Musings From a Grandmother on a Train ~

And, finally, we’re ending our week-long celebration of Grandmother Power with this lovely guest post from traveling grandmother, Judy Romano ~

I’m on the Coast Starlight – training up to Seattle on a beautiful, sunny, May day.  This is a perfect time and place for reflection – enjoying the lush scenery, the lull of the train, my favorite music in my ears…

I’ve been a Grandmother for a little over 11 months now and it is totally awesome.  I’d heard about how grandmothering was much different than mothering – but I never really knew what that meant until I became a Grandma.

Grandma Time

Grandma Time

Yes, I was desperately in love with my son.  And yes, it was powerful, all consuming and unconditional.  And, I tried to be the perfect mother – feed him the right foods, provide all the best experiences… worrying  about everything while navigating new motherhood,  working part time and the break-up of my marriage….desperation.

Now, as Rose’s Grandma, I am head over heels in love with her, without the worries.   This is my time to accept my own imperfections and be good enough –  go for excellence over perfection. ..let go of striving and just BE her grandmother.  She doesn’t know that my voice has changed and I can no longer sing like I used to.  She seems to enjoy my somewhat hoarse singing and that feels very good to me.  She only experiences me, as me, without the shoulds.  How refreshing and life-affirming!

I’ve always believed in the power of women helping women.  But now that I am a grandmother, I’m even more determined to share my Grandmother power and energy to make this world a healthier and safer place for Rose and all the world’s grandchildren.  I raise funds with Dining for Women to support women’s education and empowerment around the world.  I support groups that are helping girls who are being sex-trafficked, right here in Portland.    I will continue to find ways to contribute that serve the world and myself – that’s my Grandmother power.

I have experienced several years of significant health challenges.  I have a new kidney, named Gracie, and I am committed to doing everything I can so we can live a very long and healthy life together.  Keeping myself healthy and vital are my highest priority – so I can contribute to my family and the world.   I find myself futurizing and thinking about how old I’ll be when Rose meets significant milestones in her life.  I want to be here for as many of them as possible – just Being her Grandma.

As “New Agey” as it may sound, the biggest gift I want to give to my granddaughter, my family and the world is finding peace within myself and sending this peace out into the world.

Judy ~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grandchildren are like Snowflakes ~

A guest post from fellow grandmother Margie Peters ~

Being Hazel and Teddy’s Grammy is one of my favorite identities.  And it came to me (I really had nothing to do with it past birthing their dad) just when I needed it to.

Our son had been married for several years and was in the “Mom, I Can Handle My Life Without Your Input” stage…which was accompanied by the “You Don’t Have to Hug Me Every Time You See Me” stage and the “How Did You Get This Far in Life Knowing As Little As You Do” stage.  I knew it was natural and normal for my adult son to pull away and establish his own life, but it left me with a whole lot of love and nowhere to put it.

And then Hazel was born!  All that hugging and loving I’d stored away suddenly flew out, unleashed like layers of flesh when I peel off my Spanx.

And what a love-bug she was (and still is, even at age 12).  I’d tote her around in my arms for hours, and she’d coo at me endlessly.  Diaper changes took half an hour as she lay on the table kicking with delight while we played peek-a-boo and I foobied her belly.  As a toddler, she’d drop everything and run to me with open arms — and she never stopped hugging first.

Grammy and Hazel

Grammy and Hazel

From her third birthday until she started second grade, we played endlessly, acting out the stories of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel.  She was always the star, I was always the witch. We’d laugh, sing and hug. And hug some more.

Then came Teddy.

Five years after Hazel’s birth, I was ready for another snuggle-bunny.

But this one didn’t love being held by Grammy. He wanted his diaper changes done like the pit-stops at the Indy 500 and flailed madly on the changing table yelling “no foobie”.

In all of his 7-plus years, he has never greeted me with a hug or even open arms and of course, that’s exactly what I wanted, and expected.  After all, I’m Grammy!

