Mary McGrath column: Relections on being a grandmother

Nurture, I imagine, has its own way of interacting with nature. Already, there are signs of athletes, scientists, musicians, theologians, chefs and mountain climbers.

Mary McGrath
Mary McGrath
Contributed / Lynnette’s Portrait Design

They arrived in a bunch. Seven new little beings in seven years. The first four are boys. The last three are girls. I love all of their names; Liam, Angus, Frankie, Winston, Millie, Risi and Landry. Each one of them seems to suit their name.

My husband and I are parents to five adult children. In one way, a lot of little kids at one time seems normal, and yet, the differences are numerous.

For starters, I am 40 years older than when our own five were all under 10 years old. The once-removed position of being a grandmother lowers my sense of responsibility and invites me to see them more tenderly. I listen to them with greater patience and presence.

It is hard and sad to admit that when my own children were growing up, my patience was often thin and my presence preoccupied with grocery shopping, meal preparation, transportation, dishes, laundry and schedules.

I was in my early 20s when our first child was born. I was in my early 30s when our fifth child was born.
Erik Erikson, German-American psychologist (1902-1994), writes that the task of mid-life (35-55 years old) is to resolve the unresolved issues of the first half of life. Believing that to be true, all of my children were born and mostly raised before I understood and processed the impact of my own childhood years.


It makes me wonder why we have the energy to bear and raise children in our younger years, but don’t generally acquire the wisdom and understanding until later in life. Puzzling.

Each of these little grandchildren are their very own version of a human being. It brings to mind the nature of nature. They seem to arrive with intact traits — their interests, their ways of interacting, their abilities, their introversion and extroversion tendencies.

Nurture, I imagine, has its own way of interacting with nature. Already, there are signs of athletes, scientists, musicians, theologians, chefs and mountain climbers.

These early years with my grandkids bring me back to outdoor and indoor skating rinks, soccer fields, basketball courts, baseball fields, nursery and grade school programs, children’s movies, museums, plays and stories I’d forgotten. I sing them to sleep and tell them about their guardian angels. They tell me my teeth are gray.


We hang out at our home and at our cabin. We hike the Superior Hiking Trail. We canoe. We snowshoe and cross-country ski. We walk the beach. We play Boggle, Candyland, Checkers, tic-tac-toe and Go Fish. There are fierce ping-pong games in the cabin garage.

I find myself doing the math in my head. When the youngest of the grandchildren graduates from high school, I’ll be 86 years old. That’s only 17 years away. When I was younger, 17 years seemed like forever. Now, 17 years seems like a short time period.

I will be the grandma of their memories, as is my paternal grandmother. She was the only grandparent I knew.

Frances Mabel Babcock McGrath was always known as “Belle.” She would stay with us for a few weeks off and on when I was a grade schooler and into my high school years. She’d arrive with what she called her “grip.” It was a worn leather suitcase that looked as if had accompanied her often.


She wore housedresses with a cotton half-apron tied around her waist. Her shoulders were broad and her posture strong. Her glasses were thick and she used a magnifying glass when reading the newspaper. Her gold wedding band and ruby engagement ring hung loosely on her finger. I imagined she weighed more when she was younger.

She wasn’t chatty or greatly affectionate. And yet, I always felt close to her and loved in her presence.

By the time I came along, she already had 16 grandchildren. After my birth, there were 10 more to arrive. I was the only “only child” of the bunch. This, most likely, gave me an advantage in my relationship with her, as there were no other kids seeking her quiet attention in my home.

She loved to cook and bake. I’d often come home from school to a single layer, chocolate frosted, marble cake in a square metal pan sitting on the kitchen counter. It almost seemed as if the cake appeared by magic.

There were no signs of flour, mixing bowls or spatulas. Just this singular creation, waiting to be sliced and eaten. She regularly made tall loaves of white and wheat bread, chicken and dumplings, vegetable beef soup and homemade macaroni and cheese. From her, I developed a love of cooking, as well as a love of feeding family and friends.

Surprisingly, my grandkids don't seem to like my homemade macaroni and cheese. So, I open a box or two of the store-bought version. They help me cook it. We have delightful conversations over bowls of the food they enjoy. I sometimes wonder what their memories of me will be.

It won’t be of me with a house dress on. It won’t be of me arriving at their home with a “grip.” It won’t be freshly baked bread or marble cake.

My hope is it will be more than noticing my gray teeth. My real hope is that they will have felt loved in my presence.


Mary McGrath is a lifelong Duluthian and retired therapist.

What To Read Next
Get Local