grandparents

Semi-Precious Moments

I owe a few people an apology. Actually it’s probably quite a few people, so I’m just going to go with a blanket “I’m sorry” to anyone I’ve ever accused of over sharing and be done with it. Turns out whatever the reason was for me attacking your need to disseminate all aspects of your private life in public was nothing compared to my latest discovery on YouTube.

This morning as I was making my usual way through procrastination central, I stumbled across videos of women telling their partners they’re pregnant and…well…I’m kind of horrified. I’m not talking Maury Povich-style “you ARE the father” videos. I’m talking sweet, loving moments between couples who are ultimately pleased about becoming parents. Videos like this:

There are thousands of them, the majority of which have titles like Telling My Husband I’m Pregnant – *Emotional* or Jake Finds out He’s Going to Be a Daddy – Beautiful!!!  I sat through a few, my heart unmoved by what I was watching, and all I could think was “what are you people doing?”

I’ve never been ‘with child’ so maybe I am totally romanticising the whole concept of pregnancy, but there’s something about this I just can’t handle. I understand being excited about being pregnant, and I understand wanting to share that joy. I even get filming the moment you tell the rest of the family you’re pregnant, because some of the grandparents’-to-be reactions are genuinely laugh out loud funny. But that very first time you share the news with your partner, before the pregnancy becomes something that belongs to everyone else, don’t you want five minutes together to say “this might be happening to us” that no one else gets to share? Isn’t that one of the few moments of pregnancy that belongs just to the two of you? If you’re going to let everyone in at that point, why not just invite them to the conception as well?

For those who want children, then this is arguably the moment between a couple; the point at which they realise they may well be bringing another human into the world. Discounting intervention from fertility specialists and pressure from the mother-in-law to give her grandchildren, no one else is actually involved. So why are they stopping to film it for the internet? Is it a competition between females to see whose bloke will prove himself the better man?

I know we live in a world where the line between private and public is fuzzy, enough has been written about how we overshare our lives. But this seems to be a very clear example of where we’ve got our priorities all arse about face, and I’m starting to feel a queasy sadness about what we’ve lost. Perhaps you could call it mourning sickness.

This is more than just sentimentally holding on to keepsakes that have special meaning. Mementos are different. My home is full of little knick knacks that hold value for no one other than me (although I’d probably draw the line at turning the urine covered pregnancy test into a framed wall décor like quite a lot of these women seem intent on doing). Aside from these videos being pretty boring viewing given they’re mostly of guys dumbfounded by both impending fatherhood and the fact that they’re looking into an iPhone rather than their partner’s face, the moment being recorded is actually being altered by the presence of the camera. If you’re busy concentrating on the Director’s Cut, making sure you’ve pressed record, worrying whether the sound is okay, that you’ve got your script ready and you’re both in frame, you’re not exactly giving the father your undivided attention. And he’s not giving the moment his undivided attention either based on how many videos include the line “are you filming this?” All you’ve ended up with is footage of two people dealing with life changing news, aware that their behaviour is being recorded for probable mass consumption. Way to ensure the reaction is anything but natural.

The thing is we don’t actually need permanent reminders of everything that happens to us. We have memories and the ability to tell stories – and a whole lot more can be evoked by a loving retelling than can ever be gleaned by sitting through a home movie. Consider it the real life version of ‘the book was better’. And okay one day you may forget that memory due to age or brain function, but at that point no YouTube video is really going to help you. If you are experiencing something that means so much to you that you want to remember every single second, then participate in it without the distraction of the viewfinder. Be present for the moment itself, not just the instant replay, because right now you’re somewhere between participant and audience and that kind of sucks.

Frankly I can’t help thinking we’d all be better off putting down our phones and just enjoying the experience of making memories we’d hate to forget, rather than footage of what might have been.

Missing Marion, Ten Years On.

A woman stands in a garden holding her granddaughter in her arms, swaying gently back and forth.

“All the pretty lights” she croons. “All the pretty lights.”

An evening ritual;  watching the lights from Surfers Paradise twinkle on the horizon as she calms the little girl for sleep, pointing out constellations and looking for shooting stars.

“All the pretty lights” she repeats. “All the pretty lights.”

 

This is a treasured memory of mine. It’s more than 35 years ago now, but I can still hear her voice singing to me and smell the jasmine hanging in the air. Those nights stargazing, just the two of us, were the start of an unwavering bond we shared. My mother’s mother, she was my partner in crime, my mischievous sidekick, fellow rainbow chaser, whim indulger, biggest fan and safest place. I adored her, we were inseparable.

