Category Archives: grand parents

Settling In. Traveling back.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on the move. Some places I stayed a few months,  some a couple of years.  I settled into apartments in Mexico, China, Costa Rica and Los Angeles, plus, at my daughter’s request, I lived with her and her children outside historic  Charleston, SC.  Except for Los Angeles, where I actually got my stuff out of storage for a short spell, I purchased or borrowed what I needed to make myself comfortable wherever I happened to be in the world.

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

The Cabin

The Cabin

I learned a lot about myself. My odyssey taught me that my most useful attributes are my improvisational skills, and the ability to be flexible. I discovered that although coffee is  preferred, tea will do just fine; that unusual spices and unidentifiable food make eating an adventure, the struggle to communicate with those who speak different languages is challenging: sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, that the best adventures happen when one is lost, that fear is overrated. That we are basically all the same.


Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Mis Amigas

Mis Amigas

Moving crew

Moving crew

ast year I felt compelled to go home.  Unfortunately I didn’t have one.  I had a 10X10 storage unit in Tehachapi, in the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mohave Desert.  I didn’t belong in the south. My daughter had her own life, and a family that didn’t include me. I missed my friends in California. Maybe I missed the state itself.

I headed across the country in Margaret, my Mini Cooper to my friend, Brandon Maggart’s, house in Venice Beach. Maybe it was the beach, the craziness, the chaos.  What ever, talking to my daughter, Alice, on the phone, she said, ” It must feel good to be home.” Ah, she understood. Still, Brandon’s, although I was totally comfortable, and I loved having another writer to share thoughts and words with, was not my home. I went back to Tehachapi, then to Bodfish and Lake Isabella. Searching.

My cabin in Lake Isabella is surrounded by woods and rocks. Outside my window three Hummingbirds argue constantly about nectar rights at the newly hung feeder. Abby, my friend Sherry’s  dog, comes to visit and to do yoga with me. At night I have a commanding view of the valley lights  stretched out below me as a long strand of rhinestones gracing the neck of the sparse mountains above it.

My Tehachapi friends rallied to pack the uhaul truck. That I have these good friends fills my heart.

Bedroom in cabin.

Bed in cabin.

Opening the boxes, I find pieces of myself that go back to my childhood. There are letters to my mother while she was in the hospital having me. A photo of me in my dad’s arms, my great grandparents surrounding us and several of my grandpa Naughton, the main man in my life for the first decade of my life. My home in Foxburg, PA was the flat on the second floor of his Irish bar. Across the street the beautiful Allegheny River flowed, sometimes leisurely as if it had all the time in the world, sometimes raging as if it was angry, to Pittsburgh.

A small three-legged table that was  my grandma Emma’s sets beside my bed.  I eat my meals on her red, separated plates. A hobnail vase of Mary McCoy’s, my mom’s first cousin and closest friend all of their lives,  my Mother’s bible, so important in her life, a banjo and a dulcimer made and given to me by different men who hoped in vain that I would become a musician.

Through countless photos and  mementos, I wander back through the years to my son’s births and deaths, my daughter’s births and schools years, their marriages, and the birth of my grand children, to life before my teenage brother was killed by a drunk driver, my ill-fated marriages, the fulfilling comedy years, to the time I could pick up the phone and call my mother. I wonder why my daughter doesn’t want to talk to me. Through photos and articles, I revisit countries I’ve visited, men I’ve loved, and people who have both inspired and thwarted me.

The past gives us perspective for the future. I see a busy one filled with the talents of my friends, music, stories, laughing, sharing and travels. This time when I leave, I’ll have a place to come home to.

Never Say Never

” The best baby-sitters, of course, are the baby’s grandparents. You feel completely comfortable entrusting your baby to them for long periods, which is why most grandparents flee to Florida.” -Dave Barry

It’s a quote steeped in truth-and American culture. I used to joke that my grand kids would see my Mini Cooper passing on the freeway and say, “There goes a Mini Cooper. That could be Grandma.”
My female students in China would not think these jokes are funny. They all assume their mother’s will take over the responsibility of rearing their children after they graduate, begin working, and start a family. Thats the norm in their culture.

It was evident on campus. The teacher’s who had a child had at least one set of grandparents living with them. During the mornings when the kids were in pre-school learning English or French or both-and the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the grandparents practiced Tai Chi, gardened, and bought ingredients for the evening meal-that they would cook.

Grandparents and kids in the community garden on campus.

 When school ended around noon, they were outside, sitting on benches, gossiping with friends and neighbors while the kids played.

One of the teachers whose mother and father lived with her, told me, “I feel frustrated sometimes because my daughter seems to like my parents better than she does me. She certainly listens to them better. But it is the way it is.”

My students and I had many discussions about my life style. They  were curious and intrigued about  me, a woman of my advanced age- older than some of their grandmothers– living in China-on the other side of the world away from my family-my home.

“Who watches your daughter’s children?” they asked. Who helps them out when they need help? Wouldn’t they like for you to be there? Don’t you miss your family? Aren’t you lonely?”

” In America we have after school programs, summer camps, and day care facilities. They do fine without me. I spent many years being a mother. It’s not my job to watch my children’s.” I explained. I was adamant. I couldn’t see myself in that role. It’s not on my bucket list, in the game plan. Won’t happen.
Never say never.

Back in the states I went to my youngest daughters in South Carolina intending to visit a month or two before I continued on to California where my stuff is in storage and most of my friends are. ‘Welcome home.” she said, hugging me at the airport.

That was nine months ago.

As her husband moved out, I moved in. For nine months I’ve been the nanny, tutor, and basic domestic Gramma for my daughters’ two children ages six and nine.

Ireland with flowers for garden

 We shop and garden together. We’ve cooked, discussed sex, divorce, racism, and our ancestry. We don’t always agree. I’d forgotten that children so young have definite opinions and I respect theirs-mostly. I’m the bad guy who forces them to study, eat green things and look at issues from different angles. We’ve also adopted a rowdy puppy. Training him has  taxed all our patience but, the process has made us allies.

Trace & Paws

 Because there was an election going on when I got here the boy and I discussed politics. He would have voted for Obama and can’t imagine why everyone didn’t. And this is the conservative south. I’m proud of him.

The six year old girl tells people I know everything. Yesterday she asked, Where is your house?” “I sold it. I don’t have one.” “Oh, she said, then this is your house.”

It’s been a difficult adjustment for both them and me, but we’ve prevailed. However, the truth is I don’t have enough patience or energy for this complex job. I’m falling short of my own expectations; on the other hand maybe they don’t expect perfection. Perhaps I’m taking it all to seriously.  I just don’t feel nearly as serene as the grandma’s on campus appeared to be.

I’m an American woman. I like the old way-visit awhile, love them and go home for a rest.

Soon I’ll be leaving the country again for several months. When I come back I’ll find another house to buy, however, in the mean time, I have a home that if I have to go there-they have to take me in. No questions asked.