Friday 30th July 2021

Women Of Courage Series. #59. Tribute To My Relatives. 74/2021.

Women Of Courage Series. #59. Tribute To My Relatives. 74/2021.

This third series of blog posts on Denyse Whelan Blogs to be found here will continue to be published each Thursday.

Here is the introduction to the series.

Courage is strength in the face of pain or grief. It’s doing something that frightens you. We face situations that demand courage every day. These situations provide us with choices, and the way we respond to those choices determines our future. Dayne Shuda

This is a different take.

I wanted to show my appreciation for the Women of Courage in my life. All of them are no longer living. I know I  am applying my judgement through my lens as a:

  • granddaughter
  • niece
  • daughter

To these women:

  • my paternal grandmother: known in this as Etta.

Henrietta Season (nee Earl) Simpson

  • my maternal grandmother: known in this as Vera.

Vera May (nee Bailey) Chapple.

  • my aunt (Mum’s sister) known in this (and to me) as Poppy

Thora Doris Chapple.

  • my mother known in this as Noreen

Noreen (Chapple) Simpson.

I know this is a very lengthy post and some may not wish to read it all. I wrote their stories of courage for me to remember. I hope you get to read some parts. I found it a process which helped me get more insight into who came before me, and what qualities I may have inherited or learned as behaviours.

About Etta.

I knew Etta as Gran. When we lived in Wollongong too, we saw her more often. Dad shares that it was always by obligation. She visited us in Sydney, coming up by train and she attended our wedding and got to see her great grandchildren from both me and my brother before dying in her late 80s in 1985.

Etta displayed enormous courage in 1920, to follow her then fiance, a soldier from Australia, back to his hometown Wollongong. She left everyone and everything she knew back in, as she called it, “home”.

Nevertheless, love won. She married, and despite some England vs Scotland prejudice (Andy, her husband was of Scottish descent) she went on the have her first two children, one of whom is my Dad. Over time, though, I can guess her courage waned, as during the Great Depression years, her husband was out of work, and by then two more children came along.

A family of 4 small mouths to feed, and to find work for her husband, she courageously left the family home with them all. It was owned by  her mother –  a widow who had migrated shortly after her daughter. My father tells me the stories of them driving up to Auburn in Sydney, to live temporarily for his Dad to have work. It did not last, and they, like many, relied on some work, handouts and more.

How do I imagine this was for Etta? I think, given she was a middle class woman from England it must have taken an enormous amount of courage to live in a new country with new ways, and to deal with society in that city where she lived. You see, I know that her husband was banished in some ways from his family due to underlying secrets about money and jobs. Sigh. She had to deal with those disappointments and a lack of what she might have thought was coming to her and her new husband when she arrived in Australia.

Yet…..there was more to come. In 1935 her love and husband died. From an injury sustained in the work he got back into at the Steelworks. She was widowed with 4 kids, the youngest was aged 2. From my then 11 year old father’s recollection she remained sad, and unable to offer her children some of the love and discipline they might have  needed. Instead, as he tells it, that came from her mother, Edith.

What Have I Learned About Myself From This Woman of Courage?

I have learned compassion. I am also far less likely to quickly make a judgement about other people’s decisions. I do not judge Etta at all now. I have tried to share with Dad (in our recent chats) just how hard it must have been for this woman he called Mum. She had no idea that being courageous would lead her to a life of poverty and being shunned socially in the town where they lived.

Etta did ‘classy’ for special occasions like my christening and her Mum did too!

About Vera.

When I remember Vera, Nanny to me, I remember her care for me but it was edged with a pretty strict regime. She died when I was about 8, my mum losing her Mum in her 30s. I stayed with her and my Papa and their extended family quite a bit as a child and always felt loved and cared for. However, in the latter years of her pretty short life I recall her severely affected by a stroke and that my grandfather cared for her at home for sometime. I have a strong memory too, of an Ambulance taking her to Wollongong hospital, and that later my mum was very sad because her mother had died.

I have done some family history research as has my daughter and with Dad still having an excellent memory I ask him about his late mother-in-law  and her life. She lived a hard physical life. It was in a rural/small town area of the south coast of N.S.W. Interestingly she and her brother (Don) married a brother and a sister (Ettie). So there was a closer blood relationship between the families. My grandmother worked at home, and kept the home fires burning even after having 3 children because her husband had been blinded in one eye in an accident at the local coal mine. In fact, he was in Sydney Eye Hospital having surgery on his eye socket and to have a glass eye added when my Mum (Noreen) was born in Dapto.

From that time, of course, there were hardships relating to one person unwell and unable to work full time again, even though he did what he could. Vera lived by Christian convictions (she was Presbyterian) and her strictness around the family life and upbringing may have contributed to her courage. I do know she tried to have me read the bible from a very young age. I still have it.

