look with anticipation and great expectation to Jan. 20 and the beginning
of a new administration and first family in the White House. Among the
many aspects of this milestone in our country is the fact that the new
president is bringing his mother-in-law into the White House to live with
the family. I see this as an exciting time for this country to bear
witness to an extended first family living out their lives in public.
This Mrs. (Marian) Robinson can
be expected to be a wonderful role model for all families as she
demonstrates the important role grandmothers play in today's very
A widow, Robinson has played a
role in the Obama family, especially during the campaign that drew both
parents, Barack and Michele Obama, away from home and the daily care of
their two daughters. She became the guiding force during the parents'
As this First Family settles into
its routine, we will have many opportunities to see Robinson play out her
role as grandmother on a national stage. In recent months we have had
glimpses of this woman and moments of admiration as she interacted with
her family. One particular image comes to mind on Election Night. Robinson
is sitting on the couch next to her son-in-law as they both watch the
election returns. Michele is probably there, but we don't see her. The
lens just focuses on Obama and his mother-in-law. We see Robinson extend
her hand to hold her son-in-law's hand as they watch. It is a sweet moment
of connection, love and anticipation.
Robinson's move to the White
House is a wonderful reminder of the importance of grandmothers in the
family structure. Today, there are so many pressures placed on young
families, who out of necessity have both parents out of the house working
to bring in an income to pay the household bills. Grandmothers can play an
important role in becoming the guiding force for the children when parents
are not around. Who better to take care of the children than a
Growing up I did not have the
good fortune to know either grandmother. Both had died before I was born.
I did have a step-grandmother, a nice lady, but not the maternal type. She
and my grandfather lived in the Bronx and "Grandma Martha" as we
called her would commute by subway to Manhattan to her job working for a
telephone company. Grandpa stayed home and taught music to students who
came to their apartment, which had one room set aside as the music room.
When his lessons were done, he cooked the dinner for Martha on her return
My own children were fortunate to
have their two grandmothers until they reached their early 20s. These two
grandmothers were quite different. Their paternal grandmother had been an
immigrant from Turkey who devoted her life to her family. My children
recall her as usually in the kitchen, serving the meal and cleaning up.
She was the "go to" person for mending since I couldn't do
anything with a needle and thread. Their maternal grandmother was quite
different. She was younger, social and had many interests outside the
home. She attended all the children's activities: music, sports and school
In recent years my life has
changed in many ways, but none more so than becoming a grandmother six
times in the past eight years. The middle name of the youngest, now four
months old, is named after my mother, Aida. And when I look into her eyes,
which are very alert, I feel my mother's spirit and know that this little
girl will bring with her that spirit as she develops into a fine young
woman. I can already sense her awareness of others.
I make sure I find the time to be
with all my grandchildren, who live in nearby states. Unfortunately I
cannot just run over and have dinner. Each is at least two hours away. So
I pack up each time and spend a couple of days.
When I'm there, I love to catch
up on their activities and observe the latest accomplishment. The oldest
Gabriel is writing little stories and poems and, of course, keeping busy
with his video games. Alexandra works constantly with her crafts, changes
clothes frequently to dance across "her stage," which is just
five steps up from the kitchen in the "Great Room." At age four,
Cameron is absorbed in his collection of NFL helmets as he creates
football plays in his head. His three-year-old brother Zachary loves his
new Boston Celtic basketball shirt that comes down to his knees. His
three-year-old cousin Calum can't decide whether to play his drums or
guitar and his new sister Vivienne just watches as she exudes a sense of
accomplishment bringing her thumb to her mouth.
As someone who teaches and
writes, I find I just love to observe them all as I watch their growth and
imagination whirling in their heads. I don't know what I will do 10 years
from now when they are all running in different directions away from home
as they explore the outside world as their parents do today.
On New Year's Eve I sat in my
ex-husband's living room with my two adult daughters as their children
slept upstairs. We were all watching Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin in
Times Square waiting for the ball to drop.
My daughters sat wearing their
sweatpants and eating potato chips, chocolate, ice cream and whatever they
could find in the pantry. My ex kept dozing off. Anderson Cooper suggested
people to email photos of their New Year's celebrations that were going
on. We looked at each other and laughed at the absurdity of doing that. I
thought of the many times we had sat as a family in that room when the
children were young playing games. Where had the years gone?
That is why I appreciate my new
role as a grandmother now. I have another opportunity to see the joy of
innocent children. Only this time, I will be more observant and patient
and not be so busy doing other things.
Looking ahead to Robinson in the
White House, maybe she will remind us all of the importance of the family