“I have a low tolerance for chaos,” I complained to GramBea this morning on the phone.
“I know, so do I,” she said.
GramBea raised five children (the youngest were twins) while my Grandpa, a Captain in the Navy, was off at sea for months at a time. She knows chaos. She is also is the source of all the most consistently reliable parenting advice. For example, she told me last year that sometimes the most nourishing meal a parent can have is a glass of alcohol and an aspirin. Amen.
I have also passed on to countless friends and acquaintances her trick for sleeping in on weekends when you have young children: “Grandpa and I would just sprinkle Cheerios in the twins’ cribs before we went to bed,” she said. “It kept them busy and fed while we slept in a little longer.”
Why haven’t the baby food manufacturers caught on to that idea?
I knew she would understand when I told her I’m feeling starved for peace and quiet. “You know what you can do, Marta, for a little bit of quiet? Just stop what you’re doing all of a sudden and say ‘what’s that? Do you hear that? Listen!’ It works. It will only buy you about five seconds, but at least it’s five seconds of quiet.” Small victories, got it. I wrote it down.
She told me last year that sometimes the most nourishing meal a parent can have is a glass of alcohol and an aspirin. Amen.
The most essential element of my parenting philosophy comes from GramBea. When Henry was about two, I called her from Cleveland, feeling overwhelmed. “How do you get it all done?” I wailed. “How do you cook balanced meals and keep a clean and beautiful house and raise children?”
“You don’t,” she said. “Some of it will have to wait. Sometimes you will not be able to pull off a great dinner, sometimes you will not finish the laundry, sometimes the house will get dusty. It can all wait. Your job is to spend time with your babies, to grow them and listen to them and enjoy them. That’s the only thing that can’t wait.”
You should know that GramBea has always kept a beautiful house –I spent the night there at least once a week when I was growing up (I could take the bus to her house after school). The lighting was soft and glowy, meals were nourishing and delicious (minimal sugar and fat –I still don’t know how she pulled that off), her home was beautiful in an effortless, comfortable kind of way. Many times I would come in after school to hear her practicing piano out on the four-season porch. The sheets were crisp and fresh in Spring and Summer, soft and warm in Fall and Winter.
You think I’m romanticizing Grandma’s house, but you can ask anyone in our big family –it’s all true. GramBea is a gifted nester and a practical nurturer. So if she tells me it’s okay to let the laundry go for a little while or serve eggs and hot cereal for a few nights (“watch the salt and sugar, though, Sweetie”) then I listen to her for the same reason I’d listen if Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez told me it was okay to let hair and makeup go for a day or two. Order and beauty matter to GramBea –they just don’t matter as much as kids do.
Which is why she’s still the first person I want to call on a Saturday morning.