Life on Paper

February 25th was my grandma's 80th birthday. This Sunday, my entire family will gather at my house for her party.

Despite her belief that she finds my parenting skills sub-par, and I find her efforts to undermine my parenting decisions maddening, my grandma is a loving, generous, and demonstrative grandparent to my children. They love her like crazy, and not just because she hides chocolate-covered animal cookies in her purse when she comes to visit, and then slips them to Isabella when she thinks I'm not looking.

Interestingly enough though, as a mother, she was a lot like me. She was the "toughie" to her husband's (my grandfather's) softie. She made the majority of the family decisions, she kept the kids in line, she demanded good manners, appropriate behavior, and respect for authority. As a grandmother and as a great-grandmother...well, you already know that story.


The entire family wracked their brains trying to come up with a gift for her 80th. Finally, my mom decided to create a photo album/scrapbook for her with the theme of "Children and Grandchildren," because, as my mom put it, "Kids and grandkids are her life."

And it's true.

My grandma lived to be a mother, then lived to be a grandmother, and now, she lives to be a great-grandmother to Isabella, Luci, and Nicholas. She married at 19, had my mom at 20, one aunt at 22, and my crazy aunt at 24. A few years after that, she had my two uncles. By the time she was 30, she had five kids. She became a grandmother for the first time (to me) when she was 46. My grandma worked a few part-time jobs when her kids were older, but nothing lasted more than a few months. Her children (my mother, my aunts, and my uncles) define my grandmother in terms of her role as their mother, and then grandmother to their children. This is a role by which my grandmother very happily defines herself.

My mother sent digital photos of the scrapbook to everyone in the family. It's a beautiful representation of my grandmother's family. Page after page of photos of her children and their accomplishments, her grandchildren, and her great-grandchildren.

And yet...

The scrapbook makes me sad.

There is no doubt in my mind that my grandma will adore this scrapbook of photos and memories. She is the first to admit that her family is her life. But where are the photos of her climbing trees and playing the drums (two of her favorite pastimes) as a teenager? Where are the memories of the many countries she visited from her 40s through her 60s, with her group of friends she calls her "Gang" - a group of couples with whom she has had a friendship for 50+ years? My grandmother has traveled to more foreign countries than I have, and has vivid memories of each visit. My mother, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and my children are all hugely important parts of her life, but where is my grandma in this testament to her 80 years of life?

If I make it to 80, I want my scrapbook to reflect a life that isn't simply defined by my relationships with my kids (and perhaps my grandkids and great-grandkids). I want it to show my passions: writing, reading, running, and traveling. I want it to show that I rocked several half-marathons (more on this in a coming post) and perhaps even a marathon or two. I want postcards from Europe, pages from my novel or non-fiction book, and my Starbucks Gold Card. And of course, I want photos of my family too.

My grandma raised her family in a different era. Women rarely attended college. They got married right out of high school. Few went to college. Even fewer had jobs. Women raised their families. That's just what they did.

My children are a big, huge, important part of my life, but they are not the only thing that makes me who I am. Nothing terrifies me more than being swallowed alive by my kids. I realize how strange this sounds, but I fear it's happening just a little bit every single day.

My life on paper will be about me. I'll make sure of it.

9 Responses to “Life on Paper”

  1. # Blogger In Due Time

    Interesting, isn't it? The differences of women from our grandparents to our friends?

    I know I'm supposed to want more than the title of mother in my life book, but what I wouldn't give to have my lifebook filled with my kids and grandkids.  

  2. # Anonymous Ness at Drovers Run

    I am the same.

    My scrapbook of *me* which I started back when I started scrapbooking and haven't looked at since my 4.5 yr old child was a 6 month old baby, is full to the brim with pictures of me travelling, standing in famous places. Already then, I knew these are things I wanted to be remembered for, and to inspire the generations that follow to go and see the world. Oh yeah, and some of my old polevaulting photos as well. :)  

  3. # Blogger Sasha

    It is a struggle and would be very easy to let yourself get swallowed up by only children.

    For me it is really a matter of fighting. Always.

    I do things way outside my comfort zone (and sometimes income bracket) without worrying too much about the consequences. I leave my kids with sitters a fair amount and I say a giant eff you to the guilt that comes up because to me one of the most important lessons I want to impart to my daughter esp, but my son, too, is that mommy is a whole person, not just their mommy.

