—J. M. Barrie
I’m a big one for memories. From meticulously curated photo albums to office files of every ad campaign I ever worked on. I even have all of my report cards and term papers from high school and college. (Yes, people have been known to use the term “pack rat.”)
As a mother, I believe that one of my most important missions is to build memories for my daughter. And some of the most precious have been those she’s shared with her grandma, my mother.
When I was in my second term of pregnancy, my father died. Although he never met my daughter, he did know that she was on the way. And I’d like to think that it helped ease his mind when he knew that the end was coming. I’m fairly certain that his final thoughts were about my mother, and how she would manage. It must have been a comfort to know that after years of caring for him, she would have a new person to take care of—their first grandchild.
With this in mind, I suggested that my mother come up to New England to be closer to us. We were looking for a daycare provider, and since my mother was in good health (and certainly experienced), we gave her right of first refusal. She considered it, but decided that she enjoyed her life in New York City too much to leave. We settled for frequent visits back and forth, until I came up with a better plan.
When my daughter, Maddie, was eight years old, we took our first multigenerational road trip together. She, my mother, and I set off on “the road to independence,” also known as I-95. We traveled from New York City down to Washington, D.C., then further south to Colonial Williamsburg. On our return trip, we stopped in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Maddie had just completed a social studies unit on the American Revolution, and it was thrilling to see all of the historic places she had learned about.
It was a long, long trip, and I was the only driver; suffice it to say, a couple of legs took significantly more time than the GPS promised. At one point, we rewrote the words to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” in my honor: “You are the driving queen, old and mean …”
But we were able to reconnect with a number of family friends along the way. And we saw all of the sights: the Washington Monument, Mount Vernon, Independence Hall, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House. What stands out most for me, though, are specific personal moments. Fantastic crabcakes for lunch. A last-minute cruise on the Potomac. Trying (and failing) to play with a colonial hoop and stick on a Williamsburg lawn. Finding a little quiche place in Georgetown. And Maddie wanting to write a letter to then President Bush telling him that there should be carts selling water along the Mall (it was easily 90 degrees in the shade).
After several years of weekend visits, it was a treat for my mother and daughter to have so much time together. After 10 days, I returned home, a little worn out, but determined to make these Mother-Daughter-Grandmother vacations an annual tradition.
The next year, we visited Newport, Rhode Island, where we toured the magnificent Breakers and had a wonderful lunch in the town’s oldest pub. A subsequent summer found us in Niagara Falls. That was another marathon drive, but worth the trip when we arrived and saw the falls themselves. Stunning! The town, on the other hand, was a pretty shabby honky-tonk. But we made the most of it, trying all of the theme restaurants. We toured the rather pathetic wax museum and took (really stupid) pictures of each other with the celebrity figures, which, for the record, looked nothing like the actual celebrities. My mother, in her mid-seventies, was even game enough to go horseback riding. It was a surprise treat for Maddie, and I know she will never forget it. (Of course, she was about a half a mile ahead of us the entire time. Oh well.)
One year, not up for a long drive, I suggested a cruise to Bermuda. The ship left right from Boston and I thought my mother would appreciate both the service onboard and the lovely island. I planned ahead and got a great deal on a mini-suite with a balcony. What I did not plan on was that we would sail right through a hurricane, resulting in a day’s delay and some terrible seasickness. But still, my mother was a trouper. Once recovered (naturally, her 24 hours of nausea coincided with her 78th birthday—just in case I didn’t feel enough guilt already), she traipsed all over Bermuda, absorbing 500 years of history in two and a half days.
After each of these vacations, Maddie and I have made scrapbooks for my mother. Enhancing dozens of photographs are ticket stubs, excerpts from restaurant reviews, pictures cut from brochures, and the odd souvenir (a playing card from a magic act, confetti from a bon voyage party, song lyrics) that only we understand. The monuments and mansions belong to everyone, but the inside jokes are ours alone.
I know both my mother and my daughter have enjoyed these excursions. But I may have gotten the most out of them myself. With my hectic schedule, it is a rare and wonderful thing to have uninterrupted time with two of my favorite women. And someday, when I’m a grandmother myself, I’ll remember what a good sport my mother was (despite endless drives, hurricanes, and horses) and rise to the occasion for my own grandchild.
In conclusion, I’d like to add to Barrie’s quote. “God gave us memory so we might have roses in December” . . . and mothers forever.