Now, truth be told, Teddy has never ignored me.  When I arrive for a visit, he always hides and expects me to go looking for him.  Once I discover his hideout, he asks me to play a board game or read with him or launch into another raucous game of balloon keep-away.

He loves to practice his swimming at our nearby beach, using me as his finish line.  He tells me my pasta with broccoli is his favorite, adores my Mickey Mouse pancakes and is always up for making homemade pizza with me.

But he doesn’t hug.  Or kiss.  When prodded by Mom and Dad, he’ll ram the top of his head into my hip and say, “See, I hugged her.”

This used to upset me a lot, until one day it came to me: like snowflakes, no two grandchildren are exactly alike.  Just because Hazel was a love-bug, that didn’t mean Teddy had to be one too. He just did not want to express his feelings in the traditional way I was expecting.  Something had to change, and as the adult, that something had to be me.  I had to stop expecting Teddy to be his sister.  I had to accept him where he was at and find a way to connect with my grandson.

Teddy - one cool dude!

Teddy – one cool dude!

I told him that while I would like a hug, bottom line, I just wanted to know he was happy to see me.  I asked him if there was some special “just our way” of communicating our happiness at seeing each other that would work for him.

We tried whistling, his lack of front teeth made that impossible at the time.  He rejected hand-gestures – too hard to remember.  And jazzy song riffs were too frilly.

Finally we hit upon the Ka-Kaw!  Yep!  A parrot call.

For the past couple of years, we’ve been two loony birds, squawking at greetings and partings.  Sometimes it is loud, sometimes soft, but we always Ka-Kaw. It’s our special thing.  Neither of us Ka-Kaw anyone else.

That said, I fully expect that in the not too distant future, Hazel will be less willing to snuggle with her Grammy and Teddy will tire of our squawk. And again, I will be the one who will be making the adjustments, setting aside my expectations, accepting them as being just who they are supposed to be, and finding new ways of honoring their individuality, respecting and connecting with them.

And I will love every minute of it.  After all, I’m their Grammy.

* * * * *

Margie Peters is a professional writer.   She wrote/produced many of your favorite TV shows in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  Margie’s Second Act began with a move back to her beloved beach house in Massachusetts where she taught creative writing, started a beading business, dove into local non-profit endeavors, became a grandma, and nourished her soul in a beach chair on the sand.   She put writing on the shelf, but lately she’s been hearing the call again.   I’m thrilled that Margie agreed to write this beautiful essay for grandmother power week.

Passion + Purpose = One Powerful Grandmother ~

          An international grandmothers movement is underway.               Grandmothers have never worked so universally and effectively for social, economic, and political justice.


I’m honored to have been invited to participate in a blogging campaign in support of Grandmother Power.  I am truly inspired by the women I know personally and those I read about or see in the media who are so passionately and so creatively and often so quietly taking actions big and small that are making our world a better place for our children and grandchildren.  This powerful movement is sweeping around the world and I want very much to be a part of it.  Count me in!

I thought it would be fun to post grandmother stories all week.  Stories by grandmothers, stories about the unique joy of being grandmothers, and stories of amazing and brilliant grandmothers who have not only inspired me and changed my life, but are using their grandmother power to light the way for so many others.

I say we start with amazing and brilliant ~

Paola in Kenya  Photo credit - Norma Adniambo

Paola in Kenya
Photo credit – Norma Adniambo

I don’t think there could be a better way to kick-off our week of celebrating the power of grandmothers everywhere, than to share some insights, experiences and words of wisdom from Paola Gianturcothe powerful grandmother and creative force behind Grandmother PowerPaola has opened our eyes and our hearts with her beautiful photographs and powerful stories of women making a difference all over the globe.   I’m excited to share Paola’s story, in her own words, of how she made the leap from exhausted executive to her brilliant and powerful Second Act as a photojournalist.  She is truly an inspiration to so many of us who are still trying to figure out what’s next.

