This post was inspired by Adena Halpern’s novel, 29, the April selection of the online book club, From Left to Write. I received a complementary copy of the book from the publisher, but was not otherwise compensated to write this piece. Find out how other writers were inspired by the book here.
My mother does not spoil my daughter, Sophia, as much as she would like to. I won’t let her. After dinner one night, she asks if she can give Sophia a second helping of ice cream. A disappointed look crosses her face as I shake my head no. I watch her mouth tighten, and I know she’s holding her tongue. Still, she tries to back me up, saying, “Sorry, Sophia, Mommy says ‘no.’” It isn’t until Sophia is out of ear shot that she asks, “Come on, Melissa. Is a little bit more going to kill her?”
In my lectury teacher voice I tell her, “No, of course not, Mom. But she had already had a cupcake in nursery school today and I want treats to be special, not something that is routinely doled out after each meal.” My mother sighs. She knows I’m right. And then I remind her, “Besides, when I was a kid you were adamant about limiting our sweets. Have you forgotten? Why is it different with Sophia?”
It’s true. We were never allowed to have sugar cereals and the cookie drawer was strictly off-limits. There was always stuff around (my father had an insatiable sweet tooth), and there were no locks on the cookie drawer, but I was a pretty rule-bound kid. I tended to obey the guidelines my parents set forth, indulging only when my younger sister goaded me on. Jenny would barge into my room on a Sunday morning, before our parents were awake. “You wanna take some of mom’s truffles and melt them on the radiator and smear them on bread to make chocolate sandwiches?” she’d ask, a gleam in her eye. “Uh, okay,” and we’d do it, though I knew there’d be hell to pay.
Also, I can’t remember my mother indulging in sweets when I was a child the way she does now. A half-gallon of Edy’s Flavor of the Month is lucky to last a night in her freezer. And if you’re sharing with her, your wrist better be limber and ready for battle. So, maybe it’s part of a broader loosening of her rules as she gets older.
Or maybe, this is the grandmother dynamic. Be the person you could not be as a parent. The person who says “yes” to everything. The person who elicits broad smiles instead of tantrums. The person who for whom my daughter only has positive associations: going to her nursery school, visiting museums, reading books, staying up late, eating ice cream. Maybe after all those hard years of trying to shape, and instill, and promote, and push back, there is great joy to be had in indulgence. In letting go.
It might be different if Sophia was with my mother on a daily basis, and Sophia had to comply with requests my mother makes. But I am usually there, waiting in the wings to be the heavy: Listen to your grandmother. Sit in your chair. Eat your broccoli. Brush your teeth. Put your pajamas on. I deal with the push back; I dole out the consequences. My mother did it for me, and now it’s her turn to relax.
I suppose I just have to wait my turn, when Sophia has a child of her own who I can lavish attention on, and then hand back for the tough stuff. In the meanwhile, I am earning my stripes. Laying down the law. Following through on what I say. Teaching Sophia self control, because it is not the treats in and of themselves that are so sweet, but the departure from restrictions. Appreciation and gratitude are born out of limits, not excess. If Sophia is going to be able to pass along this lesson to her daughter, she has to first learn it from me.
Grandma is my foil and my counterpart.