Then, tragedy struck.

In a way that no-one could envisage but would in some ways become a life saver of sorts. Vera’s sister-in-law, her husband’s sister and married to her brother, died giving birth to her third child – a daughter. This was in mid 1920s. Neither survived. Nor did her husband and father of 2 sons, ever recover. Vera, whose own situation was pretty dire, agreed for the family’s sake that she, her husband and 3 children – Poppy, a son, and Noreen, would move to the house that was being paid off by her brother. This allayed fears of being evicted from their rental as work was thin on the ground during the Great Depression.

Now I add what I know is hearsay. From my Dad, telling me Mum’s memories. That house was full. It had 3 bedrooms. Your Nanny and Papa slept in one room, Uncle Don & his son, another, and your mother & Poppy in the other one. Bobby (son of Uncle Don) slept on one part of the verandah as did your Uncle Keith. This pattern continued even as I recalled as a child. Over time, the children became adults who could work. And they did. It was the start of WW2. Your grandmother had not only a house full of family but made the house available for soldiers stationed near by and of course was encouraged to give back due to her Christian upbringing. She worked. As did those other woman, your mother and aunty, just to keep the household fed. Her brother contributed nothing other than the shelter. He sunk into a deep, life lasting depression, only emerging on days when his beloved greyhounds needed training and then to catch up with other trainers. 

What Have I Learned About Myself From This Woman of Courage?

I have learned that despite life’s biggest and hardest challenges we can survive. However, sadly, that did not help Vera live. Her life stopped. Prematurely. In 1957 Vera died. She had been unwell with blood pressure causing a stroke and then another one ending her life. I remember my Mum’s sadness the most. I learned that I have strong women in my mother’s family but that their health frailty and anxiety about health is something I have been given. I am more resilient as a result of recent life events like my cancer but I also am wary of my health because of my lineage. I do take medication for high blood pressure and it is controlled well.

I hope Vera was happy on her wedding day.

About Poppy.

As I prepare this post, it is Poppy’s birthday and she would have been 98.  Dear woman she was to me and my brother and to our kids as well.  Born Thora Doris, that was shortened to Poppy by one of the relatives and that’s who she was to us. She was the middle of 3 with Mum, Noreen, the younger. These two shared a bed in one room until Mum left home to marry Dad. They were a  sporting and community minded family even with the hardships at home and little money. Poppy’s intelligence was good enough to get her from the local primary school into the selective  Wollongong  H.S. in the late 1930s and funnily enough she was in 2 years up from my father! But she still had to leave school, as Dad did, aged 15.

Poppy and Noreen played competition sport: Hockey to be exact. They played at representative level and  it was a great way to meet others socially too.  They travelled around N.S.W. and to Sydney.  This was mostly by train. I have included both of their Hockey photos in this post. I am the least sporting person ever but I did inherit a love of competition from someone!

I only ever heard dribs and drabs about Poppy’s life as a young adult. I know she was shy. I know too, that she trained to be a telephonist. Those were the women who sat at large banks of phone lines and plugged in calls.  First with the Post Office in her local area on  the South Coast, and then after the war, she went to the Steelworks to work  in their section. Before that, I understand she may have had a boyfriend but that he  was  killed in the war. My mum seemed to attract more male attention  but I don’t think my aunt  was ever jealous. She was already friends with my dad before mum met him.

But what about her courage?

It’s in sharing this story that I acknowledge one of mental  ill-health, sadness and grief. She lost her Mum  (Vera) at an early age. Work at home fell to her, even though she was a full-time  working woman. I was a  young kid and my brother and I were spoiled a lot by her: lollies, taking us to the Dapto Show and more. She loved to read and I devoured her women’s magazines when I stayed with her.

Life  challenges took a big toll.

As I understand it, she had what was called a nervous breakdown based on her workload and went into a Sydney private hospital  for electro convulsive shock  treatment. I was about 11. I remember visiting her but not much else. She was able to return home and was given modified duties with her employer away from the switchboard. That continued until she turned 60. She was well-respected. An ardent follower of sport – Rugby League in particular- and a kinder and more caring Aunty and Great Aunty I am yet to  know.

What Have I Learned About Myself From This Woman of Courage?

I have learned selflessness is something that needs to be balanced with self care. I saw Poppy taking care of everyone else first…and then, over time, herself last. She used to eat for comfort too but was incredibly lonely as well. Her latter years of life were spent in a new-to-her house, which was almost hers along with her older brother who was severely unwell due to depression, and excessive alcohol intake and more. She rarely saw people once she stopped work and so that was something I, along with my parents would try to rectify with visits and encouraging her to come and stay with us. She was the kindest hearted person and totally devoted to her family. I have learned that overdoing it via work can cause issues with our health (yes, I know I too suffered) and that seeking treatment and continuing life afterwards is not to be discounted. In fact that IS an act of courage right there.