Nancy:  Paola, women over 60 are a huge untapped resource in the world.  For many of us, some time after 50 is when we finally begin to find our true voice and start to feel those first twinges that maybe there’s something more we are here to do.  What words of wisdom and advice are you able to share as someone who felt that call and followed your heart?

Paola: After 35 years in marketing, advertising, public relations and corporate communications, I decided to teach too…and at the end of one year, I’d earned two years worth of money (bought myself a year), had one million frequent flier miles (could fly and stay virtually anywhere free), and I was exhausted!

At 55, I had been walking on Mount Tamalpais (Mill Valley, Calif.), asking myself “What next, what now?” without answers. I decided to take a year off and do only what I loved most (photography and travel in the developing world) and wanted to learn next (about women’s micro-businesses). My “one-year sabbatical” became my first book and a second career: documenting the lives of women all over the world.

Nancy:  What inspired you most on this journey?

Paola:  I was inspired by the strength and stories of women everywhere. At first, I worried that the women I interviewed would see me as so different from them that they wouldn’t tell me anything.  But in fact, people don’t travel to listen to the women I met (who were mostly rural, mostly poor, mostly ill educated) and they told me things I would never have asked. Like all of us, they wanted to be witnessed and wanted their voices to be heard.

Sharing a laugh with women in South Africa in 1996. Photo credit - Toby Tuttle

Sharing a laugh with women in South Africa in 1996.
Photo credit – Toby Tuttle

Nancy:  How has the path unfolded for you?

Paola:  Having worked in large corporations where I’d learned to set objectives, define strategies and tactics and “make it happen,” I was amazed how my life unfolded. Each step was one that I couldn’t possibly have planned. For example, the books developed out of each other. As I packed my cameras having interviewed embroiderers in the desert of Gujarat, one said, “Come back in the fall and we’ll teach you the dances we perform all night to honor the Mother God.” I did, and that experience turned into my next book, Celebrating Women.

Nancy:  What kind of support did you have and how did you reach out to create a new network?

Paola:  I  have a husband who had two million frequent flier miles of his own, which he gave me.  That made it possible to do more books. Lots of husbands wouldn’t have liked it that their wives travel alone for weeks at a time, but David cooks for himself and does his own laundry even when I’m home. When he got lonesome, he began working at a drugstore in the evenings (husbands have thought of worse things to do while their wives are away!) And he has always cheered me on. Because I was stepping into a whole new career, David was my “support-network” at the beginning.

Nancy:  You left the corporate world to step back from stress and exhaustion.  It looks like you have ramped up a very busy life again.   Are you able to keep a good work/life balance these days or are you happiest when you are going 120 mph?  I think that word “balance” is very different for each of us.  What does it mean to you?  What do you do just for fun?

Paola:  Busy is not necessarily the same as stressful. if you’re doing something you feel passionate about, you can go 120 mph without even noticing it! (People ask why I don’t have an assistant, but I can’t imagine giving away such fun.) I recognize that my life is not for everyone, and my idea of fun is unique.

I love traveling to places most people don’t go and sitting on the floor of huts listening to interesting people. It is creatively challenging to photograph them well; I am always learning and growing.  For each book, I may travel over three years, taking a number of 3-5 week working trips. I shoot in the early morning and late afternoon when the light is good, interview mid-day, and write after dinner. By now, I’ve worked in 55 countries.

Paola with Iranian Students in 2008 Photo Credit - Nancy Williams

Paola with Iranian Students in 2008
Photo Credit – Nancy Williams

Drafting each book takes a year and during that time, I am a hermit. I get up, go to the computer, get up and go to bed. My “break” is to watch the rainbows that spin from the prism in my office window every afternoon and I marvel at how lucky I am to get to do challenging, difficult, important work.

