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Posts tagged: grandmother

Life: Taking Baby Steps

   My granddaughter is suddenly a toddler. Over the last few months we’ve watched her crawl then, almost overnight, put one foot in front of another learning first to walk and then run. Her mother, my daughter, is trained to work with patients with mobility issues and she told me that learning to walk is really just overcoming a constant feeling that you’re about to fall. I watched my own four children learn to walk and I’d never really thought about it that way, but when you do, learning to walk becomes a very brave thing to do. The easiest and safest thing would be to simply sit down and stay where we are, but nature takes care of that and we come into the world with the drive to get up and move forward.


    My granddaughter is in constant motion these days, moving from one corner of the house to another, no longer unsteady and unsure. But those first stumbling steps have stayed on my mind. I noticed that while she was learning to walk, she never once looked down at her feet. She pushed herself up, put her eyes on the place or person she wanted to get to, and launched herself in that direction. She wasn’t thinking about what might get in her way—that was our job—she just had to move.


    Of course, as adults, we’ve learned to watch where we put our feet. We know that one wrong step could send us tumbling. When we set a target and move toward it, we do so consciously and carefully. You get smarter as you get older, right?


    The sad thing is that by growing up and growing older, most of us inevitably lose our inner toddler, the inquisitive, driven, risk taker we were born to be. We watch our steps so carefully, so determined not to fall or to fail, we risk never letting go and getting anywhere. We plant ourselves so firmly and deeply we take root. And one day some of us discover we’re stuck.


    I’ve heard the phrase “baby steps” countless times, but until I watched this baby learn to walk, I’m not sure I ever really understood its meaning. Baby steps aren’t small steps, they’re big leaps of faith and curiosity. They are the means to getting where you want to be, in spite of the risks. This is another of the benefits of being the grandmother, I think. Now, I have time to watch the process with just enough distance and none of the fatigue, exhaustion and worry of being the parent.


    Years ago, I threw myself headlong into into mothering. It was the most frighteningly wonderful thing I have ever done or will ever do. And the reward? Four unique adults who made their way confidently out of my nest just as this little one stepped in.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: An American Grandmother in Paris

    Walking down a street in Paris, I had to step aside to let the woman pushing an infant in a pram pass on the narrow sidewalk.
    My first glance was for the baby, small, bundled in blankets against the cold, damp, winter weather. Then I looked up at the woman. She was about my age, dressed for a stroll, yet still effortlessly elegant in that Parisian way. As we waited at the corner for the light to change, our eyes met and we returned one another’s smile. Our eyes met again.
    I smiled down at the baby, tapped my chest and said “Grand-maman.”
    “Oui,” she replied, nodding back at me and smiling. “Grand-maman.”
    I don’t speak French and I have no idea if she speaks English. But some things are universal.

    In the year since my first grandchild was born, as I’ve traveled I’ve become aware of a new kind of landscape. Grandmothers. I see them in parks, on busy sidewalks, on busses and trains. Sometimes they are with sons or daughters, an extra pair of hands or simply along for the ride. Often, like the woman in Paris, they are alone. Taking care of children while mother and father work. Exactly what I do when I am not away from home.

    My phone is loaded with images of beautiful destinations. On it is a visual record of the places I’ve been for work and for the pure pleasure of traveling. I also have photos of my children and the whole family together. But the images I go to so often, when I’m on a plane or in a quiet hotel room in some beautiful city thousands of miles from home, are those of a little girl smiling up at the camera or sleeping in my arms. My grandchild.
    My favorite is a copy of the first photo made of us together. She is only hours old and I have just walked into the hospital room my son-in-law has just gently given her to me. I am wrapped around her, cradling her, focused only on the tiny person in my arms.
    Now, each time I look at that photograph, I see myself, in the instant the photo was taken, falling hopelessly in love.

    The light changed and the woman, leaving me with one more smile, crossed the street and walked briskly away, turning down another street.

    There was a time, when my children were still small, in my arms, on my hip or walking beside me, that I exchanged glances and smiles and unspoken empathy with other mothers. Women who, like me, were navigating sleepless nights, nursing, tantrums and all the countless little milestones of mothering. Now, I am in a new club. I look into the eyes of women all over the world and acknowledge the deep happiness of being the Grand-maman.