Poppy is next to little girl in pink hat, and to my Dad in blue shirt. I think this might have been her last Christmas with us.

About Noreen.

It’s only been in the recent 5 or so years that I have been interested in, and talking more to Dad about, Mum’s history. Dad and I are the talkers. Mum sure could talk but she also had an impediment for as long as I can recall. Mum was left very deaf in one ear in particular, which her specialists back in the mid 50s attributed to having children. In fact she and Dad were told not to have more. Before I go back to earlier times, even before she met Dad, I remember her being upset because she couldn’t hear. I know Dad always came to us kids in the night because when Mum was lying on one side, she heard nothing. But what I want to recall is her immense courage in doing something to help her hearing. She was a shy woman from the South Coast but it would be an operation of big magnitude that her ENT specialist in Sydney said would help restore some hearing….and she went through with it.

We were under 10s then and I remember feeling sad about Mum’s absence. Dad took us up to RPA one time. Interesting fact, when I was in Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, my room overlooked Gloucester House where Mum had that surgery. And it helped her for some time but in her latter years, she needed more hearing aids. It frustrated her so much when we would talk and she wouldn’t know what we were saying, and in a group setting, or people around a table it was more annoying too. Sigh. I am wondering about compassion here. My husband tells me I talk loudly and it is true and it is always clear (OK, bit rough since my mouth reconstruction) but we used to have to do that at home.

Mum was the baby in her family. However that did not coming spoiling as I wrote in Vera’s story, Noreen and Poppy had home duties even when high school and work called. Mum did enjoy fashion. She worked locally in a store and eventually, for her, got the job of her dreams selling shoes. Honestly, I am so not like that. Mum had the best collection but was a small size, frustratingly for her granddaughters. She became someone who loved her competitive sport and I have seen that in her as a tennis player (it was a way to become friends in Sydney, when she joined a club). She was lithe, fast moving and skilled. Hockey made her very competitive.

About the courage she had. I talked to Dad about this not long ago. As a woman who had met the man to become her husband through the Scouting Movement, she became friends with his friends, and her sister often accompanied them on picnics and overnight stays. All above board. They were wed, he continued study to be an accountant whilst building their first home, and Mum worked each week…and I was eventually born. Just into the new house too and Dad was transferred to the Melbourne office, very unwillingly. He made it a deal, that he had to be home for his daughter’s first birthday and he did. However, in the midst of that year, Mum very courageously took us both by plane (1950 people!) to Melbourne from Sydney. I cannot fathom how much courage that took but love won!

But after marriage, and having one child, when she saw Dad not only get his driver’s licence and a family car, she decided that was for her too. She got that licence soon after my brother’s birth and had independence not many 1050s women enjoyed. Yet, she loved her house, her neigbourhood and more. And then all that came undone.

She had already dealt with the death of her mother. But her husband had some news she did not like. He was being promoted to head office in Sydney and he really could not turn that offer down. She did not want to go. Everything was unknown. Dad eventually convinced her it was the right move but he was challenged by the circumstances too because of the time between when he had to start and when he could move us up after selling the ‘first home’ built together.

My views on Noreen’s courage from there:

  • she accepted the move, despite her anxiety and loss of family and friend support
  • she ended up, as parents often do, making friends with a woman whose son was in the same class as hers and from then on, it was great..over time of course. But she had met many people close in age, interests and more. That remained the case until her death!
  • she joined P&C, Scouts & Guides parent groups, tennis clubs, card clubs, was part of the first V.I.E.W. Club formed to raise funds for The Smith Family, she did Meals of Wheels and more
  • she became more of the sole parent at times, being independent with a car helped, as Dad travelled interstate and then…the big one:
  • 1966 he was flown by the company he worked for, around the world, ending in Hawaii for 6 weeks at Harvard Management of Business Summer School. It changed his life. Mum cried at the kitchen sink after he left. I had never seen that before.
  • But, as in all things, she rallied and we were teens at school, and she even drove us with friends to Port Macquarie
  • Over time I saw Mum grow in her personal strength indicating a change for the good in terms of courage
  • She did not do well however, with her own illness. Who does?
  • Well, she became so unwell at the end of her life because she lost her confidence, her ability to manage her body well and I believe that in keeping Mum as safe as he could, Dad was right but it was at the expense of ever knowing what had happened inside her to cause her death.

What Have I Learned About Myself From This Woman of Courage?