The last few months before a book is released are very demanding: working with the editor and designer, writing the website and working with the web designer, creating direct mail pieces, arranging book tour details, creating slide presentations, planning press with the PR people. In the midst of that crunch, I always vow that I will figure out a calmer way to handle those four months next time. But I haven’t yet.

Promoting the book is a different kind of fun. My books are all philanthropic projects so selling books means raising money for causes I care about: 100% of my author royalties from Grandmother Power go to African grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDs. My work has meaning and purpose.

For relaxation? I read. I watch movies with my husband. I play with my Grand Girls. Swim. Go to the gym (without which, at age 73, I’m convinced that none of the rest would be possible).

Nancy:  Did becoming a grandmother create a new lens through which you see the world?   How so?  Were your grandchildren the inspiration for your latest book?  What do you hope this book will achieve?

Grandmother Power -  Paola at home with her girls

Grandmother Power – Paola at home with her girls

Paola:  Because I am a grandmother, I wondered what grandmothers were doing other places. I discovered an unheralded, international activist grandmother movement, full of women who thought (as do I) that this troubled world is just not good enough for anybody’s grandchildren.

Grandmother Power, was inspired by African grandmothers who were raising children orphaned by AIDS. I met so many of them when I was working there in 2006 that I left convinced that grandmothers hold the future of the continent in their hands.

Grandmothers today are younger, better educated, healthier and (in the Global North) more career-experienced than they have ever been. As Boomers become Grands, they (who came of age in the 1960’s) know they can change the world because they did. In other words, the days of the “knitting, tatting, rocking-chair-ridden grandmother” are long gone.

But many grandmothers in the US are not yet part of the international activist grandmother’s movement, perhaps because they don’t know about it. And that’s a waste of a lot of urgently needed talent.

Nancy:  I want to be part of the Grandmother Power Movement and I am sure lots of women reading your story will as well.   How can we get involved?

Paola:  I hope Grandmother Power will inspire those who are not yet engaged to collaborate to make the world a better place. To start, join, support and network with grandmother groups. I’m convinced it will take all of us, Grandmothers and GrandOthers, working together, to create hope and possibility for our world.

Nancy:  In your book, Grandmother Power, you photographed and interviewed grandmother groups all over the world.  What is your process for locating your subjects, making contact, establishing rapport and getting to the heart of their story?

Paola:  I do preliminary research on as many as 70 different groups, then select 15 that, together, present a balanced variety of issues, ethnicities and geographies. (I make sure the groups are on the United Airlines routes so I can fly there free!)

I email the head of each group, describe my concept, and ask if the organization would like to participate. When I arrive, my interpreter and I meet with the group’s leader, and decide whom I will interview and when. My interpreters are almost always local women; their English may not be perfect, but bringing in a well-educated “city woman” as interpreter is a nonstarter; no one will talk.

I begin every interview by showing pictures of my family and showing my books so the woman will understand who I am and what she’s getting into. I never take pictures until after she has talked for at least an hour and I have a sense of who she is and what pictures might reveal her world. The interviews feel like conversations, although I explore areas I’ve defined carefully in advance. At the end, I always invite the woman to ask whatever she wants to ask me. Turn about is fair play!

Because it’s important to me to represent the women well, I send every chapter draft to the interpreter to read to each woman so she can correct any factual inaccuracies.

Nancy:  Do you develop lasting friendships with some of the women you interview or follow up on their lives after your time together?   I’m sure each meeting touched you in different ways.  Have you seen any direct impact of your stories on their lives?

Paola:  Yes, I stay in touch with many of the leaders of the groups that are featured in my books, and feel blessed by their friendship.

Paola with Yasmina in Panama in 1997 Photo Credit - TobyTuttle

Paola with Yasmina in Panama in 1997
Photo Credit – TobyTuttle

And yes, I have been astonished and awed, to see the direct impact of my books on women’s lives.  For example, I went back to India to work not long after a catastrophic earthquake and saw all the women in one village rebuilding their huts with funds wired by a reader of my first book. I was so touched that I wept.