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t dread the thought of grandma’s passing. I knew she was a delicate treasure I was lucky to have. I hated knowing that one day she just wouldn’t be around anymore, that I would be forced to face the world without her reassuring hugs and quiet wisdom. When the time came, in the very early hours of May 2nd 2003, I was sound asleep at my parents’ home. I woke suddenly, sitting bolt upright in bed; a few minutes later the phone rang. By the time mum came and knocked gently at my door, I knew she’d gone.

It wasn’t strange to me that I had felt her passing before the nursing home called. We had such a strong connection. I had moved back home from Sydney just five weeks earlier because for some inexplicable reason I felt I needed to. Actually, she’d been what made me move away in the first place. Leaving had been a difficult decision, because my grandad was dying at the time, and she had been moved into a nursing home suffering dementia. One afternoon, while we sat in the sun, I told her I didn’t know if I should still be moving away. She turned, looked at me, and in an all too brief moment of lucidity said “I would if I were you” before disappearing into the fog again. So when I felt something pulling me home three years later, I listened. I’m sure Grandma was calling me.

It was a funny feeling at the time. In a lot of ways, the ravages of dementia had meant I’d mourned Grandma long before her actual death. We all had. It seemed forever since she had raced about the kitchen in her pinny, baking favourite family treats and organising grandad’s tea. It had been years since I’d seen her with her knitting needles or tapestry; making porcelain dolls or quilting a new throw. And it had been a very long time since any of us had been called a “bisim” or a “scallywag” or a “blighter.”

Being the oldest grandchild by many years, I had Grandma to myself for a long time. As a little girl, she would take me by the hand and we’d go exploring. She had a wonderful way of seeing the world through kids’ eyes, and was fascinated by the tiniest things – flower petals, butterflies, caterpillars (although they were stomped on violently if it was her gerberas they were munching on), the scent of roses and freesias growing in the garden. We’d pick Hibiscus flowers and lay them in little dishes of water, and wait for them to close up at night time, like they were going to sleep too. When I was older, we would still walk together and wonder at the simple things – but it was me holding her hand as I helped steady her. We delighted in each other’s company; being together brought out the best in both of us. She was my favourite and, although she cherished all her family, I think secretly I was hers too.

We spent most days together while I was growing up. We played dress ups with her old clothes, baked sweets, and danced to Oscar & Hammerstein show tunes. Side by side, we’d conspire against a grandfather who always wanted the music turned down, a mother who didn’t want her children eating any more cookies, and little brothers who wanted to lick the mixing bowl clean too. If I needed a nap, she would sit on my bed and read me Little Golden Books, stroking my leg until I fell asleep. When I was older and in what felt like an unbearably long stretch of teenage angst, she was the only one who could hush the turmoil and discontent raging inside me.

Grandma’s later life was a sea of shockwaves and disappointments that took away any assertiveness she may have had, and left her a timid little thing. What was left of her was almost entirely taken from us by a brain that held her captive. For years we watched Grandma trapped inside herself as her dementia became another member of our family. It was hard, but we all adjusted as best we could. We got used to having one sided conversations with her as the illness stole her voice. Sometimes it was funny, when we made up ridiculous answers she might give and watched as she reacted accordingly. Mostly it was sad though, and terribly frustrating for her.

The only thing that made it bearable was that she never lost her childlike sense of humour, her joie de vivre. Enough of her spirit survived for me to miss it terribly when it was gone. The twinkle in her eye stayed until the end. Less than a week before her death, she’d blown a big wet raspberry on my cheek as I went in for a goodbye kiss, then laughed so much I’d had to call a nurse to help her to the toilet. I loved making her laugh, even when it was at my expense. She had a laugh of pure joy, and would dissolve into uncontrollable giggling fits.

It’s impossible to believe today marks ten years since she left us. Impossible not that she died, but that I’ve managed this long without her. There hasn’t been a single day in the last 3654 that I haven’t thought about her, and wished I could be held against her soft chest just one more time.

That funny, quiet little lady, so unassuming and shy; always watching, never missing a thing, laughing, pulling faces, and worrying far too often. I am so lucky to have such wonderful memories of Grandma, to be able to recall with complete clarity how her face would light up when she saw a puppy, or a baby, or just me arriving for a visit.

I am lucky to have known such complete and utter love.

by caz.

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