It’s taken me till the past few years to realise that I could learn to “talk less” as they say and listen more. Noreen used to say I rushed my kids too much in the mornings, getting them to school and pre school, and I agree but I also had to….and I liked work outside the home. In fact I needed it. But I also look back now at Mum and admire her quiet courage…especially when she did not want to “be” or “do” what she was. In the end, and it was her almost end, it was her words “no more test, nothing” that set the path for her once it was discovered she had secondary brain tumours. That’s courage done confidently and quietly but firmly.

We all agreed, as did her team.

Thanks Noreen, for my life, and for me making better inroads into understanding you and your life way past the time when I could tell you so. I had to get to now to know this, aged 71. You died when I was 58.

Such a favourite. Noreen, with her first granddaughter, at the front of 61, with Andrew, Dad.

Thank you to readers who came this far. I really appreciate it.

Denyse.

 

Joining with Natalie here for Weekend Coffee Share.

Copyright © 2021 denysewhelan.com.au – All rights reserved.

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Life Stories #2. On Being a Grandmother Pt. 2. 23/51. #LifeThisWeek. 46/2020.

Life Stories #2. On Being a Grandmother Pt. 2. 23/51. #LifeThisWeek. 46/2020.

On Being a Grandmother. Part Two.

Recently in Australia, a book was published and both Debbie Harris from here and I were taken by its contents and messages about “being a grandmother”.

Debbie’s post is found here. 

Grandmothers: Essays by 21st-Century Grandmothers.

Helen Elliott

Debbie and I wrote posts on the topic of becoming a grandmother. The links are above. As readers “may” have guessed we do enjoy our roles and we knew we would want to add more to our stories.

Mine is a bit lot longer than hers (not a competition!) because I started at age 47 and celebrated our last granddaughter’s arrival when I was 65. Here I am cuddling Miss back then in 2015. She is our youngest grandchild and granddaughter. Miss M has had ‘less contact’ with me as we had already moved to the Central Coast at the time of her impending arrival, but of course, she is no less loved nor cared about! Her siblings (3) and her cousins (4)  just happened to get a lot more “Grandma and Papa” time whilst we lived close by…from 1996 to 2014.

 

More About Grandmothering.

As Life Moves on In Families. 

Tell the story of how your name was chosen, by whom, and has that ‘stuck?’

I wanted a traditional grandmother’s name and I chose Grandma. When we knew grandchild #1 was coming, in 1996, I spoke to my son-in-law’s Mum and she was happy to be Granny. Sorted! My name did change a bit over the years as the first G.D. started to speak. I have been known as: “Gummy” “Brandma” “Grandma” and “G-Ma”. All fine!

How many grandchildren do you have? 

We are very fortunate to have eight grandchildren. There are six girls and two boys. No idea how that kind of mix works out but in our daughter’s family she has 3 daughters and a son, and that is the same for our son.

Here they are:

our daughter’s family: 1 girl, J, 1996, 1 girl, S, 1999, 1 boy, B, 2001 and 1 girl, E, 2012.

our son’s family: 1 boy, H, 2007, 1 girl, R, 2009, 1 girl, E, 2013, 1 girl, M, 2015.

The Fam! All together. Back: S, J, B. Son & Daughter. Front: E, R, E, M & H with Grandma and Papa!

Did you share in any of the pre-birth care of siblings or afterwards to help the family. How did this occur?

Yes and there is much more to write!

The first 3 grandchildren. 1996-2007.

1996 our first grandchild, J, was born and we (I) cared for her at our house 3 days a week for her first 6 months and then she went to a wonderful family day care. We did mind her on some weekends and when her sibling, S, was coming even more. I went to her parents’ house as they left for the hospital in the middle of the night. Then in 1999 into 2001 when B came along, even though I was working full-time as a school principal, being Grandma was also very important and we had beds, cots, toys, blankies and much more at our house so the three grandchildren could have sleep-overs, a play afternoon and spend time with us in school holidays. We had one bedroom that was ‘theirs’ with double bunk, their own bedding and a cot. In fact, we took the grandchildren on holidays with us too from time to time. This was to help out their parents but we also enjoyed it….and we were much younger than we are now!!

Then there were more! 2007-2014.

In 2007 our son’s first was born. With a pretty big gap between our kids there was a similar gap between grandchildren. However, it all came back to me…the baby parts I mean. There was talk of caring for the baby once he (H) arrived, and by early 2008 we were doing that a few days each week. I was no longer working full-time and was a part-time teacher. However, the 3 days of care were very full-on because he was not with us in ‘school hours’ as our daughter’s children were but around 8-5pm. We adapted to him giving him a bath some nights and dressing him for bed so when he was picked up, all he needed was dinner, cuddles, stories and bed. We did, ahem, re-fit the house with MORE play and baby paraphanalia including car seats. Yes, we bought many car seats and boosters over the years. In fact, my car back then could, in theory, take most of the grandkids. I had strollers too. We often walked around the block each day…sleep, child, sleep!

