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 The other night I was cooking in the kitchen while Maddie crawled happily around on the floor. My mom came in the front door and Madeleine’s ears perked up like a puppy’s at the sound of her Gamma’s voice. As Mom removed her coat and shoes outside of Maddie’s line of sight, my daughter began talking urgently to her and walking her way to the clear safety gate across the kitchen door. “Gamma! I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!” she seemed to chirp like a homing beacon, afraid Gamma wouldn’t find her. When Gamma came into view, Madeleine began prancing impatiently, arms stretched up, shrieking ecstatically when Mom picked her up.

My mom and Maddie are in the midst of a full-blown love affair and I couldn’t be happier. I’m well aware of how lucky I am to have family who is 1) so close by, and 2) so willing to help out. Madeleine’s over ten months old and we’ve never left her with a stranger; nor have we had to pay someone to watch her. And it’s largely thanks to my mom.

Believe me, I’m extraordinarily aware of how lucky we are.

easter2006_017.jpgMy mom’s over a couple times a week to play and hang out. She also helps with baby patrol on weekends while Brian and I get chores done and errands run. She’s another set of hands while dinner’s being cooked and served, another familiar face that knows how to read Maddie’s moods: she knows when Maddie’s ready to be put down for a nap and when she simply wants to cuddle, when she wants some space to crawl around and when she wants to be chased. I look at the three adults – me, Mom, and Brain - moving comfortably around the house together and think, “This is right.”

Every generation believes they have the absolute best way to raise kids. We set out determined not to repeat our parents’ mistakes, to do things our own way. We read lots of books, or refuse to read any if that’s how things were done growing up. We micro-manage our kids’ time or go completely hands-off, depending on our own experiences. And sometimes we make such an effort to distance ourselves from our parents, to establish our own identities as child-raisers, that we step too far away from our roots, from our built-in support system.

Mom makes an effort to be an active part of Maddie’s life and it’s completely her choice. She’s told me she deliberately wants to be available to us as help when needed; her mom was extremely reluctant to help out and would never offer, though we lived with them through my babyhood. I picture my mom, 21 years old with an infant and a toddler, having to beg her mother to watch us while she went to teach class. And we lived in the same house.

I think my generation is benefiting from our parents learning the hard way how difficult it is to raise kids independently. My parents’ generation – the boomers - is full of people who had babies at young ages, rebelling against their parents and setting off on their own. My generation is by and large waiting longer to have babies; we’ve got successful careers established, we’re financially more sound, our marriages have been established longer, and so forth. But the bonus that comes with that is the bevy of newly-retired baby boomers-cum-grandparents, with more free time than their parents had and more sympathy and willingness than their parents exhibited.

An article in the New York Times a year or so ago covered a strange trend; people in their forties and fifties, with kids in their early twenties, were buying bigger houses. These boomers were realizing how hard it can be to get a good start in life and were making sure their college grads could live at home until they had their feet under them. Giving these twenty-somethings a no-nag place to live for a couple years was something completely unheard of in earlier generations and, I think, an acknowledgement of how hard the parents had it themselves.

We live in a two-family house and my fondest dream is to have my mom living in the apartment above us. All jokes about babysitting aside, my mom provides a depth of family for Maddie to grow up around. She tells stories about me that Maddie wouldn’t hear otherwise, a new frame of reference for Maddie to view her mother through. She talks about her own dad and her grandfather, people Madeleine will never meet. She passes on family traditions that I can barely remember.

Look - Maddie has no doubt who her mother is. And as much as mom helps out and steps up, she is very respectful of our opinions on how to raise a baby, which is crucial to the success of this thing. She listens to our views on discipline and feeding and emulates them whether she agrees with them or not. She’s learning sign language so she can reinforce it around Maddie. To use a sports analogy (my husband would be so proud), I want to field a team with as much depth as possible. But there’s only one coach and Maddie knows who calls the shots. I trust my mom, though, to be able to call an audible if necessary in the middle of a play. I’m happy to have that option and be able to have that trust in her. And I know my mom does it for me as much as she does it for Madeleine; she’s taking care of her little girl by helping take care of mine.

As I write this, too, I’m aware of the waves of green envy wafting up from Texas as the rest of Madeleine’s grandparents wish they were in my mom’s shoes. Brian’s folks regularly have their ten other grandchildren in their house; his mom watches our niece and nephew twice weekly. My dad and his wife would be just as involved in Maddie’s life if it weren’t for the little matter of those three thousand miles between us. We are blessed by family eager to be a part of our life and help out however they can.

I always thought it would be great to live near family, but not too near. Now that I’ve had a glimpse of what it can be like, though, I’m an even bigger fan of close living. If boundaries are set up and respected on all sides, if everyone is gracious and supportive, multi-generational family life can be richer than you’d ever thought. When the whole village wants the same thing – a happy, healthy child – then the village is happy to help raise it, and the work is light because the hands are many.

And this is the last thing I’ll say – this is just as good for Madeleine as it is for my mom and me. How can she move forward until she knows where she comes from?


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