07 December 2012


My Grandmother is sad that she's spending Christmas in Florida, away from our massive extended family. My mother is the eldest of nine; grandma bore ten living children, one stillborn child, and lost an infant to SIDS. She's been raising children for the past fifty-three years - her own, or her children's children. My mother was the first, at age nineteen, to have children. I'm one of six. We moved in with my grandparents and my teenaged aunts and uncles when my parents divorced, when I was two. My youngest aunt, who was eleven when I was born, got pregnant when she was 21 or 22 and still living with my grandparents; she kept on living there, my grandmother being the primary caretaker of her baby while she went to school and/or worked and/or partied. The baby, my cousin Kenny, called my grandmother "mom" for some time. But he wasn't the only one my grandmother took care of. She was the free babysitter for most of my cousins. My many, many cousins. Only one of my uncles hasn't had any children. At least as far as we know. I'd place the likelihood at a pretty high level that he knocked someone up at some point, and never even knew it; or maybe he did. The rest of my aunts and uncles have an average of five children each. The youngest, I think, is probably about five by now.

The great grandchildren have started to roll in, but at a much slower pace. So much slower. My grandmother must be devastated by the slowness, and surprised - there are so many of us of child bearing age now. There are only three so far: one from my cousin, Katrine, and the other two from my sister, Jane. Katrine was living in Florida when she became pregnant. She moved home with her parents in Connecticut when she had the baby. My sister had her first baby in Florida, and her second in Massachusetts; she moved back there when she couldn't find work in Florida. For a time she stayed with my mother and my two half-siblings in the house that I grew up in. I imagine that whenever my grandparents were in Massachusetts, they would stay there too, and look after the kids, as usual. Well, grandma would - my grandfather would be reading the paper in his reclining chair, as he always does, occasionally lowering it to look at the ruckus-making kids, semi-sternly, over the top of his reading glasses before raising it back up to his face. Don't be fooled, though, he's an old softie, and is probably just as woeful as my grandmother is about not spending Christmas with the family.

It's funny to think how very grandmotherly my grandmother is. That's all she's ever been in my experience. But I hear these stories from my mother's youth, stories about the nanny. It was the nanny that raised the kids, not my grandmother. She worked at my grandfather's medical practice, a secretary or office manager, or somesuch. Maybe that's why she's able to tolerate the young rascals now - she wasn't tortured by them in her mothering years.