Lessons in Motherhood, Balance and Love from a 100-Year-Old Woman

Lessons in Motherhood, Balance and Love from a 100-Year-Old Woman

Today, I am in North Carolina with my immediate and extended family for something incredible. We are celebrating the 100th birthday of my grandma, Agnes. She is my Dad's mom and she raised two boys (my dad and his older brother) in a Chicago suburb. Her husband, Harlow, my grandfather, owned and operated a plastics display manufacturing business after he returned from serving his time during WWII. They moved to North Carolina from Illinois 40 years ago and set up residence in a charming, tiny town on the border of North and South Carolina. Harlow passed away 29 years ago, and my grandmother has been living independently ever since. 

On Monday, she turned 100, and she is as incredible as ever. She walks with just a cane (up hills, even!), reads The Wall Street Journal, can hold her own in a political conversation, and still weaves and bakes. To say she is an inspiration is an understatement. 

My grandmother first experienced motherhood as a solo parent. My grandpa, like so many men at the time, was away at war. He didn't meet his oldest son until he was nearly one year old. 

I had to sit and think about that for a minute. She was a new mother, and her husband wasn't able to meet his son for nearly a year. She was raising him as a single mother, with the weight of war on her shoulders, too. 

Reflecting on her birthday, I thought about my own attempts to find balance and establish myself as both a mother and an individual, and I wondered what it was like for her. So, I set out to learn a little more about what life was like when she was a young mother, trying to raise children. Did she seek balance? Did she have a "village"? 

What I got in return was a series of emails with incredible stories about her past. I relish each one of them, and what stood out to me most is that the environment in which kids were raised 70 or so years ago may have been different, but so many of the situations we face as parents remain the same. 

 My grandma, meeting two-month-old Jack.

My grandma, meeting two-month-old Jack.

Our "villages" are what we make of them. 

For her, the "village" was her local church, where she made important friendships, learned to weave, refinish furniture and support the community. My grandmother has always excelled in developing amazing friendships. I remember a conversation with her several years ago when she said that it was important to continue making new friends, as her old friends were passing away. I found it amazing that she continued to build new friendships, even in her 90s. It was evident that she was a well-loved friend, too. Her birthday celebration this week included a room full of great friends, and she received birthday phone calls from friends as far as London. 

As parents, we're never really sure if our decision is the right one. 

My grandparents made a local move when my uncle was in third grade, moving into a school district that was less than ideal. Among the stories my grandma told, she shared remorse for the move and a missed opportunity to choose another school. It felt like I was listening to one of my friends, discussing the same situation. It's fascinating that we always question ourselves as parents, regardless of age. 

Brilliant advice.

In our series of conversations, she shared this amazing advice: "The very most important thing you will ever do is being a parent your children need.  If you bring them into the world, it is crucial that they are your world."

Finding balance may be a key to living such a long, full life.

My grandmother was and is an avid weaver. She has established herself as an expert and her incredible work has been featured in local and national weaving publications.

"My first loom had been written up in Readers Digest. We sent to Woonsocket, RI for it and bought an old kitchen table to mount it." Over the years, she wove blankets, bookmarks, pillows, toy dogs, placemats, skirts, scarves, and countless other amazing works. She taught weaving for 26 years. But in her early days of motherhood, she had to find a balance too. "Neither of my three men were very engaged," she said. 

She was actively involved in other ways too: "I was engaged in the League of Women Voters and I took the winners of Aurora’s four high school essay contests to Springfield by train where our Senator (who had forgotten to put in his teeth that day) hosted us in their Dining Room. We attended a session and visited the Governor’s mansion."

 A recent photo of my grandma, age 99, featured in her local paper, along with her long-time friend and fellow 99-year-old, as they reflect on their time as "Grand Weavers" at the Tryon Arts and Crafts School. Photo: Tryon Daily Bulletin.

A recent photo of my grandma, age 99, featured in her local paper, along with her long-time friend and fellow 99-year-old, as they reflect on their time as "Grand Weavers" at the Tryon Arts and Crafts School. Photo: Tryon Daily Bulletin.

It was such an honor to be able to celebrate her this week. She continues to inspire and impress me. Happy Birthday, Grandma! 

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