Well it's been a big year for this family BH. Pesach 2015 when we got together from all over the world, my husband raised his glass and blessed everyone and said, 6 new grandchildren in 2016!
He wasn't to know that his father would pass away at the end of 2015, and that there would be 3 new grandsons born who would carry his name. And then 2 new granddaughters; and we await no 6 now with the usual mix of excitement and anxiety.
So it's been a big year. Rozhinklech und mandelen as we say, raisins and almonds, the sweet and the bitter.
I won't dwell on the number of grandchildren we have, ptu ptu ptu (my mother in law always answers the question of 'how many grandchildren/great grandchildren do you have' with the answer: 'Not enough!'). But I will say that it's a bunch, and the age spread is 11 to newborn, and the geographical spread involves Israel, New York and Melbourne Australia. This means that I have travelled a few times this year and when you add it all up, by the end of 2016 I will have been away from home for about 3 months.
I go overseas to help the new mums with the recovery and the breastfeeding. New motherhood can be a lonely isolating thing if you have no family nearby.
If I get to be at the birth, that's a plus. Major bonus if I actually get to assist at the birth. My daughters are all ok with that, my daughters-in-law maybe less so, which I get, I'm not pushy (I hope).
I've written before about growing up without grandparents, since my father's family perished in the Holocaust and my mother's family just did not live very long. And neither did my own mother.
Most of my peers were children of Holocaust survivors and thus grandparents were a rare thing. I would gaze upon the occasional Bubby and Zaidy whom I encountered with curiosity and awe. My parents were the oldest people I knew, apart from a few old people we visited at the Montefiore Homes for the aged, with whom we had some non-blood relationship as a rule. But I had to call everyone Aunty and Uncle out of respect so I never knew who was related or who came across on the same ship (shifsbrider or shifsshvester, literally Ship Brother or sister) or who was the aged mother of the ex-wife of my mother's brother (I'm not making that last one up either.)
And not everyone had the full complement of marbles either so some of these old folk were a bit scary.
And some spoke only Yiddish which I was not really au fait with, or else a Yiddish different from the Heimishe Yiddish of my father who was from Dzialoszyn.
So the ideal of the gentle Zayda stroking his beard while poring over the Talmud or the Bubby with the floury apron and the huggable bosom was just that: an idealized fantasy, and rare as a unicorn.
And consider the unsupported parents; in the main, Holocaust survivors who came to a new country with nothing more than what the Joint had provided them, sponsored out by families, real or fictitious, whom they barely knew. They built new lives, new businesses, new families, with hard work, having to learn a new language while they did this. And who had time for counselling even if there was such a thing, even if they could afford it if it existed?
These were our parents.
I was a latchkey child from about 8 years of age. Not only no grandparents but parents who did their best to put food on the table for us, and in doing so, left us kids largely to our own devices.
And there was also the expectation that we would make something of ourselves. We had opportunities! Opportunities that were denied our parents. I used to hear about this so much that I thought 'opportunities' was a Yiddish word. To waste these opportunities would be an unpardonable sin.
Fast forward a few years.
A brother who made Aliyah in 1968, found his niche and then was killed in the YomKippur war in 1973. I've written about this too, and the effects that grief can have on a family.
A medical degree- talk about opportunities!
A marriage to the son of a Holocaust survivor father and a Soviet refugee mother whose parents survived Stalin and Hitler and who were sent by the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe to start a Jewish school in Melbourne.
It so happened that I knew my future husband's grandparents long before I knew him, because Reb Zalman, as we all called him, befriended my father and encouraged my parents to send my brothers and I to the new Jewish school. Reb Zalman was the real deal, the Zeidy, the Chossid, the embodiment of Chabad Chassidus, and I won't go on about him because he needs a book to be written about him. Mainly he was the glimpse of the mythical grandfather. Anyway.
So I got married.
And then I had 7 kids in 10.5 years, 3 born after my mother passed away, and then, moving right along, a bunch of grandchildren. And no idea how to be a grandmother. Mind you, I had little idea on how to be a mother either, being that my eldest were only little when Mum died, so she also never really got to experience much of being a grandmother; nor did her own mother who died young. Generations of no role models of grandparenting and barely any for parenting! There are times I feel that I raised myself.
So here I am, inundated with blessings and feeling like everyone wants a piece of me. Like I need to protect myself.
I recently wrote a piece which earned me much opprobrium, about dealing with these challenges. I got all these comments from other grandmothers about how MUCH they LOVE their precious grandchildren, and how they CAN'T do ENOUGH for them or spend enough TIME with them, and how they LOOK FORWARD to every second, every playtime, every babysitting, and what an ungrateful ungracious wretch I must be, withholding my time from them, and how dare I express relief when they leave my house, and how dare I place boundaries on what I would choose to do for my kids to help them with their kids.
It was a bit nasty, I thought.
And then it turns out that most of these commenters had one or maybe 2 grandchildren (and maybe 2-3 kids) who were aged 4 and 18 months on average. And I'm like, well you haven't really got a clue about heavy duty grandparenting, have you.
I always say that I will do anything in an emergency. I will take kids to the ER if parents can't. I will cook meals and drop them off or I will have them all over to eat (and do this regularly once or twice a week) and I will do school drop offs and pick ups and babysit if I have to BUT I'm not the nanny and I won't /can't do this on a set basis.
I'm the on call doctor for sorting out health issues - Doctor Booba! I look at throats and ears amd rashes and listen to chests and feel tummies and I wrote referrals to paediatricians etc and I call in favours from Doctor friends.
I'm the booba who reads and draws but I'm not the booba who goes to the park and climbs equipment and jumps on the trampoline.
I have had kids move in while parents go on babymoons or overseas visiting family etc, I have paid for extra help to mums who need it, I have stepped into the breach many times. But I'm not the paid help and I won't raise my grandchildren. I love them and I feel blessed
and I am amazed that they are flesh of my flesh, but I've been through it and I've done my bit, and considering that nobody helped me, I think I'm paying it forward better than expected.
Here I am again, sounding like it's a burden and I'm resentful but this is not the case; still, I'm only human and I do my best. I hope everyone appreciates this.
I am a springboard to help my kids into parenthood; I am a sounding board for discussion and solution of problems; but I am not a doormat.
Now for the comments.
PS The picture is neither me nor my grandchildren. Mine are cuter.