She Taught Me How

“Honey, whenever you get a chance, do you think you could cut my fingernails? You don’t have to do it right now..I know you’re so busy..” my grandmother trails off.

We’re sitting on her back porch in the early afternoon: She’s holding my youngest child, the only one still small enough for her to handle, while the other two boys run around her yard, turning sticks into swords and trying to sneak over to the garden hose so they can turn it on and spray each other without us seeing. 

Her request breaks my heart, and as she explains in slight embarrassment that her hands are just so arthritic now, and that she can do the left hand with no problem but not the right, I assure her that it’s no problem at all. I flatten the portion of hair that’s sticking up on the back of her head (from pressing it against her favorite chair, the one that had been my Grampa’s when he was still with us), and then walk into the house to retrieve the nail clippers. 

She rarely asks me for much. I try to do the little things I can for her when I’m at her house: trim her nails, take out the garbage, replace a lightbulb, fetch her a glass of iced tea mixed with lemonade or a Pepsi (her two favorites). And I wish that I felt like these little favors were enough, but when I think back to my own childhood, it makes me sad. 


It makes me sad because I remember countless days in that same backyard, where she’d spend hours watching me play in the sandbox, calling from just inside the door to tell me that my lemonade and turkey sandwich were waiting for me inside. Or when she’d pitch a softball to me over and over again, not even complaining much when the ball was returned straight into her bad knee per my bat. Or when she sat on the swing–that same swing where she currently held my baby boy in her lap–and watched me shoot and dribble a basketball for hours. 

It wasn’t just the backyard that held memories for me though; it was the entire house. The rainy afternoons where we played “beauty parlor,” me styling her hair with plastic barrettes shaped like sea creatures, and us both giggling profusely when someone knocked on the door and she had to answer with her hair in that ridiculous style, with much thanks to her six-year-old granddaughter. Those mornings where I was home sick from school, and she’d draw the curtains and put The Price is Right on the TV, showing up at my side with her famous buttered toast and a glass of orange juice, which I always could tell she’d just strained for me, since she liked pulp but I didn’t.


Shortly after I trimmed my grandmother’s fingernails–her one small request, despite her feeble state–my own mother showed up at the house after a long day at work. I watched as she immediately scooped up one of my children, propping him on her hip, and then approached the porch, springing into action at once, doing whatever it was that my Gram hadn’t wanted to ask me to do, whether that was paying the bills, filling her pill box for her, doing her laundry, fixing her dinner, or one of the other countless tasks my mom assisted her with in her last years with us. 

That day, one of the last warm days this past fall, stood out to me. At the time, I started to write about it, but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with my essay. It’s been about seven months since I started writing this piece, and it’s been a little over three months since she passed away. Now, I understand what my intention was.

We learned it all from her.


On the very last day that I saw my sweet Grammy, she was in the hospital and was very weak. I sat next to her bed and patted her hand, and when her lunch was brought in, I could tell that she didn’t even want to touch it—she just wasn’t up to it.

My aunt and I shared a glance and agreed that she should at least try to drink something, so I stood next to her bed and held her cup for her, helping her get the straw into her mouth. I smiled sadly at her. A little over twenty years prior to this, I pictured the same scene, except she was the one holding the drink while I lay in a hospital bed, ridden with pneumonia, just as she was on that last day.

“You’re such a mom!” my aunt chuckled from the corner, watching me assist my grandmother.

I smiled, because it all clicked in that moment—in that sad, but clarifying moment. Yes, I am such a mom, thanks to my grandmother, who taught my own mother how to be a mom, and who helped to teach me how.

As I sat there a few minutes longer, I thought about that day on the porch on the last warm day that past fall. I thought about how I’d tried my best to help her in every little way I could, and I pictured my mother scurrying around my grandmother’s house, juggling a million things and doing her best to care for the woman who’d raised her—a total reversal of roles.

I couldn’t stay long. My three boys were waiting outside the hospital, and I had to get back to them. I promised my Grammy that I would give each of them a big hug and a kiss from her, and I gently hugged her frail body.

In that last moment I was with her, we locked eyes, and it was as if we both understood that this was it. This was the end.