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington whose essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Still and present in the moment

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap) 

The one thing I didn’t have was time. I had more to do than there would be productive hours in the day to allow. I had a thousand words to put onto paper, a house that needed tending to, emails to answer, errands to run and, on this particular week, an infant to care for. The baby is my grandchild. My first. And she has been spending several hours with me each day.


    It’s been a while since I was the sole entertainment of a four-month-old baby. I did it for years but my four babies are all grown now. I’d forgotten what tyrants the little creatures are, how they demand your full attention with no concern for your to-do lists and deadlines. But then I’d forgotten how beguiling the little creatures are, how they make you babble and kiss and coo, delighting you with a smile, bewitching you with the feel of velvety skin and hair, hypnotizing you with the way their fingers curl and wave, like ribbons in water, before wrapping around your hand as you hold them close and offer a bottle of mother’s milk.


    This day, this busy day, I woke up overwhelmed. I opened my eyes thinking about deadlines and emails and story ideas. But, of course, baby had other ideas. She would be held. She would be fed. She would be entertained. She would be comforted, cradled and soothed.


    By mid-day, the sun came out and called us outdoors. Why not? I wasn’t getting anything else done anyay.
We sat quietly on my patio, I still fidgeted a little, worrying over words and sentences, but perched on my knee, my hands wrapped around her the solid warmth of her, she sat as alert and watchful as a doe. Nothing escaped her. She lifted her head to track the progress of a plane across the sky, then turned to follow a swallow’s sweeping dive over the Lilacs. When the wind ruffled the roses climbing along the fence she kicked her legs and batted her hands. When the dogs chased one another across the lawn she laughed a short and unexpected chuckle. She startled and blinked when a Dragonfly landed on the Wisteria vine beside us.


    Watching her take in the world, instinctively still and present in the moment, I rubbed my cheek against her ear and, finally, finally, recognized the gift I’d been given.
       
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Spokesman-Review Home Planet and Treasure Hunting columns and blogs and her CAMera: Travel and Photo blog, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

We are so much more than ordinary

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

 


   Holding my newborn granddaughter, gazing down at her as she sleeps, I study her closely, mapping her with my hands and my eyes just as I did with her mother, my firstborn child. Just as I did with each of my children.

   Cradling her in my left arm, instinctively holding her close, pressed against my heart, I trace the curves and folds of her ear with my fingertip. It is as tiny and perfect as a seashell. With my hand I follow the already discernible swirl of her down-like hair as it wreaths her head. I take her  hand in mine, marveling at the strength of her grip, aware that each tiny finger is already marked with her unique signature. I rest one soft, wrinkled foot in my palm, imagining the steps it will take as she walks into the future. I fold into her, putting my face against her skin and breathing in the heady perfume of a sleeping newborn. I am lost in this child. Just as I was with her mother. Just as I was with each of my children.

   Most of us would, if asked, describe ourselves as ordinary. But the truth is, if we stop to think about it, there is no such thing as an ordinary human being. Even beyond temperament and personality, each of us comes into this world extraordinary in countless physical characteristics; in the flecks of color in our eyes and the way our brow furrows or our smile curves, in the imprint of each foot as we stride. Sculpted around a ladder of bones, draped in soft skin, we are unique and individual. Unlike any other living creature.  We arrive complete, an exquisite product of the complex and mysterious cellular shuffle that takes place at conception.

   But somewhere along the road, most of us forget this. We lose sight of the fact as we swirl in the crowd of humanity—a snowflake in the blizzard—that each of us is one-of-a-kind and like no other. Oh, we all secretly know it about the children we’ve created. We marvel at them even as they grow up. But we forget we are also wonderful.

   Perhaps this is why new babies capture and claim us. It goes beyond love. Beyond pride and a sense of fulfillment. When we reach out and take a newborn, when we bring a child close and look down on the miracle, we are reminded that each of us comes into this world, and leaves it, as a rare and beautiful thing.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. In addition to her Home Planet , Treasure Hunting and  CAMera: Travel and Photo blogs, her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

To See the World Through a Child’s Eyes

(Photo by Jenna Millsap)

 

 

   My first grandchild arrived late last Sunday afternoon. As I sat by the phone, waiting for the call that she was here, safe and sound, I thought about what life will be like with this new little girl in our lives. I recalled late-night feedings, first words, bicycles with training wheels and first days of school, thinking it wasn't that long ago that I was experiencing all those things with my own firstborn. And now she's a mother.

   Looking ahead, looking for one special thing I can be to her, I imagined the places I can take this new granddaughter of mine, the parts of the world I'd like to show her.