From 2009 when R was born we then were able to help her parents out the next year and what fun we had for a few days each week with both. Beds and cots were ready and they too had the quilts, blankies, pillows and toys. In 2012, their cousin E, joined us for a day or so a week as her Mum had to return to teaching. She was not a happy child to leave her Mum and we did all we could to distract her to have her see the fun the others were having. She later went to a family day care that her Mum found the best for her. The other two (H &R) also attended some other care during those years.

And in 2013, E, joined H & R in her family and she came to us the next year up to 3 days a week. She was such a different child. She observed everything but resisted any of my offered bottles…even if they were Mummy’s milk. I admit I did buy a ‘play centre’ to put her in as I was caring for her alone once she was on the move. She started exploring eating and drinking from a cup and talked a lot once she could. She and I would go out for a drive and enjoy morning tea out some days.

I admit now, that I grew physically weary and was already a bit sad about how my work life in education needed to end and that, to make our lives work better for us in the future, we would need to sell the house..and say goodbye to these 7 grandchildren. As the ink dried on the contract to sell, we were told grandchild #8 was coming but that the family did not need us to care for this one. Whilst that seemed a bit sad it was, for us, the right choice too. I was now 65 and had been caring for little people since I was 47.

 

How different is your relationship with your grandchildren to that with your children?

It is more relaxed and loving without much of the hard work of being a parent.  This for me, is because in having and raising children, we do so much to help them be citizens of the world and find their ways and it can feel relentless at times. The old adage of “I get to send the grandchildren home” at the end of the day resonates with me.

I will add now though, with 3 adult grandchildren, I feel incredibly proud of them and know that they care for me and their grandfather. Their messages to us, hugs and chats when we do get to see them tells us we have made an ever-lasting bond with them.

 

How would you like your grandchildren to think of you/describe you, either now or in the future?

They would describe me are:

  • talkative
  • art & creativity -oriented
  • photo taking
  • cake making
  • iphone app collector of stories to get grandkids to sleep
  • books…oh so much reading encouraged by me
  • toy (and fad) buyer: Night Garden, Teletubbies, Bob the Builder, Fairies, Fisher Price Dolls House…..
  • video and DVD watcher
  • provider of fun
  • sharing of morning tea out somewhere
  • family-history sharer
  • sometimes (a bit)  cranky….toys away, please!!
  • a wonderful hugger
  • thoughtful gift giver
  • always sharing and caring of us
  • Christmas memory maker
  • Diarising and photographing our lives and handing them books and cards filled with memories

What words describe what being a grandmother means to you?

  • I am Grandma.
  • Simple title with enormous privileges of fun, love and sharing
  • Being lovingly connected to a generation one removed from me
  • An experience I have made my own, learned from others in my family who were grandparents and adapted for me
  • Day to day care was a big effort but so enjoyed and am glad I got to be part of their growing lives
  • That I leave with my grandchildren some memories of me, my time of life that they did not experience and a link to carry on

How do you think being a  grandmother has changed you, if at all?

Being a grandmother has changed me in the nicest possible ways. I could never have imagined how it would feel to first gaze upon a wee person, less than a day old, and think “you are from my heritage, and I am your grandmother.” Wow. Still blows my mind. I got to meet EVERY single one of my grandchildren within HOURS of their births.

One memory that stays is meeting B, aged a few minutes. It was after the hottest day in January in 2001 and the storm broke through and unleashed enormous damage outside the hospital as his mum laboured with no epidural as hoped because “too late”…I went for a brief walk along the hospital corridor and when I returned there he was. I got to hold him straight away after his dad passed him over and he engaged me with his eyes. It was amazing. Always remember this.

What, if anything, would you change about your grandmothering experiences?

Nothing at all…other than I would have liked to give Miss M, the ‘8th’ grandchild some one-on-one care as we did for all of the other grandchildren. I feel both we and she missed something special there but I can only say, we do what we can to continue to connect now and know she and her siblings talk of Grandma )(and Papa)

Why was it important to share about becoming and being a grandmother for you?

It was important for me to do this to ensure my family knows how much being a grandmother means to me. I hope, as I know my eldest granddaughter did, that some may choose to read my posts. I know I am more likely to be demonstrative of my love and care for them than I was with their parents.

Maybe that comes with a softening in ageing. I also am a writer who blogs and a sharer of stories and mine is one.

I did get permission for publishing from my family.

What three words describe you as a grandmother?

