Is that a movie star? Nope. It's a 1958 photo of the ever-stunning Ruth Leslie Bean, my grandma. It is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos my grandpa, John Bean, has taken of Grandma over their 71 years of marriage. He recently told my mom he takes so many photos of Grandma because she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. (I'm tearing up just repeating those words.)
My post last year about Grandma remains one of my most viewed. Since today is Mother's Day, and I've always thought of Grandma as "the ultimate mom," as a mother to six, grandmother to 16 and great-grandmother to 27, I thought today would be a meaningful time to share a few more of her thoughts on motherhood.
Four and a half years ago, when I was newly married and not yet a mom, I got the seedling of an idea to interview my grandmothers and mother about their expectations and perceptions of motherhood. I wasn't sure what I would do with the interviews—and I'm still not—and have only completed two of the three—it turns out babies make it difficult to conduct interviews, but I'll be calling soon, Grandma Connors! At some point I will finish that last interview and pull them together into something cohesive.
In the meantime, let's rewind four and a half years to when Grandma Bean was a mere 87 years old. Here are a few notes from her interview.
I worried I had missed the chance to talk to Grandma about motherhood. Over the last few years, her short-term memory had deteriorated, and signs were emerging that she was beginning to struggle with her long-term memory, too. I pulled Mom aside and asked whether she thought Grandma could still speak to her expectations of motherhood and what it means to be a mother. Mom said she thought the topic was so close to Grandma's heart that she would still be able to talk about it.
The mercury was hovering in the mid-teens with a wind chill well below zero as Mom and I drove to Grandma and Grandpa's apartment. Gusting snow blanketed the rush hour traffic—a typical Minnesota evening. Grandma was wearing her Coach sneakers. We sat on the sofas they've had as long as I can remember, which were recently recovered in a powder blue floral pattern.
Grandpa sat with us and chimed in when he could. Mom helped spur Grandma to talk about things she knew were important to her.
Grandma did speak fluently. In fact, for the first time in several years, I felt like my old Grandma was back. Something inside her came alive as she spoke of her children and the values she hoped she instilled in them. To be good. To make the world a bit better. To love one another.
I expect it will become more and more difficult to draw that part of her out, but what a gift today was for me. What a gift to see her glow when she spoke of the dearest subject of her life: motherhood.
Here are a few of my favorite short excerpts from the interview.
JCS: What were your expectations going into motherhood?
RLB: I guess I was overwhelmed with love for my children. My expectation was that, of course, we would always love our children and that we hoped they would forgive us for our mistakes as we were raising them. But I just expected that everything was going to go perfectly, and it did. [Laugh]
JCS: What do you owe your children?
RLB: Love. Unconditional love. That’s the first thing. You owe them a sense of stability. I think you owe them an example. You are there example. And, therefore, you have an obligation to be a decent person.
JCS: How much of your energy do you owe your children?
RLB: It’s a complicated question.
JBB (Grandpa): Well, you gave them all your energy. That’s why you’re so tired now!
RLB: I gave them all my energy! Well, I think when they’re little you owe all your energy to them.
JCS: Is there anything else you want to add about being a mom? How important has it been in your life?
RLB: [Laugh] How important has it been? It’s been my life.
Who could put it better? Happy Mother's Day to you and yours!
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.
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