   There is nothing like traveling with a child to open your eyes and ears. Our youngest daughter has traveled with me quite a bit and always, upon our return, I am startled by the things she teaches me. As only the young can, she notices things that escape me.

   Three years ago we sat in a garden in China, resting from the breakneck pace of the trip, and she pulled out the camera and set it to video. I asked what she was recording, looking around to see what had gotten her attention.

   “Nothing,” she said. “Just the sound of the birds.”

   I'd been so focused on my aching back and taking in the details of the exotic design of the garden and temple we'd been exploring, I hadn't even noticed the air was full of birdsong. Every treetop trembled with birds calling out and trilling to one another and we sat silently, listening, capturing that moment forever.

   The new baby is home now and everyone is adjusting to their new roles. I'm adjusting to being an advisor, not the CEO, and my daughter is learning to trust her own wisdom. But I look at those tiny feet and I am filled with secret plans to take them to the most wonderful places. To see the world anew through the eyes of this beautiful child.

Read more here.

 


Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance writer based in Spokane, Washington. She blogs about travel and photography at CAMera and antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

There Are None So Blind

This is a repost of one of my favorite columns. I recorded it for Spokane Public Radio several years ago and it is available on Public Radio Exchange. This year, the audio essay was broadcast by Delta College Public Radio in Michigan.

 


November 22, 2004

Giving her thanks for a gift of insight
Cheryl–Anne Millsap
Correspondent




   When I was a girl, an old blind woman lived in the faded white house with peeling clapboards and a shaded, vine–covered porch, next door to me. Mrs. Miller was small and wiry, and very old. Her thin white hair was always pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck.
   

   She lived with a little Chihuahua named Rocky – a strange and exotic pet at the time. The dog was ancient, barely able to walk on his thin matchstick legs and he, too, was almost blind.

   Sometimes, Mrs. Miller’s son, John, lived with them. John was a loud and angry man who worked nights – when he worked – and either slept or watched game shows on the television all day. John drank. And when he was drunk, he wasn’t very nice to his mother.

   I was afraid of that house and everyone in it. To me, the old woman was a person of shadows, living a dark and shuttered life. John, whose angry voice I could hear through the closed windows, frightened me and I was wary of the odd little dog.

   Occasionally, when John wasn’t home, my grandmother would send me over with a baked sweet potato, a couple of ripe tomatoes or a slice of homemade pie. I would knock on the back door and listen to her shuffling through rooms, calling out to me in a thin, rough, voice. Rocky would totter across the linoleum floor, coughing out a dry, raspy, bark.

   As quickly as I could, I would leave the food on the kitchen table – the sticky oilcloth–covered surface crowded with salt and peppershakers, paper napkins and bottles of hot sauce and pickled peppers – and run back out into the sunlight.

   One Thanksgiving Day, my grandmother asked me to take a meal next door. I drooped, but I knew better than to argue.

   I carried the plate, piled with turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans and ruby–red spiced apple rings across my back yard. I walked up the bank and past the little grove of plum trees to her back door, and knocked.

   “Mrs. Miller,” I called. “I brought you some Thanksgiving dinner.”

   I listened to her slow, painful, progress through the cluttered rooms. I imagined her reaching out for familiar doorways, feeling the edges of the furniture with bent and arthritic fingers. When she finally opened the back door, I thrust the plate at her, anxious to deliver it and leave.

   But she didn’t take it. Instead, she put her face down to the steaming plate of food and inhaled deeply, breathing in the warm fragrance.

   “Oh, Lord,” the old woman said. “That’s good.”

  And she didn’t move. She just stood there, lost in thought. Finally, as soon as she stepped aside, I set the plate down on the table and ran home.

   Just today, when I thought about what we will have for our Thanksgiving dinner, and my mind remembered, and replayed for me the taste of roast turkey and cornbread dressing, I recalled that day so long ago.

   Thinking about it now, I understand that at that moment the old woman and I traded places.

   I was blind to everything but my desire to run away, but for an instant Mrs. Miller could see. Through clouded eyes, she looked back at other Thanksgivings, long gone. Happy days before she was old and blind, and trapped in a dark house with an angry son.

   In the years since that November day, when the trace of a scent or the sound of a voice leaves me gazing at ghosts, I’ve learned that time gives back as much as it takes away.