Loving,

Kind & Caring

Sentimental:

I wear a 3 Uberkate Circle necklace just about every day. You can see it in most of my photos. It has  our names in smallest circle, our kids’ next, and each of the 8 grandchildren’s initials in the largest circles. I also have next to my study two framed collages: one for each family with a photo of every grandchild of the day they were born. There is another place too, in a small house, where each of their individual ‘birth or close to birthday’ photos are displayed. I would show them here but they have identifiers so I won’t.

Thanks to my family for contributing to help me be the person I am, known as

G R A N D M A….one of the nicest words ever….

This was the BEST ever gift Grandma could have been given. For my 70th all of them took part in a great photo shoot. I was blown away by the book, the canvas and as one said “Grandma, you always made us photo books!”

Thanks for reading and do share your words about being a grandmother, a grandchild or what every comes to mind.

Denyse.

 

Debbie and I thought that supplying the questions we came up with  for the two posts might be useful should anyone else want to write about their experiences of grandmothering too. Do copy them and of course adapt as you wish.

Being a Grandmother. Part One.

The First Experience of Becoming a Grandmother.

  • 1.What do you remember about your grandmother(s)?
  • 2.What struck you initially about the news you were going to be a grandmother for the first time?
  • 3. Did you make any choices/decisions about being a grandmother when you found out this was going to happen?
  • 4. And, in your case, was the news from your son or your daughter?
  • 5.How did you find out?
  • 6. Were there any conditions/limitations set by the parents-to-be for you, the new grandmother in the making?
  • 7. Did/does the ‘role’ work its way out for all?
  • 8. About My Name.
  • 9. Are/were there hiccups?
  • 10.Share the highlights of the birth and after of your first grandchild.
  • 11. What, if any, were any ‘lowlights?’
  • 12. Special Memories of the First Weeks.

 

More About Grandmothering.

As Life Moves on In Families. Part Two.

  1. Tell the story of how your name was chosen, by whom, and has that ‘stuck?’
  2. How many grandchildren do you have? (Names used up to you , but initials are OK & year of birth (not date)
  3. Did you share in any of the pre-birth care of siblings or afterwards to help the family. How did this occur?
  4. How different is your relationship with your grandchildren to that with your children?
  5. How would you like your grandchildren to think of you/describe you, either now or in the future?
  6. What words describe what being a grandmother means to you?
  7. How do you think being a  grandmother has changed you, if at all?
  8. What, if anything, would you change about your grandmothering experiences?
  9. Why was it important to share about becoming and being a grandmother for you?
  10. What three words describe you as a grandmother?

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Life Stories #1. On Being A Grandmother. Pt1.17/51 #LifeThisWeek. 34/2020.

Life Stories #1. On Being a Grandmother. Pt 1.17/51 #LifeThisWeek. 34/2020.

On Being a Grandmother. Part One.

Recently in Australia, a book was published and both Debbie Harris from here and I were taken by its contents and messages about “being a grandmother”.

Debbie’s post is found here. 

GRANDMOTHERS: ESSAYS BY 21ST-CENTURY GRANDMOTHERS

Helen Elliott

PaperBack

March 31, 2020

An anthology of essays by twenty-four Australian women, edited by Helen Elliott, about the many aspects of being a grandmother in the 21st century. It seems so different from the experience we had of our grandmothers. Although perhaps the human essential, love, hasn’t shifted much? In thoughtful, provoking, uncompromising writing, a broad range of women reflect on vastly diverse experiences. This period of a woman’s life, a continuation and culmination, is as defining as any other and the words ‘grand’ and ‘mother’ rearrange and realign themselves into bright focus.

The contributors- Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, Judith Brett, Jane Caro, Elizabeth Cheung, Cresside Collette, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Helen Garner, Anastasia Gonis, Glenda Guest, Katherine Hattam, Celestine Hitiura Vaite, Yvette Holt, Cheryl Kernot, Ramona Koval, Alison Lester, Joan London, Jenny Macklin, Auntie Daphnie Milward, Mona Mobarek, Carol Raye and Gillian Triggs.

We ‘chatted’ on-line as bloggers do and both thought, what about a post or two on this topic. Knowing not everyone who blogs is not a grandmother/parent nor has the experience to draw on, we set out to go like this…publish in Life This Week under #Life Stories #1 and then in a few more weeks, #Life Stories #2.

This first post is based on  a series of questions devised by Denyse Whelan, in conjunction with Debbie Harris, to be the start of a blog post about

Being a Grandmother.

THIS image captures all 8 of our grandchildren so beautifully. Photographed by our daughter, in conjunction with our son to be my 70th Birthday gift as an album. 2019. The first grandchild is in the white dress.

 

The First Experience of Becoming a Grandmother.

 

What do you remember about your grandmother(s)?

I had a loving but strict maternal grandmother, Nanny, and I was the first grandchild. I was loved and cared for but when she became incapacitated by a stroke which eventually claimed her life in 1957, her husband, my “Papa” tended to be the one who spoiled me as life went on.

