My Grandma’s birthday was on March 5. She’s often on my mind, but the end of February was the anniversary of her passing, and along with the other sad milestone dates in February, it’s just a melancholy time. The good thing has been the overlap with the Jewish holiday Purim, since she taught me to make my great-grandmother’s humentashen recipe, and I make them every year in her honor. Today is also International Women’s Day. Grandma would surely scoff at this kind of occasion, as she did with Mother’s Day. She would say that women should be honored every day. Still, as I baked my great-grandma’s recipe for cookies to bring to a friend this weekend, and have been distributing humentashen among my friends, I feel deeply connected to Grandma. She would be so delighted that my creations are so well received! Since we shared a creative flair, she would love the way I have come to decorate cookies.
The fact that today is International Women’s Day led me to think about the tremendous influence my grandma and my mom have had on my life. I realize that my grandma and my mom taught me to be a caregiver. They instilled in me a sense of loyalty and desire to help my loved ones, although I do think it is also in my nature. Of course, if you read this blog, you know that my dad also played an incredibly important role in my life. Since I was his caregiver, he was in many ways a beneficiary of all that he and these wonderful women taught me.
The truth is that I was a mommy’s girl, a daddy’s girl and a grandma’s girl. That has stayed with me. In more recent years, there have been some wonderful grandmas in Disney films, which always touches my heart. Julie Andrews as a grandma and a Queen in The Princess Diaries was a treat (and great casting, in my opinion) and I related so much to her relationship with Princess Amelia (played by Anne Hathaway). I watched The Princess Dairies and the sequel this weekend. While my grandma was not as sugar-coated as Julie Andrews, she had such an elegance. Most important was that she truly knew me, and although she had her own ideas of how she would have wanted my life to go (think princess meets prince, and Jewish) but she also knew that I danced to my own beat. I was one of a very small circle whom Grandma loved unconditionally.
At one point in The Princess Diaries, Julie Andrews tells her granddaughter, “I have faith in you.” That conversation made me cry. That is the crux of my relationship with my grandmother. She had faith in me. Even though we did not always agree, and I struggled with feeling that I had two mothers when one was sufficient, I knew that Grandma had faith in me. She believed in me in a way that I still don’t believe in myself. I have lost the people closest to me who gave me that feeling. I miss it, even though, despite their faith, I have always lacked confidence. (as I’m typing I’m hearing in my head Julie singing “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music.
When Grandma was ill, although she had caregivers, I was the person she trusted. No matter what others did, my presence was the one she acknowledged. I learned the supreme value of the care in caregiving. Although I wish I did not need to call upon those skills to be the caregiver of my dad during his struggle with cancer, and Ben during his battle with ALS, I was grateful for the women who helped me to develop those skills. I watched my mom and Grandma take care of not only our immediate family, but also my great-aunts and great-uncles. My mom was the most selfless person I ever knew. Grandma commanded more attention, but she was fiercely loyal to her family and to ensuring that we were there for each other and for her. After she died, our family unraveled. I wish that my mom and Grandma had shown me more self-care skills because even now, six years after my dad died and almost five since Ben has been gone, I am not very adept at caring for and prioritizing myself. I have no regrets about what I did as a caregiver, and I am at my core someone who thrives on caring for others, but I do find myself probably unnecessarily overwhelmed at times because I get caught up in small tasks that are helpful to others and rewarding for me, but I feel lost as I think about my life strategy or plan. Still, I think that the good that they taught me outweighs the downsides.
When Ben was losing his strength but persisting in his brave struggle to walk, he did sometimes fall. There were occasions when I would catch him just in time and he called me his Wonder Woman. He even got me a Wonder Woman t-shirt. Given how much of a klutz I am, it was kind of funny how proud I was of that shirt. I do believe that I learned about my inner strength when I had to care for my dad and Ben. But, the women in my life helped me to nurture those skills from the time I was a child. Caregiving let me discover and utilize them.
So, on this International Women’s Day, I honor and thank my mom and Grandma. I honor all caregivers, who are Wonder Women for exemplifying the powerful meaning of caregiving. And, I honor Julie Andrews, because she’s Mary Poppins, and that’s enough!