Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Magical Grandmother

My wife is a good mom. I mean, she doesn't dote on our kids and she can be kind of demanding at times. Yet, they are all turning out pretty well and I don't think that's much because of me. But she is an excellent Grandma.

She spoils our two grandsons absolutely rotten. It's not that she over-indulges (well, except for the constant cookies and treats) so much as she just exudes that unconditional love that exists skipping the generation in the middle. We love their mother, our daughter, too, but those grandsons--they can do no wrong and they return the love in buckets.

My wife taught school for several years and is working back into it now with some subbing to help the family finances, particularly with college expenses of our children and the dental and orthodontics bills not covered by insurance. She has good skills for a teacher, well-trained in Math and Science, full of good ideas especially for science labs--many of those coming from Cub Scout activities under the unofficial motto of "Keep it Simple, Make it Fun." And she is fair but no-nonsense with the high expectations she has for her own kids.

And she is the world's greatest Nursery Leader. It's a thankless calling that many in the church detest as they are banished to outer darkness. In our ward house it's a literal basement. My wife was never excited about taking in other people's kids finding enough challenge with her own. ("I sometimes don't like my kids that much. Why would I want to take care of anyone else's?") She would never have wanted to run a day care, but for service and love, she is amazing.

Sometimes I go down to help when she is short-staffed. It is actually fun and the best place to be on Sundays. There is a regular routine. Toys and games in the first hour cuddling those who are in distress and disrupting the would-be bullies or "alpha-tots." The second hour when I usually get there after my Aaronic Priesthood teaching duties (our church schedule as in much of South Davis County ends with Sacrament meeting--the way I like it). Arriving for snack time, always good with goldfish crackers, cheese squares, fruit chews, banana chunks and animal crackers, we dole it out giving extra to the kid with the bottomless appetite. I once failed to get the sippy cup lid on tight and one little princess tipped the glass to her lips and spilled cold water all over her red dress. I was sent to find a parent and my wife stripped off the wet dress and wrapped her in a warm blanket as she held her close. That little girl now graduated on to Primary still comes to find her old nursery leader for a hug after church every Sunday.

The best part is singing time on the circle of carpet squares. The kids know the set order. First the pom-poms on sticks to sing "Do As I'm Doing." Then, the plastic Easter Eggs sealed with rice inside to shake as we sing, "Once There Was a Snowman." The wood dowels and brought out to clack in time to "Book of Mormon Stories." And finally, the weird little face you flip upside down "If You Chance to Meet A Frown." Then the lesson which I've never had to give but only watch as I clean up the snack table and run the hand sweeper over the carpet. Then they all divide up for story time taking two or three of the little ones in the big chairs with each of us adults and reading stories until the parents come.

Most Sundays when I actually go to Sunday School, I get in the chapel to save enough of the last soft seats in the back for my wife and my two Aaronic Priesthood sons who are busy with Sacrament duties. That's so my wife can find me in the back when she comes in from putting the nursery away. In Sacrament meeting, she will hear the occasional cry of one of her little ones and say, "Oh, that's Isaac," or whoever, and I almost have to restrain her as she lurches forward with the apparent attempt to rescue the distressed child from a frustrated parent. One Sunday, we watched a dad get up to follow out three of his little kids. When they got to the back aisle just in front of us, the two little boys headed for opposite doors out and the little nursery-aged girl made a bee-line for my wife and snuggling into her lap, fell sound asleep.

It all reminded me of my favorite Ray Bradbury story, "I Sing the Body Electric" with title appropriated from the Walt Whitman poem celebrating life, it is about the electric grandmother who is called in to replace a deceased mother.

How do you replace the irreplaceable? And how do you provide a perfect mother's love with a mechanical object? The advertisement fascinates the widower father and his three children:
. . . this embodiment in electro-intelligent facsimile of the humanities, will listen, know, tell, react and love your children insofar as such great Objects, such fantastic Toys, can be said to Love, or can be imagined to Care. This Miraculous Companion, excited to the challenge of large world and small, inner Sea or Outer Universe, will transmit by touch and tell, said Miracles to your Needy.'
It reminds me as well of my own little transitional object from my childhood, my Lambie. And I tread carefully here, because my wife does not like to be compared in anyway to my childhood friend. There is, however, an important principle at stake.

The mystery of the electrical grandmother who becomes real like Pinocchio as Bradbury references in the story, explains it this way herself:
". . . What is love? perhaps we may find that love is the ability of someone to give us back to us. Maybe love is someone seeing and remembering handing us back to ourselves just a trifle better than we had dared to hope or dream . . ."
The story ends in a startling way with a connection to old age and youth and love.

When the grandmother first appears, she is delivered in a sarcophagus and wrapped as an Egyptian mummy. But back to the creation of the electrical grandmother arising from the preferences and voices and even the physical features of the children, they hear her first word out of the darkness:
"Nefertiti". . . .
"Nefertitti," I whispered, "is Egyptian for The Beautiful One Is Here."
Today, just before I scheduled this posting to appear, my wife will be released from her nursery calling and sustained as our new Relief Society President. I know she'll be a good one.

Quotes are from Ray Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric" my paperback copy being the 5th printing of the Bantam edition published January 1971.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!