My paternal grandmother, Gran, was a formidable, strict and somewhat sad grandmother. This was, as we tend to think now, as a result of her becoming a widow in 1935 and raising 4 children (my Dad was 11) alone, other than help from her mother who had come from England to give the family a secure house to live in. Gran would at times, share some of her ‘life stories’ with me as a teen as I asked more questions about her life in England then as a War Bride post WW1 but most times, she would sink back into nostalgia and sadness.

 

What struck you initially about the news you were going to be a grandmother for the first time?

How happy I was…because, the news came in a year that was plagued with money worries,  health fears and more….so this news was the B E S T.

It was, however, not greeted as universally ‘happy’ as we, in a business that we owned, were not doing well at all and I admit my husband’s reactions did not mirror mine for good reason. Very concerned with what else was happening at the time.

We found out in about April, May and the child was due late December. By then, we had liquidated the business and we were very much on the ‘back foot’ with what would be happening to us, house and income-wise (I was still employed) so I did have to “calm” myself. However, big distraction for me and will always remember the time like that. 

 

Did you make any choices/decisions about being a grandmother when you found out this was going to happen?

I recall, being young…at what would be 47 when I became a grandmother but I did not let that phase me. I remember feeling the delight and angst and all the in between feelings because “I” had given birth but my daughter had not..yet. I was, I am pretty sure, deciding to be the most helpful grandmother I could be to allow the parents to ‘parent their child’ in the ways they wanted to and planned. This is always good in theory. Practice not so much initially. See further on.

 

And, in your case, was the news from your son or your daughter?

The news was from our daughter and eventually her husband. 

 

How did you find out?

THIS is a good story! My daughter had been married for just on two years and in that time had completed her Uni degree and was a trained K-6 teacher. She sought casual work and was soon snapped up by the school where I was Deputy Principal. I was not part of her ‘getting the job’ as I wanted (as did she) for this to be the school’s choice. 

She was part of a large group of relatively young female teachers and I, the D.P. was given the role of sharing the news that there had been a case of Rubella in the student population. This was something I passed on privately to each teacher as applicable, including our daughter.

At Recess that day, she came to my office door and asked for a private chat. Closing the door, she shared that “I think I am pregnant.”

Oh. Wow. My goodness, what a way to find out and yes, I was excited but of course tempered by the news of her vulnerability at this stage. The NSW Health Dept advice, which I shared with her, was to go to your doctor and tell him/her. That afternoon she did. The pregnancy was confirmed and she did some blood test for anti-bodies. I can’t quite remember the result but she had Rubella as a child, so was deemed, as best it could be proven, to be OK.

Again. Wow. I remember telling my husband of the news and he did not share my intense enthusiasm but not because of that….he was managing a very tricky time in his business and work life.

Nevertheless, I hugged my secret until our daughter and then son-in-law shared the news with family and friends.

And, recently. Love you J.R.

Were there any conditions/limitations set by the parents-to-be for you, the new grandmother in the making?

I cannot recall but I remember being able to share some of my excitement with them and the extended family which included my son-in-law’s parents and my parents and my husband’s parents. This child would be the first great-grandchild too. I also tried ‘not to overdo’ my enthusiasm as I did not want to over-shadow the parents at any time.

I did, for my sake, and to honour  the future grandchild (our first one, and that of my son-in-law) start a grandmother’s memory book. Oh my goodness, I did have some fun and I admit, the scrapbooking and photography as a journal  probably started then as I added newspaper clippings too. At age 5, this BIG book, was finished ( I remember crying that it was done…as she was off to school!) and eventually it was handed over to my granddaughter some years after. I did keep it at our house for years as she enjoyed looking at it too.

It was not until she was quite a few months old, that I was told by my daughter to reduce my ‘oversight’ of their child..as “I am her mother”.

Lesson learned…Big time. Not always remembered but I took it all on board.

 

Did/does the ‘role’ work its way out for all?

The role as the grandchild grew changed as she did. However, even now, we have a close and loving bond without being ‘in each others’ pockets’. I am so proud to be her Grandma always. But as I said above, I did need to take more of a back seat. 

About My Name.

My parents were known by their first names – their choice – by their grandkids. I wanted a traditional grandmother’s name and I chose Grandma. I spoke to my son-in-law’s Mum and she was happy to be Granny. Sorted! My name did change a bit over the years as the first G.D. started to speak. I have been known as: “Gummy” “Brandma” “Grandma” and “G-Ma”. All fine!

Are/were there hiccups?

Like any relationship there are ups and downs but thanks to wisdom gleaned over time by me observing others and of course, remembering “I am not her mother” and that I also got to drop this child back home after caring for her. A completely different way of child-care…. all fun, some responsibility but not 100%.