“I love you. Please pray for me,” were the last words she ever spoke to me.

That night, she passed away with my mom and my aunt by her side. Her time on earth was done, but her legacy was not.

When I think of a mother figure, she was impeccable. Her patience, dedication, and love are possible to imitate, but seemingly impossible to match. As a child, I didn’t realize my fortune, being born into a family with such a loving matriarch, and also to a mother who had learned from one of the best, but I see it now. And it’s something I hope I can try to reach one day.

As imperfect as I am as a mother, I am extremely grateful that she—my sweet Grammy—helped to teach me how. She may be gone from this earth, but what I have learned from her will always, always live on.

Thank you, Gram, for teaching me to be a mom.

How to Handle a Little Sibling Whose Older Sibling Has Started School

School: for some, a nightmare to even think about. For others, like yours truly, a prime opportunity to shove my extroversion down the throats of anyone within arm’s reach. That being said, from the time I found out what school even was, I couldn’t wait to go. The activities! The people! The socializing! It all sounded so fantastic to my three-year-old self. Unfortunately, though, my brother, only 18 months my senior, left me and went off to pre-school without me. I was so abandoned! I clung to my Grammy and Grampa, my babysitters, as my newfound playmates, and there’s video footage of me talking ceaselessly while my Grampa sits there and repeatedly says, “uh-huh..yep..” to prove it. It was sad for us all. 

Why is this memory from over twenty years ago so fresh in my mind now? Well, my second-born son, my dazzling little extrovert, has been left in the dust as his older brother, 17 months his senior, has started pre-school. I feel your pain, little guy! Some days, he gets a little bummed, and from what he’s said, I can tell he’s itching to start school himself (you’ll regret this when you have to write that term paper your junior year of high school in my English class–lolz). To make matters a little easier on the poor kid, I’ve implemented some strategies to make him feel included.

You’ll more than likely start doing these for your younger children too, because I’m clearly a genius.

  1. Feed him breakfast in the car. Yep, just like his school-aged brother, I let him scarf down a cold pop-tart on our commute to his babysitter’s house each morning. There’s something about the thrill of rushing to eat your sub-par breakfast before you arrive somewhere that just screams, school day! It thrills him, and he promptly requests his cold pop-tart each morning after he’s buckled into his car seat. (If anyone asks, yes, I’d like a car detailing gift card for Christmas).
  2. Let him pack a backpack. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a real backpack. My little fella has adopted a Halloween Mickey Mouse trick-or-treat bag as his “backpack.” He puts lots of random shit in there: a toy truck, a pair of underwear, an acorn. It’s not what’s inside that counts, but the status of being a legit backpack-carrying big kid that really matters. 
  3. Convince him that his babysitters are his school friends. I could tell that he was feeling a little blue when his brother told stories about his school friends, so I convinced him that his grandparents, who babysit him, are his school friends! (Hey, that’s what I had to do when I was a kid, too). So now he’ll tell me, “My friend Poppy fed me Brussels sprouts!” Or “My friend Poppy took me to the park.” His friends spoil him, so it’s even better than actual kid friends who mostly just cough on you.
  4. Give him homework. His enthusiasm is at an all-time high for homework. He tried to take over his brother’s first at-home project, and I physically had to wrestle a glue stick out of his hand to prevent him from doing all of the work. Now, I give him random things to do and tell him it’s his homework: pick up your toys, it’s your homework!Color this picture, it’s your homework! Feed the dog, it’s your homework! It benefits me, okay?
  5. Play school. So the older brother now wants to be a teacher (and a police officer and a fire fighter and also a fire hydrant [wait, what!?]), so we have to play school. He’ll hold up a book for his little bro and show him where the spine is and how to determine whether it’s a hard or soft cover book. He makes him practice his colors and practice counting and letters. It’s freaking adorable, and it’s also a nice break from all of the fist fighting. Added bonus. 

So that’s what I’m doing to help my little extrovert cope with his brother moving on to pre-school without him. Next year, he’ll be right there too, and to that, all I can say is this: To my middle son’s teachers, I am so sorry in advance. At least he’s cute.