Polar Express and Bad Hair


I remember very little grandparenting from my years growing up. Most of my grandparents  were either already gone by the time I could remember anything, or removed from our family by their choice or my mother's.

I do have very strong memories of my Grandma Fanny.  Her real name was Frances Levador, and I think, quite possibly, if my name was Frances I would not choose to spend my entire life answering to 'Fanny'. But that's just me.

Grandma Fanny, my grandmother on my father's side,  was about half American Indian, with the lack of stature, brown skin and  waist-long, coiled white hair to go with it. My father inherited her very high cheekbones, and I'm glad to say I did too. She had a stern look about her, even on her good days, and in spite of being barely five feet tall, we grandkids knew not to even think about messing with her. She dipped snuff, didn't talk much, rarely smiled, and I never was given the impression that she was particularly thrilled about my presence on this earth. She had next to nothing to claim as her own, except for a very high iron bedstead that greeted you the minute you walked through the front door of her two room house. That bed, and the shelves on the wall high above it, were decorated with all sorts of dolls. Dolls my little girl heart longed to hold, but when I made the mistake of asking, the answer was a very short 'no'.

I know - just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Much like drinking out of all those washed out snuff jars.

We didn't really take it personal - we just knew Grandma Fanny wasn't into us grandkids, so we spent most of our time, when visiting her, running in the woods and wading through the creek. Most Christmases my Mom and Dad would load us six kids up in the station wagon and we'd drive the 100 miles to her house. I did not notice, back then, that a smile never crossed my mother's face that entire day. That might possibly have been a residual effect from the day m;y parents got married, with Grandma Fanny sounding off a mourning wail in the background.

So we'd get to Grandma Fanny's house, my one girl cousin had usually already arrived, and there would be Christmas packages for us to open. Looking back, I now realize my grandmother didn't have any money to spare, and those gifts were probably a small token of her very slight appreciation for our existence. My cousin and I had gotten all efficient in realizing Grandma Fanny always bought us the same thing, one in pink and one in blue. Whatever it was - a hairbrush and mirror, a pair of pajamas, whatever. So we would open one gift, check it out, and whatever color it was, we knew the other one had gotten the opposite version of it. And off we'd run to play til we were called in for dinner.

That's pretty much the extent of my grandparenting memories. There are a few others when she came to stay with us, and I saw her teeth in a jar beside my bed; her cutting my hair (and I hesitate to mention that here because the last time I mentioned  hair I got six pages of spam comments on hair weaving, hair dye, etc., one of which - I swear - stated that dogs could be taught to weave hair by running through strands of it?!?!).

Suffice it to say that my goal as a grandparent is to improve on my own experience. To have our grandchildren feel treasured and loved with Jesus - unconditional love by us. To know we mean business and it'll be more fun for everyone if they behave, but we're not beyond some spoiling too. Time outs but never spankings, and we'd prefer to do as little disciplining as possible. I didn't have to shoot too high to go beyond what I grew up with, and I don't always do it perfectly, but it's not for lack of trying. When I get too old and fragile to sled with them, or build a snowman, or paint nails because my hands are wobbly, or listen to them try to explain their newest video game to me, I want us both to have memories to lean into. Ones that don't involve snuff and saying 'no'.

So last year we started a new tradition at our house. Tradition is not something I grew up with; rather we were more 'by the seat of our pants' style. Even a few years ago my flower-childish mother explained that she didn't think it necessary to give gifts at Christmas or birthdays, but rather just when you thought about it. Tradition, to me, brings a feeling of safety, of solidness, of something that can be counted on, and it seems to me children thrive in that. So I'm big on tradition - the over and over repeating of something that creates a memory, even if it's eating lasagna the night before Christmas when none of the kids actually likes lasagna.


At our DIL's request, we put together a Polar Express night. Papa donned a hat, mustache, blue jacket, tickets and hole punch. When he rang the doorbell of his own house, the littles answered and looked out, not quite sure. As they handed over tickets and he punched them, they stood at an arm's distance, trying to assess who exactly this man was. Finally shouts of 'it's Papa!' resounded and we loaded up the minivan, rode around town eating Krispy Kreme donuts and drinking hot cocoa, checking out the houses of crazy  people who spend a month putting up lights. Back home we had tacos and watched the actual movie, one of my holiday favorites.

So this year we did a repeat - with each Little opening a gift that was strategically chosen to entertain them for the last few days til Christmas arrives. Just enough to keep them occupied without any big reveals. That'll wait til we go over on Christmas morning, bearing gifts and cinnamon rolls and smiles and hopefully an attitude that shows them they are treasured, enjoyed, and we're blessed for them being in our lives.


It seems to me it's all about attitude. I can bemoan a lack of great grandparenting myself, or I can take what I had, learn from it, and use it to shape how I live my own life. That attitude applies to a lot more areas than just the experience of grandparents.

If anyone out there wants to do a Polar Express night, it's not too late! You can go on Pinterest to print out the tickets, Party City has top hats and mustaches and surely there's a blue blazer hanging in the back of someone's closet. If you have another tradition your family shares, let me know here.

I'll be back in a few days, with my word of the year, and something novel I'm going to do to start 2016. Merry Christmas everyone.


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