Share the highlights of the birth and after of your first grandchild.

For the last month or so before the baby’s due date of close to Christmas Day my daughter developed some symptoms which meant she had to leave her teaching role early, get advice from her obstetrician and continue to see him. In that time, I was also on  leave as I had a whiplash injury from a rear-end car accident on my way to work…thank goodness for work cover paying my salary back in those days.

Whilst we had never really talked about when my daughter would return to teaching in detail, I was already planning a grandchild care package at home! This came about with little or no expense when our next door neighbour donated all of the young girl’s bedding, cot and so on to us. My parents had always had room for our children to stay over for holidays and weekends and we (ok, mostly me!) wanted to do similarly. And yes, my husband did eventually come around to it all.

But she (we never knew the sex) was yet to arrive!

My daughter had 2 or 3 visits to labour ward at the San for testing for ‘leaks’ and was told, no you are OK on most occasions until very close to Christmas. It was a Saturday evening, my son-in-law was at a band gig on the other side of Sydney, and I went to their house to get takeaway tea and keep my daughter company. She told me on arrival, I am still leaking….and rang labour ward (again!) and they said “come in.” We grabbed the food first and I am pretty sure she drove us to the San. Up we went (with hospital bag this time) and after the check and a call to her doctor, she was admitted.

Rightio.

Mobile phones were ‘in’ but in their early days but we managed to let her husband know and then, from memory, I took their car home and collected mine and waited. The next day, a very hot Sunday in December, labour was kind of happening….and I was asked to bring some things over to her. I did.

THIS was when I knew I could not be a help at all. I saw her husband helping gently and she was doing all she had to…and I could not help. At all. So, I quietly took my leave and we waited….until much later on Sunday night. We got a call that labour was in progress fully and could we please bring her husband a Coke…caffeine and sugar needed!! We laugh now, but when presented with what my husband found at home: a diet Pepsi, it was not going to do the trick!

We came home…settled into bed, to see Sunday turn into Monday AND……

12.13 a.m. You have a granddaughter and her name is J.R.

Stunned and stoked and all those words, I “think” we slept and the next morning I was off to buy all things pink and more….

Meeting J.R. 

I entered the single room where my daughter and granddaughter were. My son-in-law had to be at work on the busy pre-Christmas retail day. I looked at this dark haired child in a crib…and thought “how did you arrive to be in our family?”. Both of our kids had been blonde/bald!

After that, it was chatting with my daughter who was still in that post-birth shock and she shared how it all happened rather fast after a ‘threat’ from the Obstetrician about a ‘caesar or forceps’…I eventually took my leave…and went to the shops! This baby girl had arrived 2 days before Christmas and no way was Santa not going to visit.

When I returned the next day with Santa bag and little tree, it meant Christmas was going to happen for the birthday baby.

What, if any, were any ‘lowlights?’

Interestingly the lowlights were in some way related to my disappointment in how many people “turned up” to visit the new Mum and baby…the room was chockers….and people just wanted to chat…with each other and my daughter. I was glad to see what was happening, and as most took their leave, and J.R. was crying, I asked the last couple to please leave…and they did. I think first night after birth should be up to the parents who comes…and I know now this is better managed.

Our wee GD with dark hair.

Special Memories of the First Weeks.

The hospital allowed our daughter and husband home to our place for Christmas lunch and they ‘minded’ J.R. in the nursery. They went back in the afternoon and we visited in the evening to allow the parents to go for a walk and we got to do our first ‘babysitting.’

I made J.R. a little cardigan. I am so NOT a knitter but was determined to “make my first grandchild” something. She wore it home. Lovely. Then it became a cardi for her bear I think!

The new family joined us for the first evening meal at our place and we got to go on a walk around the park. My neighbour over the road offered me a free ticket to a show in the city and I turned it down because “first meal” at our place.

On Australia Day, when she was just one month, we hosted a Welcome To Your Family event with the extended family and it was lovely. No christening etc. Just this.

Then, just after this, my daughter got a phone call from the principal at the school where we both worked, offering her full-time teaching, starting the next week. She accepted after he was fine for me to take part-time leave 3 days a week. Her Granny would drive down from the Central Coast to do the other 2 days and so began a long, tiring, rewarding, learning, and loving experience of “Grandparent Care At Home”: for 6 months!

 

There will be another post in the series in June. I will share the questions then too as Debbie and I devised. If you too are a grandmother it may be something you would like to share.

Thank you for reading…It ended up being a longer post than I thought.

Biggest thanks to J.R. for being the subject…the first…the only…one who could get away with calling me “Gummy” and I would answer to it!

This captures her so much too…totally biased Grandma!

Denyse.

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