Like it happened yesterday, I can remember belly laughing over hour-long games of Dominoes, always diligent as my fiesty grandma would cheat in a second and never let me win just because I was a kid. She'd dominate in memory, checkers, skip-bo, you name it. I stood no chance.
Something of a card shark in the senior circle, she had a way of memorizing nearly every card already played in any game we'd try. For the life of me I don't know how she did it. She was admittedly senile but she could remember cards as if her life dependent on it. She was also a hustler. 'Grandma Rules' we'd laugh as she'd make something up and swear we'd always played it that way.
As a Midwestern girl raised in a strong matriarchal family, my grandma and my aunt (her daughter and my dad's oldest sister) we're two of my best friends. They cheered me on in school sports, drama, and those horrendous choir concerts.
My grandma would be the first person to tell me the whole truth whether I'd asked for it or not, "Brynn, you did okay but that little mousey girl beside you, what is wrong with her hair!? Whose mother would let them leave the house like that!?" And we'd all crack up because that was just her way. "Be kind, grandma," I'd smile.
My aunt didn't just cheer me on but wore obnoxious sized buttons with pictures of me and all of my other cousins to each event like she was our manager. She'd cheer just as loud if I'd hit a home run as if I never made it off the bench.
They don't make best friends like that when you are seven.
And in middle school, when I was dying to have my first pair of Nike's and my parents had the good sense to tell me no because they were at least $50 a pair, grandma marched out and bought them anyway, "Because I am her grandma and I can give her whatever I want, " she reasoned. Seriously, she may have single-handedly saved my middle school awkward years because I only had horribly teased bangs and a fake pair of maroon Guess jeans to fall back on.
In high school, my aunt was my confidant, my shoulder to cry on, and the one person in the world (because no one believes their parents were actual human teenagers at that age) who believed in me and told me every chance she got.
Y'all, these two women were the foundation for womanhood for me.
Now, they are both gone and I am left to navigate motherhood, floundering around, feeling with my hands like a blindfolded homeless woman in some not appropriate for TV episode of BirdBox.
Here is where it gets good.
When you go from hand rolling homemade noodles with your grandma, remembering the feeling of dusty flour on your six year old hands, to being the mom who is taking her seven year old son to his Papaw's as he is anxiously awaiting what he has planned for them-- that is full circle, friends.
My husband and I recently took our first four day trip away from our kids and our son stayed with my parents. Back when I was the kid spending the night at my grandma's, my parents seemed super lame and I was glad to get away, especially if I got to leave my little brother behind too.
Now, my dad is the cool one! When did that happen!?
From fishing lessons to endless games of Uno, our boy calls his Papaw his best buddy and that one-on-one time is completely priceless.
Friends, this goes so far beyond making family memories for me. As his daughter, I've always looked up to my dad, tried to make him proud, and known that we've had the unbreakable bond of sarcasm. But for my boy, this is everything.
When you are raising an extreme child, whether they have autism, ADHD, or some other diagnosis that makes social interaction and peer communication a challenge, having your kid find their friendship soulmate is the best feeling in the world.
My sensory sensitive kiddo sat through a movie in the actual theatre with my dad. They saw Bumblebee and ate overpriced popcorn and made memories that my boy doesn't get an opportunity to make often because of the lights and sounds in a theatre.
Mamas, make memories with your kiddos, give them chances to make friends with others their age, but don't freak out if they have a hard time. Some of my most favorite snapshots in time were made beside my aunt and my grandma and I have no doubt it will be the same for my son and his Papaw.
We are raising generations of kids who don't know the beauty of staying outside until the street lights come on or playing in handmade stick and twig forts with their cousins every summer.
If you have grandparents who want to be involved with your kiddos, encourage it (barring toxic relationships, of course). These can be the source of where their greatest sense of self, stories filled with wisdom, and life lessons with the ability to take risks will come from.
Grandparents aren't as likely to say 'no' to making a mess or taking an adventure that might seem risky because their generation wasn't afraid of this style of play. When I might be apt to caution my climbing loving boy, my dad just cheers him on, "Higher! You can do it!"
While our parental cautions have their place, so do the cheers from their biggest fans and best friends.
If you have grandchildren, neice's or nephews, or a child from your community's Big Brother/Big Sister program, those little lives are full of opportunity. Don't waste your chance to impact them for the good. Be their cheerleader, their confidant, and their best friend. They don't need fancy trips or expensive gifts. They need ice cream dates and reminders that everyone gets picked last at some point in their lives.
These relationships are the foundations of friendship all kids and adults should have the opportunity to experience.
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