each other’s lives. I remember her 60th birthday – but I can’t remember if my parents were married yet. Were we party guests only, or was the party in our house? I regret not really knowing them for the last decade. My sister said she gets sad to think of us as little kids and I get sad too – we had so much promise ahead of us. Grieving and fatherless and following the lead of the sometimes broken, sometimes whole adults. Everybody had a weight on their shoulders and a cross to bear. My grandmother died on May 24th – the day we got Astro.
Three weeks later, her husband died too – as if called by her. They had an amazing love story. They knew each other as young kids and were almost married for 73 years. My older brother and I agreed it was a magical love story. Poppa Joe was an interesting man – everything that came out of his mouth was pure brilliance. I don’t know if I grieve for the man I didn’t know well, for the one I did, for my dad, or for myself as a little kid looking up to any strong male role models. I thinks it’s all of the above. It’s all over now and all I can really do is cry in my car and continue to make sure my kids know their six grandparents as fully as possible, while keeping us all sane, of course. Sometimes we have to bend, but that’s ok.
Today is the last day of school, and boy, what a year. Kindergarten for Des and third grade for Scarlet. She said she wouldn’t be able to sleep because she was so nervous. Her class was something special – her teacher was an angel on earth and her classmates all supported each other. People noticed it. It sucks that they have to be mixed up and put back together in jumbled pieces in a new classroom with a new teacher and new friends. I think it sucks even more to not have these chances. I believe in the strength and kindness of my kids and I believe it can be a good thing. Same with first grade for Des.