    Even at 3, she is well aware that mommy runs, that mommy writes, that mommy gets on planes, goes places and sees movies/plays/goes dancing with friends and Auntie Mar.

    I do occasionally (really occasionally) get a dose of mommy guilt, but after seeing my mother die at 45, I can honestly say life is too short to not do what we love. It just is. And you have to start today.

    Your grandma's book makes me sad, too. I hope your book WILL be different. I know it will.  

  4. # Blogger Simply-Mel

    This is an interesting one...I am with you, I think.

    Right now I am plotting my escape from my life....I have been a mom for almost 9yrs and now my kids are at an age that I believe I can leave them and bugger off and make some *non-parenting* related memories...am thinking LONDON baby, for a week BY MYSELF. But ssssshhhhh; i havent told anyone yet!!  

  5. # Blogger Mom24

    I wish for you that you weren't so afraid of what motherhood "means". You don't want your life to be defined that way and it definitely won't be. But...I don't see anything wrong with it being defined that way.

    I grew up with upheaval and chaos. I honestly want nothing else in this world than to be the best mom and Nana I can be and to create a loving family that produces happy, healthy, wonderful people. I will give anything to be surrounded by them my entire life and for that to be my lasting legacy to this world.

    I grew up one of four. Two of my brothers have died, sad, tragic deaths; and my sister has no relationship with my parents and barely one with me. Lots of reasons, but that's the reality.

    Anyone can go to college, have a career, travel. Sadly, I have learned not anyone can raise a happy family filled with close loving relationships.

    Not saying you're wrong, just that there's a valid different perspective out there.  

  6. # Blogger Sasha

    I just read what Mom24 said and I want to say I agree with that as well.

    In the end, family is the most important thing. And while I agree that there is some sadness in a life that is lived ONLY for others, there is also immense beauty and success in a life that produces happy and healthy offspring who all love eachother.

    All the other things I do--write, run, travel--they all mean nothing without my husband and kids. I could/would never lose sight of that. But I think you need both.  

  7. # Blogger Veronica

    I agree wholeheartedly with your post.

    I don't think the title "mother" or "grandmother" encompasses everything that YOU are or everything that your grandmother was (or could be).

    I have no issues with the mother role -- but I think it's important to remember that mothers are more than just their kids, more than just a wife, more than just a grandmother.

    I'll make sure your life's scrapbook has other things in it that helped defined who you were in this lifetime.  

  8. # Blogger Sunny

    I agree with both you and Mom24.

    I still have dreams, goals, and interests that I plan to continue or pick up after my munchkins are a little older, once "Mommy" is no longer the center of their tiny universes.

    But I don't worry that I am now consumed with my boys. I don't worry what my life will look like "on paper" when I am 80. Because think about the authors of the book for your Grandma: her family. She certainly agrees that her children are her life, but that doesn't mean that if she were to create the book for herself, that she wouldn't also include all those personal things you mentioned. Perspective is everything, and this book is not necessarily hers -- even though I'm sure she'll love it.

    I believe my sons will be my life until my dying day. Whenever they *really* need me, no matter how old they get, I will drop everything to be there for them -- just as my mom has done for me, being on bedrest. But that doesn't mean I will live FOR them forever. I hope to raise independent boys/men who pursue their own interests and one day have families of their own. And there is so much I look forward to when I can once again focus on my career, perhaps get a PhD, and enjoying life with my husband and friends without talk of potty training and tantrums.

    But there is plenty of time for that. For now, it doesn't make sense for me to apply to the university. I like knowing that I have options, that there are good things outside the home that wait for me. But my kiddos need me, and this is a phase I will enjoy as much as possible.

    (That being said, I do think it's healthy and necessary to have outlets other than your children, even when they are young and very needy. But obviously those outlets tend to be more limited when infants and toddlers are a factor.)  

  9. # Blogger Heather

    Great, thought-provoking post. As they always are here. I often wonder if one day, I will look back and say what about me? Where did my life go? Right now, I don't mind. In fact, I can't imagine us surviving this baby period if it wasn't this way. But I wonder how I will feel ten years from now.

    I kinda felt sick to my stomach when I realized I didn't have one photo of myself. (and yes, I am crazy taking that many pics, I know)  

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