In the last year, Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart. She is now working on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she is exploring the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves.
“I think he’s a genius,” my friend confides in me with a proud smile. He is her grandson, and the evidence of his genius is some particularly impressive block-manipulation. She is, typically, not a woman given to hyperbole in any shape or form. Praise from her is scarce (and all the more valued because of that). But this is what grandparent love does. It takes any filter from the giver, and showers the receiver (the grandchild) in a blanket of unadulterated love and praise that, from a parent, might border on smothering.
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in non-romantic relationships
Our grandparents, if we’re lucky, are our first experience of love beyond our parents. Set above the fray (for the most part) of the daily, gritty parts of parenting; they provide an unruffled, unadulterated sort of love that turns them into touchstones of calm. A love that is grounding.
My child is tired, and so she is clingy. I want to start dinner, move the washing cycle on, reply to emails; but instead, we sit on the floor for an hour and do whatever she wants. Chalking (yes, we’ve made it into a verb), a game of snap, a jigsaw. This is grandparent time, I think. Time that is all about the child, hours easily afforded (or at least that is the impression given to your child), to spend at their pace, forgetting about all the other stuff that needs doing.
My own Dublin grandparents, who lived near us, were the go-to minders; they were a sort of magic. The things that remind me of them are the things that still instantly conjure up calm, peace, and shelter.
A well-trimmed hedge and a freshly cut lawn. Playing with dolls in the garden on tartan rugs. Roses. Paperweights. Homemade meatballs, fried potatoes, pavlova, ginger ale. Cornflakes with sugar. Jars of buttons to be sorted, paper doilies to be coloured-in (the original mindfulness, my psychologist cousin points out now).
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allowing myself time to rest
On sick days, we would be dropped there first thing. Ensconced in blankets on the couch, the morning would be spent watching Neighbours and Blockbusters. Inevitably, post-lunch would see the patient rally, and we would make our way down to the village for a trip to Penders, Clontarf’s clothes store. An outfit would be purchased; all-time favourites were an orange velour tracksuit, and a rainbow-striped dress my mother had to hide when I refused to stop wearing it, even after it didn't remotely fit.
Now, I buy my daughter’s ballet costume there, and the repeating of traditions is grounding. And the owner remembers my Gran, who could "make anything out of anything" she says of her cooking, and it’s all I can do not to cry at the one sentence summing her up.
Memories of Gran
“My granddaughters,” she would proudly say of my cousins and me to her sister. And I can see her echoes in all of them. The creativity, in dessert making, knitting, crafts with their children, in the entire career of my youngest cousin. In the beautifully brushed, glossy hair of my cousin; even when she was grievously ill in hospital. I would always return home from Gran’s house with wild curls, beautifully tamed into pigtails.
I see it in my own daughter and her love of dressing for an occasion. We go out for dinner and she insists on a full outfit change for us both; she drags out my highest heels and makes a stand for them, for what is essentially a kitchen supper with the family.
There is a shorthand of appreciation with my cousins over certain things that come from her; the vintage style clasp on a bag. A hand knit garment. And desserts. Multiple desserts at every family event. Nobody ever feels like they’ve had dessert after just fruit salad, but it must be on offer.
When we went through her wardrobe after she died, everything was immaculately kept. Jewellery in original boxes. Shoes the same. I have certain pieces of hers; knitwear, jewellery, a handbag. I wear them at times like talismans.
When things fall apart
Difficulties arise in unexpected places when you separate. Often it is not the big things; at Christmas, holidays, school events – everyone pulls together. It is small things that will catch you unawares and momentarily take your breath away. Eventually, I will buy myself a ring, and it will be a celebration, but for now, rings feel a little out of bounds for my hands.
This week, my aunt found the porcelain hand that Gran always kept on her kitchen windowsill, to put her rings on when she cooked or cleaned. Now it is mine. And my rings sit on, amongst Herself’s collection of Frozen-inspired rings. Gran’s ring holder seems like as suitable a place as it would be possible to find for them to wait.
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have helped me feel better
If you are lucky enough to have had a childhood that you would like, in certain ways, to recreate for your own child, then the fact that certain outside factors in your lives look different (her parents split, yours didn’t), needn’t impede that.
Now, I can see my own parents provide that solid platform for my child, a sort of second-platform of love from which to step out of the family home from. There is gardening, baking, swimming. And an unassailable love from two people whose interest and delight in her never flags.