Sunday, Sept. 12, is National Grandparents Day. It was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
While there were others, Marian Lucille Herndon McQuade is generally considered the main driver behind a day to honor grandparents. A West Virginia housewife, she lobbied effortlessly (along with help from her husband, Joseph McQuade) to educate people on the unique and important role that grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren.
Married for 60 years, the McQuades had 15 children, 43 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
While not a public holiday, observing National Grandparents Day has been designated as the first Sunday after Labor Day. Marian McQuade envisioned it as a family day with small, intimate gatherings. She even recommended adopting a grandparent for a lifetime of experiences.
As a society, for several decades on this day, we have publicly affirmed the importance of grandparents and the vital role they play in the lives of their children’s children.
Quite frankly, before I researched the origins of this day, I figured it was yet another inspired greeting card marketing gimmick.
Call Me Grandma
Now that I am a grandmother, I’m glad there’s a day to honor all of us grandmothers out there and our counterparts, grandfathers.
I always wanted to have a grandmother I could visit and get to know, but that isn’t my story. On my mother’s side, my grandmother died giving birth to their 10th child, a son. She was 40. Sadly, my grandfather would have little to do with this baby, blaming him for his wife’s death. My mother and her older sister raised him.
On my father’s side, I knew I had grandparents who were living in the Philippines. While I saw photos, I was never able to meet them. When my grandmother died after a long and full life, my father went to attend her funeral. He was very sad, and I believe he was close to his mother even though he chose to make his life in the United States.
I have several friends who are grandmothers. We gathered recently over wine and appetizers and shared our experiences. We laughed as we are hardly the grandmothers we knew or didn’t have. All of us are working and juggling schedules as our grown children are doing, and all of us beamed as we talked about our “grandbabies” or “grands.”
“And we’re all looking good,” laughed my friend Marianne, who has 18 grandchildren from a blended marriage ranging in age from 3 months to 21 years.
For Marianne, Monday is Max day. She and this tow-headed 2-year-old toddler spend the day exploring nature, visiting dinosaur parks, reading, playing with her two labs, or cuddling up with a good read.
“I’m very flexible, but there are boundaries,” she said. None of their large family arrives unannounced. With decades working as a therapist, Marianne smiled, “I let them raise their children their own way.”
Called by her grands as “mom-mom,” Sylvia has 10 grandchildren ranging in age from almost 2 to 17. A former advertising executive and membership coordinator for the local chamber, she recently reinvented herself and now works for a nonprofit peer mediation group. She’s loving it.
“For me, the classics are important,” she shared with us. “All my grandchildren know they are going to get a book from me, inscribed. Hopefully they will cherish and remember me.”
Our daughters attended the same high school. Now, they both have two young children of their own.
“I’m old-fashioned. I’m a stickler for table manners,” Sylvia said. “They need to be respectful.”
Cindy, who has her own business consulting company, adores her three grandbabies and sees them at least once a week.
“I was 53 when I first became a grandmother. It seemed too young to be called ‘grandma,’” she said with a laugh, happy that “Gigi” is what her grandchildren call her.
For Cindy, faith is foundational. “I’m not a Catholic, but faith in God is very important to me. … I want them to have that,” she said. As such, she is helping to pay for her granddaughter’s tuition at a Catholic school.
All of us are fortunate that the majority of our grandchildren reside within a 25-mile radius of our homes. Sharing our roles as grandmothers, we agreed that courage, confidence, and creativity were all characteristics that we want to nurture in our grandbabies.
Moments to Relish
Recently, my 6-year-old granddaughter Maria played the harmonica while a hummingbird visited in the backyard. She loves discovering a raspberry, cherry tomato, or freshly plucked fig from Grandma’s tree. While amused at the tiny hummingbirds, her favorite birds of choice are flamingos.
Four-year-old Piers enjoys when I sit nearby as he plays with his collection of Thomas the Tank Engine and friends. He’s a fan of button-down shirts, chocolate, and my banana bread.
Three-year-old Ada likes puzzles, Paw Patrol, and anything with unicorns. Actually, she’s an animal aficionado, so my gift of a wooden Noah’s ark complete with two giraffes, elephants, zebras, and more was a hit. She also won’t shy away from a Starbucks cake pop.
Ten-month-old Harrison is all wiggles as he has well mastered crawling and now pulls himself to a standing position and confidently looks to the horizon. I can see it in his eyes, “Grandma, I’m going to be walking soon.” His dimpled smile is irresistible.
Such gifts, these grandbabies, are to all of us.
They are little teachers reminding us that life is beautiful, wonderful, awesome, and magical. They reach out. They touch. They explore. They discover. They laugh. They share and their young wisdom is inspiring.
What for us, as aging adults, has perhaps become commonplace is for them yet another gem in a treasure box. A pile of small pebbles from the yard is for sorting and counting and lining up and marveling at each shape. Wind chimes hanging from the tree are symphonies to young ears. An ant. A caterpillar. A spider. These are all to be looked at carefully and curiously.
Babies and toddlers are naturally creative. They face the canvas of life with a full spectrum of colored paints from their facial expressions, their grabbing and squeals, their investigation of your dangling earrings, bracelets, and rings. They’re fascinated. They are also very accepting of your not-so-firm abdomen and if you can’t keep up when they go skipping.
I will say that it is often emotional to see my babies now with babies of their own. Another generation of children is now before me that I can hug, hold, and spoil with abandon.
The official flower for National Grandparents Day is the “forget-me-not.” How appropriate. I hope that they all grow up with wonderful memories of us, and that we can give to them the joy that they give to us each time we see them.
Our children, their parents, have the hard task of raising them and doing it with heart. Having been down that road, one that we are still traveling with adult children, we don’t envy them.
Selfishly, we are very grateful for the gift of these “grands” and for our new journeys in life as grandmothers.