Skipping over the Middle Generation

The image of my adult children sitting on the patio, sipping cocktails with my mother makes me realize that: a) I am getting older, and b) I am no longer a crucial link in their connections, so therefore c) I must have done something right as a parent.

cocktail

Cheers!

My son and daughter took their first extended trip together and flew across the country- taking a break from work and other obligations. Of all the exotic or exciting places they could have chosen to spend their vacation time, they desired to see their grandmother. None of us had seen her since my daughter’s commencement last spring. Since then, a lot of things have happened for the better or worse and it definitely felt like a visit was long overdue.

We have traveled as a family for an annual visit almost every year, but this time the “kids” took matters into their own hands and planned their trip without the Middle Generation getting involved. As much as I would have loved to join them, I knew this would be a wonderful way for the two of them to reconnect with their grandmother on their own terms and without any interference from me. In fact, if my husband or I had been there, the dynamics of the visit would have been much different.

By skipping over the middle generation, the grandparent and grandchildren had no competition for attention and knew exactly where they stood in relation to the members of their trio. From the limited text messages or photos I received during the week, I could tell they were enjoying each other’s company. They also felt they could speak openly to her and tap into her life experiences and non-judgmental personality. In exchange, she was able to form a new bond with her grandchildren as adults with their own goals and dreams.

While it would have been nice to be a fly on the wall, overhearing all the interesting conversations they likely had, I am very happy to know they had this special time together without me. It is nice to know that the middle generation doesn’t always need to be the mediator or facilitator to make things happen. And as I reflect on the thought of the cocktail hour on the patio, between a grandmother and her now adult grandchildren, all I can say is how grateful I am that our family has this strong intergenerational bond. I am content that I have done my job.

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The Expanding Family Horizon

  What is a “family horizon”? you may ask. A horizon is a line as far as the eye can see- usually a boundary between the known and the unknown, the real and the imaginary. In relation to a family, a child’s horizon might be very close-at-hand: mom, dad, brother, sister. These are the people we interact with every day and come to rely on for comfort and emotional support.

Today’s families aren’t so black and white, though. Due to high rates of divorce , financial needs and longevity there is a greater likelihood that a family’s horizon will expand. In-laws or step-families, adult children and spouses all add to the expanded version of today’s family- often inhabiting the same household.

Early on, children learn to include their grandparents and aunts/uncles/cousins into the category of extended family. My children had 4 grandparents, 4 sets of aunts /uncles and 2 cousins. One set of grandparents divorced before they were born. My daughter was a year old when my father remarried. His wife graciously accepted an endearing nickname and took on the role of step-grandmother. She brought their horizon up to 5 grandparents.

The other set of grandparents was married for 56 years and were only recently separated due to death. That shrunk my kids’ horizon, but only temporarily. Within a year, their Nana had met a gentleman who liked her very much and they began spending a lot of time together. When my father married a new partner, the kids were too young to know there had been anything different. But at this stage of their lives, the idea that their Nana could take a new partner seemed to rock their concept of family.

My children obviously have strong loyalties and affection for family members. My daughter is a believer in the status quo. Neither has any experience with romantic relationships, other than what they see on tv, so it was difficult for them to accept that their grandmother had already come to terms with their grandfather’s death and was ready to move on with her life.

Q. How do you get a self-centered teenager to switch lenses and zoom out to a farther horizon?

A. Patience and baby steps.

We had heard much about Nana’s beau and my husband and I were very supportive; but it took several months until we finally met him. The kids were nervous- not sure what to expect or how to treat him- he wasn’t their beloved Papa after all. When he and Nana arrived, we spent as much time out of the house as possible (at a tennis match, restaurant and they slept at a nearby hotel). I think it was important that the kids didn’t feel pressured that he needed to be treated like family at this initial meeting.

By getting to talk with him and realize what a kind, thoughtful person he is, they were able to form their own opinion of him and be more forgiving of Nana. My son actually said he was happy if she was happy. A few weeks later, Nana visited alone for several days, reassuring the kids that she was aways there for them. She had an opportunity to answer their questions about her boy-friend and I think they were more open-minded.

By their next visit together, he should be welcomed back as a member of the expanded family- and my children have reset their sights on a higher point of the family horizon.

The Thanksgiving Art Show

Only three days left until Thanksgiving and I am still not ready! Oh, I’ve got the turkey thawing and the menu planned out, my linens are washed and pressed, my guest room is clean- that was the easy part. What is not complete is my project for the Thanksgiving Art Show. As usual, we have all procrastinated until the end. So now I am scrambling to figure out which genre to submit-  photography, music, interior design (does that count?). My husband is working away on something in his workshop and my daughter goes back and forth between the computer and the dining room where she has set her project up. Everyone is trying to keep an element of secrecy until the unveiling at the show.

Our annual show has become the most important part of our holiday ritual. It is an unusual tradition, not just for its theme but also due to its origination. When one thinks of traditions, they tend to come from the older generations and are passed down to the grandchildren. This one, however, was created by the grandchildren and imposed on the grandparents, as well as everyone in between.   

It all started 9 years ago, when my daughter bemoaned the fact that Thanksgiving was so boring. She and her brother were the only children present and had to sit through hours of adults chatting and drinking cocktails. So she decided to change the course of action and create an assignment for everyone. That first year, we were instucted to bring up to two pieces of original art and give a presentation. We would then vote on the entries by category, with awards being given in each. I don’t remember what my first submission was, but the 2 hour experience of appreciating what each person had made was so wonderful that we all promised to do it again the following year.

Each year, our entries have gotten more complex. People have been encouraged to try new mediums- culinary arts, floral arrangements, photo editing, sculpture and fabric design.

             

The kids have taken the entertainment to a whole other level with their emcee talents, keeping things moving along and making  everyone laugh.

This tradition seems to have influenced us in our daily lives as well. Each one of us has become more creative in ways that we don’t even notice- how we plate our food, arrange our flowers or play our music. In fact, we have incorporated art into our lives so much that I am now faced with the dilemma of choosing which project to submit? I wonder if my blog counts as a genre…