Nancy:  What’s next?  Do you have more stories to tell through your photographs and books or do you have other visions to conquer and roads to explore?

Paola:  I always have a file of ideas of what to do next. I won’t open that file until January 2014. Until then, Grandmother Power is where the action is. For example, The Grand Rapids Public Museum in Michigan will present a Grandmother Power exhibit from September through December 2013.

Nancy:  And, I finally a much more lighthearted question – If you were a pair of shoes, what kind would you be and why?

Paola:  “Strappy black sandals, flats. I’m comfortable being casual and being fancy—and summer is my favorite time of the year.”

Thank you, Paola.  Your purpose and passion have inspired me once again.  My mind is buzzing with ideas!

 

Grandmother Power!

It seems like every day the media issues another dire warning about how we aging baby boomers are about to become a giant drain on the country.  Since I’m the leading edge of this soon-to-be-retired tsunami of grey-hairs, I usually feel a combination of fear, depression and anger with each new media blast.  We’re the children of the sixties for goodness sake.  Our generation of women fought for equality, marched for peace, changed the world.  We were the superwomen who burned our bras in public so that our daughters could have it all – careers, families, and a seat at the table.  We made a difference then.  What makes the media think that we aging boomers (women and men) won’t step up and do it again?  Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I don’t think we’re done yet – just because we’re about to become retired.   In fact, our 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s might be the perfect time to step up again and change the world in new ways.  We’ve always had the compassion and the passion, but now we have the knowledge, skill and a whole lot of experience to add to the mix.  Pretty simple, really.  But not always easy.  We need a cause.  We need a movement…

And so it was perfect timing when I received an email notification from photojournalist and grandmother_power_300dpi author, Paola Gianturco announcing the publication of her latest book – Grandmother Power, a Global Phenomenon – documenting a growing new international women’s movement.  In her book, Paola shares the stories 120 activist grandmothers in 17 grandmother groups from 15 countries on 5 continents who are fighting courageously and effectively – against poverty, disease, illiteracy, and human rights abuse – to create a better world for grandchildren everywhere.

From the Raging Grannies who dress in crazy hats and aprons and sing funny songs to attract media attention to key political issues, to the African grandmothers raising their grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, to the illiterate grandmothers in India who spent six months learning to be Barefoot Solar Engineers, bringing light to their dark villages, Paola gives a voice to the work and power of grandmothers all over the world.

Paola Gianturco is a brilliant and deeply committed woman who I had the very good GM_author_photo fortune to meet five years ago when she so generously came to Portland to speak at one of my Flourish Sunday Salons about her book Women Who Light The Dark.   Several years ago Paola left the corporate world to begin her second act as a photojournalist.  Through the lens of her camera, we meet women from all walks of life, accomplishing extraordinary things, in all parts of the world.  What a gift.  Paola has published five books and I’m sure she’s not done yet.

Reading a book like Grandmother Power give me a powerful shot of inspiration, motivation and hope.  Aging and retirement don’t have to be a slow march to the grave.  As an aging, soon-to-be-retiree, and a grandmother myself, I agree completely with Paola (also a grandmother) when she says ~ “Today’s grandmothers are younger than, better educated than, more professionally experienced than, and (despite the economic downturn) relatively better off than grandmothers have ever been.  My dream is that they will ask themselves how they can best use their experience, energy, wisdom and creativity – their power – to create a better future for grandchildren everywhere who deserve to live in a better world.”

Come on grandma.  What are we waiting for?  There’s work to be done!

If you are inspired to use your grandmother power but are not sure where to start, check out the Grandmother Power website.  It is filled with information on how to find a program that calls to you and get involved – join a group, start a group, learn more and get involved so you can make a difference.  Buy the book!  Burn your bra!  Join the movement!

All proceeds from Grandmother Power go to support Grandmothers to Grandmothers.

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