The Importance of Grandmas
Rita Papazian
Norwalk-Citizen News
January 9, 2009

We 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 stressful times.

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' absence.

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 grandmother?

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 from work.

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 plays.

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 unit.

Copyright 2009 Rita Papazian All rights reserved.