   And for that, like the old woman, I’m grateful.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

October: The Power of Pink, The Power of Community

Each October I honor my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, by re-posting this 2006 column.  She was, and will always be, an inspiration and a guiding force in my life. CAM

 

 

The Home Planet: Community potent weapon against breast cancer

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
Staff writer
Oct 30., 2006

 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I’m sure you’ve noticed – next to the orange and black Halloween and harvest decorations – the pink ribbons, pink tools, pink kitchen gadgets, all being sold guaranteeing part of the profit will go to work for a cure for breast cancer.

Thanks to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, pink is the other color of October.

Now pink is the signature color of breast cancer awareness, the color of breast cancer research and, for some, the color of hope and success.

Pink is also the color of community. And that might just be one of the most powerful weapon in the arsenal against breast cancer

When I was a small child I went with my younger sister and infant brother to live with my grandparents. Our young mother was simply unable to care for us.

Two years later, in 1963, my grandmother – a woman who had just turned 50 – found a lump in her breast. After her surgery, the surgeon walked into the waiting room, put his hand on my grandfather’s shoulder and gave him the bad news. It was cancer. And it was very serious. She might not make it.

Both of my grandmother’s breasts were removed and she started her treatment. I don’t really know what was done to fight her cancer, beyond the surgery and radiation treatments, but I know she lost her hair.

During this time my brother, sister and I were aware that our grandmother was ill; I have a vague memory of her being in the hospital, of my grandfather brushing my hair, something my grandmother usually did. I remember the strangeness of finding him in the kitchen cooking hot cereal. I remember her wearing a wig.

We knew she was sick but the seriousness of her illness was never mentioned. You just didn’t talk about that kind of thing. Especially with children.

As soon as she was well enough, my grandfather went back to work and so did she. She went back to keeping house, to cooking all of our meals and caring for three young children. Back to raising a second family.

Although, when we got older, we were told that my grandmother had had breast cancer, the full impact of what she had been through didn’t hit me until much later. Until the pink campaign.

In 1990, at the first Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., pink ribbons were worn to signify status as a breast cancer survivor. The little badge took off and became a universal symbol. The simple pink ribbons worn that day have evolved into a potent marketing tool.

Now October has gone pink. I’ll admit that when I see pink kitchen mixers, pink umbrellas and pink vacuum cleaners, each promising to donate a portion of the profits from each sale to breast cancer research, I am vaguely irritated by all the hype. Enough already, I think. I get it.

But then I think about the monumental effort behind the campaign, and the work that has been done because of it, and I think about the world my grandmother lived in and changes that have come about. There’s a lot of power in that pink.

Just 40 years ago, we didn’t talk about cancer. You especially didn’t talk about breast cancer. Women like my grandmother had no choice but to soldier on taking care of homes and families, keeping what they endured to themselves, without the benefit of therapy or counseling. There were no support groups.

My grandmother was a relatively young woman to be raising grandchildren. She didn’t have a large circle of friends. She didn’t go to clubs or meetings. She didn’t meet other mothers for lunch downtown. She didn’t even drive. She was a true stay-at-home caregiver.

She battled cancer and the permanent effects of that battle, with only my grandfather to hold her hand. And she beat the odds. Despite a poor prognosis, she lived 20 years after her surgery before the disease reappeared. But what she didn’t have access to when she was so sick, and what I have to think would have been good medicine, was the support that only other fighters and survivors can offer.

She had sympathy but no empathy. She had no one to go to and complain, or cry, or shake her fist and scream about the pain and unfairness of what had happened to her.

That is a tool that, if today I was to find myself in her place, I would reach for immediately.

The scars after my grandmother’s surgery were disfiguring. But as I get older I wonder about the scars that were hidden. The scars no one ever saw.

There were no stitches or soothing salves for those wounds. She was left to care for them on her own.

The advances in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer; the advances in the search for a cause and a cure since my grandmother’s illness in 1963, have been huge.

Now, there are television commercials and magazine ads urging women to get mammograms and to make a pledge to remind one another to do regular breast self-exams.

Now, if a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer there is a community for her.

The disease is no longer shuttered and closeted. When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer she doesn’t just have the benefit of science and medicine behind her. She has the benefit of a corporate identity; a network of support groups, literature, advocacy and caring. That community is a big advance.

October only lasts 31 days, but the power of pink can last a lifetime.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap writes for The Spokesman-Review and is a contributing editor at Spokane Metro Magazine. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

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Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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