My parents have always told me from a young age that my grandmother birthed me.
“She cut your umbilical cord, so she’s basically your second mother,” they’d say with a smirk. The relationship I had with my grandma was very different from my own mother. I felt that growing up my grandmother understood me more than my mom did. For the first four years of my life, I lived under my grandmother’s roof in upstate New York. My parents were only teens when they had me, and could not afford to live on their own. I began to call my grandmother “Mommy” and I don’t really know why. It just felt natural to me.
My grandfather would call me her left butt cheek because I was always attached to her hip. When my sister and I needed extra cash, she would beg me to ask my grandmother. When we needed money for clothes or our nails, I knew it was my job to make it happen. “You have to ask her – she never says no to you,” she’d whine.
My aunt Hanna would fight with me in a jealous rage when I was a little girl.
“She’s my mommy. She’s been mine for fifteen years.”
My aunt Hanna is my grandmother’s only daughter and she was the “princess” of the house until I came to take her throne. She would always tease me about calling my grandmother “mom” and throw fits when my grandmother would buy me what I needed. My mother would think my grandmother would spoil me too much and undermine the punishments she set by rewarding and comforting me instead. I never paid attention to their comments because at the end of the day my grandmother would spoil me with yet another Barbie doll and ice cream cone.
Personally, I think that my family was just jealous of our love and spiritual connection we’ve shared since the day I was born. To be honest, I can’t blame them. I am the first grandchild, so I meant everything to her. Her warm hugs were my safe haven. I didn’t even need to talk for her to understand my needs or emotions, which was helpful because I didn’t talk much as a child.
My mother and I would constantly fight over my lack of communication skills. She would even make me go to child therapy because our fighting got very toxic. I remember one instance when I needed something orange for show and tell. My mother picked out an orange microphone and I cried uncontrollably because it was not what I wanted. My mother screamed at me and grew very impatient. I simply could not find the words to explain what I didn’t like about it. My mother was also very strict with me because she wanted me to be successful and because she was a young parent and an immigrant, she knew the odds were stacked against me.
She put a tremendous amount of pressure on me at a young age and I was very disconnected from her. She put me in five dance classes. Once I got home, she taught me how to write in Spanish. She was very firm with me and never allowed me to throw fits or ever disrespect her. If I did, I would get into serious trouble. I am very grateful she did that because dancing is still a passion of mine and now I have skills that will help me at a workplace.
However, because she placed all these high expectations on me at a young age, I started to develop a lot of anxiety. My mother was very mean and hard on me, and I didn’t understand why. With my mother, I felt like I had to be straight and narrow. I had to be perfect and never make a mistake and if I did I would pay the consequences. With my grandmother, I was allowed to be imperfect. I was allowed to break, cry, and share my emotions with her without being reprimanded. I was allowed to express myself. I trusted her to know my deepest thoughts and emotions.
My Grandma always dried my tears and kissed my pain away, after making me the best cup of coffee. She is my second mother who resembled me in every way. She never judged me but called me crazy instead. She let out an open-minded chuckle when I told her my darkest secrets and impulsive decisions.
There was a time during my senior year of high school that I snuck out of my house to go to a party that my mom didn’t want me going to. I lied to my mom about sleeping over my friend’s house when I was really with my ex-boyfriend. I stumbled into my house drunk, and way past curfew. Whenever I would get into trouble, she would tell me, “You don’t always have to tell your mother the truth because we know she overreacts, but you must tell me everything.”
My mother would overreact when I “acted out.” I was simply being a normal teenager. I was not allowed to go out past ten o’clock. I wasn’t allowed to go to parties. I most definitely was not allowed to be alone with a boy. My grandmother knew all my lies and secret movements because she wanted me to be safe. She’d tell me she at least wanted to know where I was in case anything were to happen. We would giggle like girls over the different boys I liked and talk about my friends – something I felt uncomfortable doing with my own mother.
She was and still is someone I confide in and my best friend. She is the person who knows me best.
My grandmother is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her perfect fair skin and her soft facial features that I inherited make my heart melt. Her poise and soft voice is so enticing and attracted so many people to her. Her sense of style was phenomenal. “It’s not about how much money you have on your back it’s how you wear it,” she’d say.
I couldn’t even imagine her at 20 years old.
On her 60th surprise birthday party, my father made me speak, introducing me as her “youngest daughter”. I remember saying, “Mom, I love you more than anything. You are my second half and I don’t know what I would do without you.” That was the first time I realized that my grandmother was getting older. My mother feels some guilt in the fact that we were never that open with each other, however, she tells me to value the time I have left with my grandmother.
She’s not the same 40-year old that could pass as my mother when she picked me up at preschool. Her poised and hard working hands now have arthritis. Her beautiful fair skin has gracefully aged with wrinkles and bags under her bright eyes. However, she refuses to let her hair go grey and dresses her neck with diamonds that dance in the light. She still wears the latest fashions and struts through the ballroom in red bottoms and nude lipstick. She refuses to let age define her character. I hope I have enough time with her, so I can continue to see her this alive and thriving.
My grandmother has survived her mother, father, and her older sister. I don’t know how she makes pain look so effortless. She always tells me “everything in life has a solution, except death.” She somehow has found a temporary solution to keep going regardless of her hardships. She gets up to work every day, helps out with the little grandchildren and always answers my calls when I need her advice.
This really made me analyze that one day, my mother will get older and pass and I will have to mourn that pain. At twenty years old I realized that she was strict and mean to me because she loved me. She cleaned houses to afford my dancing tuition and stayed up tirelessly throughout the night to teach me a different language. Though she was not perfect, she loved me in the only way she knew how, with discipline and rules. When you are a child you see things differently. I didn’t see her perspective.
I remember fighting with her as a teenager and getting so frustrated that I told her that she did not love me. I thought her hands would be ready for the slap that I believed would follow. Instead, she broke down into tears. This was a vulnerability I had never seen.
“I am like this because I have to be strong for you. I don’t want you to be another statistic.”
I embraced her and that was when everything I knew to be true had changed. My mother is the stability and discipline I needed in my life. She taught me how to be a good student, how to take responsibility for my actions and most importantly how to be strong enough to follow my dreams and aspirations. She prepared me in a way no one else did. Though she lacked affection towards me, she was still doing double shifts and making sure I grasped my full potential. She didn’t want me to be a teen mother or a high school dropout. She is my order and I didn’t appreciate or see that until that day.
I think now that I am older, I have started to grow in my relationship with my mother. People used to tell me “you’ll hate your mother when you’re young but when you grow up she’ll be your best friend.” I would never believe them. However, now I can truly say my mother is my best friend.
My mother keeps my head straight. She is my moral compass, always reminding me that she raised a fighter. Life is already hard enough and it is such a cruel world but my mother has prepared me for war. My grandmother taught me peace. She reminds me that it is okay to be soft and cry and to feel different from everyone else. She has taught me to forgive my mistakes because I am human. Both my mother and grandmother have been a role model of what a woman is supposed to be.
We can be tough and vulnerable, calm and fierce. I am grateful for the lessons they have both taught me and will pass them on to my own children one day.