If you ever, for one second, doubt the impact grandparents have on the life of teenager, I want you to look at this picture. It's of my daughter, Brigid. If you can't tell, she's out of her mind with joy, surprise, and sheer happiness.
I took it last night at the exact moment when her eyes locked on her grandparents--her beloved Nanny and Boppy--who drove over 700 miles from Connecticut to Cincinnati to see her perform in her first senior musical, Wonderful Town.
I don't know who cried more, who was more happy, or who was more moved. But, that's not what's important. What was--no what is--important is that her grandparents were there. And their presence in her life means more than anything else to her--more than hanging out with friends, more than appearing cool, more than the Playbills, and the roses--more than anything in the world.
I know exactly how she feels. I know the love she feels. I know that excitement. I know that joy. I know the kind of love that makes you forget yourself for a minute--or two--and, if you're lucky a lifetime, so that you can focus on someone else. I know it, because I too had grandparents. I too had a beloved Boppy. I didn't get to know my Boppy into my teens. He died when I was ten. And even though it's been almost 30 years, I miss him every day. So much of how I see the world, feel, love, and experience everything in it I owe to him--our early morning Masses, our walk to the diner afterward for eggs and toast, our trips to the market, our hikes through the woods, out sits by water at Mt. Tom, our fishing trips to the river, our chats in front of the fireplace, our walks with our dog Chief, our work side by side in the kitchen or out at the wood pile. I learned all about how to live this life from him in those short 10 years. I learned about character. I learned about honesty. I learned about real love--what it means to be a husband and father. When I saw how he cared for his wife, who spent the majority of her adult life as a recluse and was often very sick, I learned what real men do. They stand by their wives. They take care of them. They love them. They cook for them. They wash their clothes. They go to work every day and come back home to them. They bring them back a flowers from the garden. They take care of their children. They help their daughters with their kids. They help them feel less alone, less overwhelmed. They help her cook Sunday dinner. When their daughters work and can't get home, they open the house for the kids so they won't be alone when they get off the school bus. They help their daughters pack their kids' suitcases and load their cars and take the kids to the beach. They teach them how to dig for clams and how to eat them. But, mostly, they show up. They love. They care. They let the children know they matter. They teach them how to grow up to be men, women, mothers, fathers, workers, friends, and people who will make a difference in the world.
I wonder how much more I would have learned if he had lived a little bit longer. And I look at my daughter who is now almost 16 and who has enjoyed so much more time, love, and wisdom from her grandparents, and is clearly all the better for it. She is wise, kind, and loving. She appreciates the little things, the tiniest moments. She finds grace and beauty wherever she goes. She has my father's wit, his fierceness, his strength. She has my mother's tender heart and love of others. She loves to sit and listen to them talk to her. She loves to sit and listen to them talk to each other. My father has taken her for long drives in his Chevy, the same truck he drove me home from Nebraska in, while I was single and pregnant with her over 16 years ago. In that truck, he has taught her all that he taught me on our long drives. In that truck, he has told her stories of his life, of mine, but mostly, he's taught her how to live. How to see the beauty in the hills, in the rivers, in the people passing by. He's taught her how to laugh, how to appreciate good music, and how to sometimes just sit and be still. My mother has taught her how to cook, how to sew (to this day Brigid does all of MY mending), how to paint, and how to spot various birds and animals in nature as deftly as how to find a bargain at JC Penney and The Christmas Tree Shop. (And she's also taught her how to sneak those bargains into the house so Boppy doesn't notice.) Brigid has learned so much and loved so much. It's impossible to measure. To know. To see what all of this will add up to. But, I know it's enormous. I know it's huge. And as her mother, I am immensely grateful for that love. For the love I received as a daughter, and for the love they have shown my own as if she was one of their own as well.
My parents could only stay for the show and a couple of hours after. They had to get up the next day to get back to Connecticut for a wedding. Brigid's former babysitter is getting married this weekend. That's the type of people they are, they still talk to and love the person who cared for one of their grandchildren when she was living in their home, when their own daughter, who they took in when she needed it most, needed them.
They drove back to our place after the play so they could surprise their grandson, Colm. We captured that moment too. Colm will be 10. I know the love he feels for his grandparents. It's the kind that will last forever. It's the kind that will make you want to hold on and never let go, no matter how cold it is outside. No matter how late it is at night. It's the kind of love that you can hang your whole entire life on--long after they're gone. Because, grandparents matter. They matter a lot. They're kind of a big deal.
They're why we are here at all.