Visiting home. I just spent the two weeks staying with my grandma in Oceanside, NY. That’s on Long Island, and if you aren’t from the area, you probably don’t know it, but there is a certain accent that people from Looong Island have, sort of nasal, extra guttural stops. But I’m terrible at mimicking accents, so don’t ask me to do it for you.
Im really lucky, in that my job is such I have the flexibly that I can chose to work remotely, since my job has really just become something like taking emails from one person, and breaking down the parts and sending more emails to other people, I can sort of do that any place with a wifi connection, so I had always wanted to spend some time with my grandma, so it was like just do it already.
My grandma is 90 years old, and pretty much still fully with it and still able to take care of herself and live on her own. And until this past December she still went to work every day. For that past 50 (?) years she has been working at Oceanside school #8, which was the same school her own kids attended. She worked as an aid – like when the kids had lunch, she was responsible to get them in the cafeteria, sitting with the peanut allergy kids to make sure no deadly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches came near them, and then taking them all outside to recess. Just like 2 or 3 hours a day, but it meant she was out of the house every day, around kids and had people in her life that care for her. I think it’s the key to how she has been able to stay so healthy for so long. She’s an inspiration to me in that sense, that she never stopped going, and never gives up.
And so I spent two weeks sitting at her kitchen table drinking perk coffee, running on the sand on Long Beach, and the time went by incredibly fast. She always tells me that life goes by so fast, but for years I didn’t quite believe her – like grandma, what are you talking about? You were born old – but now I get it. Those two weeks went by so fast. All of life goes by fast.
I was reading the book “Happy Together” which is about the science of positive psychology applied to relationships. And one of the points that it emphasized was the importance of savoring, savoring the little moments. But its still so hard, between trying to keep up with my work, and trying to not backslide too much on my marathon training and keeping up a long-distance relationship, I never seem to have enough time for everything I want to do. Why does facebook suck me in so hard? Why do I feel the need to check for news updates multiple times a day? Why cant I just focus on and fully appreciate the person in front of me, appreciate this incredible gift that life has given me??
I want to be able to fully lose myself in the moment, instead of being pulled away by my worries of trying to be someone or accomplish something. I want the moments to slow down so I have time to savor them, so what am I chasing with such desperation?
My grandma grew up in NYC, back when the Italians and the Irish still hated each other, and it really mattered if you lived on the German or Polish block. She tells stories of roasting potatoes on election night in street bonfires, and how they had to put cardboard in their shoes when they wore holes through the soles during the depression. But, “everyone was in the same boat, so we didn’t know any different.” She watched her mother die a terrible death from cancer, but was still strong enough at 12 years old to make a huge scene when a man tried to put his hand up the dress her little cousin at the movie theater. She still uses that same strength and determination today to resist efforts to infantilize her, as is so common with the elderly.
Lessons to be learned from my Grandma. Invest in people and friendships. Despite that she is 90, and so many people her age suffer from severe isolation (especially since she lives alone), she has so many friends who call and check in on her every single day, friends who stop in to see her and visit for a little bit, friends who make grocery runs and drive her to her doctor appointments and just really care about her. And its because she had invested in them for so many years. She remembers to call, she always is happy to see you at her door and will pull out cookies to share. She and her younger brother call each other each night.
Other often repeated lesson: Get out and do things while you can. Do it. If you think you are too tired, just go and do it anyway. This is the chance you have, so take it while you can. Don’t sit at home. Don’t watch too much tv, don’t wait around – go, go and do things. Don’t let life pass you by.
Lesson 3: And never stop, you cant let yourself get down in the dumps. You have to pick yourself up and keep going. We all have problems we all have pains, but you have to keep going every day and keep trying. But she also isnt afraid to cry, and she expresses her feelings.
Im terrified of losing her.
My name is Joy Louise, for her. She tells me i am always in her heart. And I tell her she is always in mine. but I wish i was also there in her kitchen. there is something about unconditional, unmerited love, unending love that you just get for simply existing.
The kids at school trace the veins and bones you can visibly see through her thin skin, and tell her that they can see her skeleton. She loves little children and little children love her, kids of all colors asking if she can be their grandma. Im happy to share her, but am proud I get to be her favorite.