Mama Madison: Visiting Nana Annie

Cherishing the multi-generation family

It probably isn't the most glamorous first stop for a kid on summer vacation. But this year, going to see my 98-year-old grandmother -- their great grandmother -- in her assisted living facility will kick off our weeklong trip to Washington, D.C.

My kids have the drill down. First, we'll make a stop for carryout bagels and cream cheese to bring; it wouldn't be a visit with Nana without lox. Then, while hanging out in her small but meticulously decorated room, we will dutifully ask questions about her early life growing up on the pre-hip Lower East Side of New York City. She'll regale them with stories of the first time she owned a television and when going to the movies cost a dime. She will remind them that she was considered quite the looker in her days and could have had her pick of husbands. But she fell in love with my long-since-deceased grandfather because he played the violin. From the sounds of things, she was a pretty much a groupie in the 1930s.

And as we listen to her tales, I will experience a cocktail of emotions. Of course, I feel incredibly grateful that my children are among the select few that get the chance to enjoy a great grandmother well into their childhoods. They will actually remember her, not just remember that they knew her.

But another part of me is always sad that they (and I) don't get to see Nana, or my parents, or my husband's parents when they were alive, more often. My children are missing out on the sage advice, rootedness and the sense of continuity that comes with close physical proximity to grandparents--great or otherwise.

I grew up seeing my maternal grandmother just about every day. She taught me how to crochet (I'm pretty sure I can still make a pretty mean granny square), and who Jonas Salk and Robert Oppenheimer were. If Nana Annie had a thing for musicians, Nannie Ida surely had one for scientists. She never raised her voice or lectured. She was always steadying and calm. Nannie seemed to have an endless supply of the one-thing regular-old parents' so-often have a shortage of -- time.

In my teenage years, as the early signs of Alzheimer's began to set in, staying close to Nannie Ida meant driving over to her place to bring groceries or help organize the attic. This wasn't quite as fun. She was starting to get forgetful, and even harder, paranoid. She'd speak in a weird cadence, iambic pentameter, I think, and make references to people and places and I never knew. She was frustrated I didn't "remember" them. I was sometimes frustrated this was how I was spending my summer mornings.

But I think I knew then, and definitely know now, that helping my mom to take care of her mom, who died when my oldest was an infant, was far more of a privilege than a burden. While my siblings and I would fight endlessly about whose turn it was to change over the laundry at our own house, we rarely gave my mom too much grief about needing to run an errand for Nannie. It was expected of us. And we are probably a better for it.

I don't think Nana Annie, who is a bit frailer each time we see her, will be making the trip to visit us any time soon. But I can still hold out hope that my mother might move to Madison some day. She's entertaining the idea; two of her four children live here now. But she's concerned about leaving her social work practice and starting a new one. She knows making new friends at 74 isn't the easiest thing to do. And I think mostly the thought of harsh Wisconsin winters is holding her back.

But I remind her, that's she has five grandchildren here -- all who know how to wield a snow shovel.

And they need a few more expectations -- and whole lot more Nannie---in their lives.

comments powered by Disqus

More to read

Loading More Articles
No More Articles

Mama Madison: Apple-picking time

The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.

Mama Madison: Baby feeding recommendations

I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?

Heartland Farm Sanctuary helps animals that help kids

Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.

Mama Madison: Back-to-school confidences

Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.

Mama Madison: Does back-to-school really mean a whole new wardrobe?

This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"

Mama Madison: Next generation of bloggers

Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.

Mama Madison: Returning to the workforce

This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.

Triathlons raise money to teach kids healthy habits

"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.

Mama Madison: Kids will find their own passions in their own ways

"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."

Vital work is being done at the Lussier Community Education Center, from community-building to STEM skills

"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."

Mama Madison: Parental dice rolls?

Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."

Mama Madison: What constitutes a keepsake?

As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.

Mama Madison: Young love

Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.

Mama Madison: What a mother fears most

All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.

Operation Fresh Start's Youth Conservation Corps helps kids, and kids help parks

Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.

Mama Madison: Summer stress solved by yoga

The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.

Mama Madison: The greatest fans of road repair

Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.

Mama Madison: The alarm sounds

As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.

Mama Madison: My summer book list

For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.

Make Music Madison gives young artists a chance to perform

The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.