“Guess where you get to go today!”
“Um, no. School!”
Elle and I just spent a week with Ahma, my mom and Elodie’s grandma. Ever since saying bye-bye to Ahma, Elle has suffered from Ahma withdrawal.
“Guess who’s coming home soon!”
“Um, no. Dada!”
While my mother doesn’t live in Telluride full-time, she’s here regularly enough to be a fixture in my daughter’s life. And when Ahma’s around, Elle only has eyes for Ahma.
“Elle, it’s time for night-night. Say night-night to Ahma.”
“Ahma!” she cries, reaching for that lovely white-haired lady who never puts her to bed on time.
“Ahma!” she wails, as if being dragged to the lion’s den of her crib while her only savior, her only ally in this unjust world, is helplessly chained by the unreasonable Rules of Mom.
Parents must enforce some kind of system of conduct. There must be bedtimes and naptimes, vegetables, appropriate shoes and sunhats.
We must say no.
But it’s a “yes” world with Ahma. It’s a cookies-for-breakfast, ice cream-for-dinner kind of life. A happy, wonderful world, full of balloons and stuffed animals and rain puddles that we’re allowed to stomp through, made all the better thanks to the destruction of those constrictive walls created by rule-happy parents who have an annoying tendency to ruin the party by declaring it’s “naptime.”
Who needs naps, anyway?
In dreamy, warm and cuddly Ahma-land, no one takes naps and we eat cookies whenever we want. Never do we wait to play puzzles or read books or have milk. With Ahma, what we want is delivered as soon as we request it.
That obnoxiously glittered sweatshirt in the kid’s store window? Sure! A balloon? Why not three!
And Ahma never says “just a minute” or “not now, honey.” Everything is right in the world, because the world is as it should be – revolving around Baby Elle.
So, I suppose it isn’t any wonder that Elle considers Craig and me with about as much interest as steamed broccoli, when Ahma’s around. And when Ahma’s around to deal with an over-sugared child who needs a nap, it suits us just fine. We’re happy to take a break from the 24-7 job of parenting a one-and-a-half year old who is just awakening to her own independence.
It’s when Ahma leaves that we struggle. As it turns out, Elle’s parents go through Ahma withdrawal, too. As much time as Elodie spends with Ahma, it takes about twice as long for her to fully return to the world we’ve worked hard to create for her: A world that abides by bedtimes. A world that exists within a framework of rules.
After a week with Ahma, it’s difficult for Elle to remember a world with rules. From breakfast to bedtime, Elle fights us. When she’s with Ahma, she forgets that she eats oatmeal. She forgets that sometimes, she has to play by herself while Mama tries (usually in vain) to get some work done. She forgets that after books and milk and teeth brushing, it really is time to lie down in her crib.
And unlike Ahma, we aren’t always going to hold her hand until she falls asleep.
At times – for example, every time I’ve tried to put my daughter to bed since Ahma left three days ago, I feel frustrated. I feel like my efforts at raising a daughter who understands that she has limits have been thwarted by a well-meaning grandmother who only wants to shower her only granddaughter with as much love and attention as is humanely possible. As Elle stands in her crib, screaming for Ahma to rescue her from the clinched teeth of an imposed bedtime, I feel defeated. Next time Ahma’s here, I say, I will make my mom make Elle follow the rules. I will make her say no. I will, in essence, make my mother abide by my rules.
Then Elle quiets down and falls asleep. She wakes up in the morning and is genuinely happy to see her father and me. And like the low-hanging fog that dissipates with the first rays of the sun, my head clears with the realization that, despite the teary pleas for Ahma, despite the angry “NO, Mama!” at bedtime, and despite my feelings of frustration and defeat at having to retrain my daughter to live within a world of imposed rules after every visit from Ahma, I will never actually ask my mother to be any other way.
It used to be that generations of families lived close enough so that babies could be raised not only by their parents, but by their Ahmas and Papas and Aunties and Uncles, who all played a different but nevertheless important role in the upbringing of the next generation. It seems that at some point, our culture lost its appreciation of this arrangement – and that it was, and still is, considered bold and brave to pave a new route, one that leads away from the parents’ nest.
But I know that my daughter will – in spite of the occasional cookie for breakfast or missed nap – grow up to be a better-adjusted, more balanced and confident person because her Ahma has been around for her upbringing.
Ahma, whose only job when she’s here is to shower Elle with love and attention, plays an invaluable role in my daughter’s life. She is the yes in a vocabulary of no’s, the grandmotherly, nurturing yin of my motherly, rule-imposing yang. She is the only one who always holds Elle’s hand until she falls asleep.
And I really can’t fault Elle for wanting to hold her Ahma’s hand every night. What child wouldn’t want a grandmother’s steady, loving hand to hold onto?