Grandma Karen

I’ve been waiting for this exact day since December. I’m on the Cape with the boys and no plans other than to acquire tan lines. I’ve relaxed all of the rules so that parenting has morphed into detached bemusement. When Teddy tattles on Brodie for thwacking him with a golf club, I’m too blissed out on my screened porch in a summery breeze to offer anything other than, “Who wants cupcakes?” It actually has the same effect as sequestering them to opposite sides of the house: no more thwacking… but with the added bonus of cupcakes.

The regularly scheduled parenting program will return shortly. Teddy needs to be cured of a bad “yeah” habit, and the ethnic accents he learned on YouTube (thanks, Alice) are going to get all of us into trouble. Abusing sporting equipment as weaponry will be a punishable offence, and the cartoon network, verboten. Soon I’ll be tricking them into solving all sorts of math problems. But today… a short nap, a little more wine.

Earlier this week, my father took mom home. My mother has been at my side for two out of every three weeks since The Diagnosis, but the time has come for me to return her to her husband and life. Grandma Karen has officially completed her laundry-folding, dishwasher-filling, grocery store-running, little boy-chauffeuring call of duty. I haven’t written about my mom, having no idea how to describe how vital she has been to all of us without sounding precious. But even Bernie thinks we should start inventing excuses why she needs to come back. I don’t know more than a handful of men who would happily endorse mother-in-law visits in the absence of tragedy, but Bernie’s whips up a mean hot toddy to cure all that ails and tells him every single morning how handsome and wonderful he is. A man can get used to that.

My mother is essentially All Things Pretty. With her professionally styled hair and never-chipped nails, Mom is perennially ready for the prom. She wears heels to the Star Market and would never leave the house without an umbrella, lest an unplanned drizzle undo her pricy blow-out. (I have a sneaking suspicion that her weather obsession is entirely hair-related.) Mom taught me to dress well for travel, to invest in beautiful evening shoes, to plant flowers everywhere, and to be generous in my definition of cocktail hour. Multiple piercings, exposed bra straps, open car windows, and clogs are anathema to Mom, and she can be harsh in her criticism of things that she considers unlovely. And yet, she faithfully, fearlessly served the House of Ugly without a judgmental peep.

I could devote an entire chapter to Cancer Silver Linings, but one of the brightest would be that my boys were so often under the loving, beautiful care of my mother. Among the best of the (many, many) things Mom did well was to continue being Grandma. In my energy-zapped absence, she checked homework for errors and toothbrushes for evidence of use and many of the other daily drills of Mommy… all without acquiring the less fun trappings of the job. In six months, during which her own little girl felt ill and unattractive, Grandma Karen never once seemed frustrated with the always something demands of small boys. Instead, she remained quintessentially Grandma: offering after-school ice cream, another game of cards, or permission to eat crumbly things in front of the TV. Her bed became the primary destination for wandering boys with bad dreams. There have been moments when the boys were as eager for a lull in the parade of helpful relatives as I have been for longer hair. However when we began talking about Grandma going back to Pennsylvania, my boys didn’t ask “when” she’d be leaving, but “how come?”

Grandma Karen turns 70 tomorrow. She and her twin sister, Sharon (The Teeny Twin Grandmas) will be overdressing for fancy, wine-fueled lunches followed by shopping for pretty, pretty things in Beaufort, SC. It’s too adorable imagining them teetering on their insensible shoes and finishing each other’s sentences on the hunt for ramekins and bobeches and other girly things with ridiculous names. I’m thrilled she’ll be able to celebrate 140 collective years of twin sisterhood without the distraction of thwacking grandsons, and the liberation of being loved and missed, but no longer vitally needed. Knowing these gals will certainly avoid the unwanted calories of birthday sweets in favor of more celebratory spirits, we’ll eat cupcakes in their honor up here. I’ll be toasting mom with my own bubbly beverage, too, ever grateful for her devoted Grandma duty and daily reminders of All Things Pretty in the world… as she personifies them.


Teeny Twin Grandmas
(Karen and Sharon)

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