My grandmother passed away a week ago yesterday. The photo above was taken exactly a week before she peacefully slipped away from us in her bed. I am sad that Henry, Jack, and Sophie won’t remember her, that their memories of her will be created by the pictures they see and the stories we tell. Right now, they still say things like, “Baba sick,” when they see her picture, and “See Baba?” or “Show Baba?” when they finish a drawing or a puzzle they think she might like. And I know as the year marches on, their real memories of her will fade, but there is one way in which Baba’s memory will always live on within these three great-grandchildren of hers.
The “pat” they give each other when one of them is feeling sad? That’s a Baba pat. When someone gets a boo-boo, they ask to “pat it.” When I tell them Daddy isn’t feeling well, they say, “I want to pat him.” When we went to visit Baba for the last time, Sophie gave her a pat. At first, we weren’t really sure where it came from. And to outsiders, it is an adorable, if somewhat awkward act. It’s made all the funnier by the fact that this “pat” they give is a bit rough in its delivery. It’s a pretty hard pat on the back, or arm, or leg, and while this is partly due to the fact that they are two and don’t yet have great regulation over those sorts of things, it’s also partly due to the fact that that’s the way they learned it.
My grandmother’s “pat” was always a bit rough. I remember saying to my mom or to Will in later years, “She pats so hard!” And I remember being an obnoxious adolescent and pulling away from that pat, claiming, “It hurts!” I hope Baba saw those moments for what they really were: a moody adolescent dodging her grandmother’s “pats” in an effort to avoid all outward signs of affection rather than a testament to my love for her. But I never did understand why the pats were so hard. It was always on the leg or the back or even the face, and it could mean any number of things: “Hello!” “Goodbye!” “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “How are you?” Anything.
And then, at some point during the first two years of motherhood, I understood the forcefulness of the pat. It took a while before I realized I was doing it. In fact, I think I had been doing it to Will for a few years already. And I didn’t really notice until the triplets starting patting each other, their animals, and the characters in books, that that’s what we do in our house. We pat. Sure, we hug, we kiss, we snuggle, and we rock, but we also pat.
The reason, I think, that the pat is so strong is because all the love you have for the person on the other end of the pat is contained in that one gesture. There are moments when I am completely overwhelmed by how much I love my children. Startled even, because I never knew anyone could love anyone that much. Sometimes in those moments I squeeze them tightly. And sometimes, I pat them. And it’s hard to contain all of that adoration in a gentle pat. It comes crashing out of my heart and into my hand, and what they get, the people on the other end of my affection, is one somewhat forceful pat. One that is filled, overflowing even, with pure, unadulterated, unending, overwhelming love.
So if that’s what Baba was feeling every time she gave one of her grandchildren or children or nieces and nephews a “pat” then it is no wonder she was loved by so many people. She was a mother figure to so many more than the four children she bore, and while I could write a thousand words on the things I learned from my grandmother, I think it all really boils down to this one lesson: If you love someone, let them know.
There is no shortage of affection in our household. Still, there are moments when we are tired and cranky and somebody throws their milk cup on the floor one too many times. And in those moments, I am rarely as patient or nurturing as my beloved Baba likely would have been. But while I work to channel her sense of humor and compassion, I know that within a few minutes, we will all be laughing, snuggling, and saying, “I love you,” whether or not the floor (or the kitchen, or the apartment) is a hot mess.
And I know that every time Henry, Jack, or Sophie thinks Mommy (or Daddy, or Clifford, or George) is sad, they will deliver that same, somewhat forceful pat that my Baba used to bestow upon me. Last Saturday morning, shortly after I melted into tears after the news of her passing, I felt three little hands whacking me on the arms and the back. I looked up to see Henry, Jack, and Sophie’s beautiful faces and to hear them say, “Feel better, Mommy.” They didn’t know it then, and they never experienced Baba’s “pats” for themselves, but they will learn soon enough that their “pat” is something they got from their great-grandmother, Baba. The woman who at 91 years old, got on the floor to play with them (and devolved into fits of laughter when we couldn’t get her back up). I so wish I had pictures of that moment. But I am so glad I have photographs from the last weekend we spent with Baba, exactly one week before she said her final goodbye.
Fun in Baba’s Backyard
Hanging Out with Baba
Last weekend was also a wonderful time to make new memories with our family and to anticipate all the love and fun we will share in the years to come. I am sad Baba won’t be there to see it all unfold, but I know she’ll be with us in spirit.
This weekend, I celebrated my third Mother’s Day with the loves of my life.
This is about forty photos less than what it actually took to get a decent shot including all four of us mostly looking at the camera.
I will never stop patting these kids. And I hope when they are thirteen and shrugging me off and saying things like, “Geez, Mom. You’re smacking me here! Lay off!” I’ll remind them that it was there Baba who taught me how to love that way, and they are lucky to be loved the way they are. I know I am.
I will miss my grandmother’s laugh, her perfectly coiffed hair, her Leon Levin shirts, her big clip-on earrings, her company at the lunch table, her pats. But I know that If I am loved even a fraction of the amount she was loved, and if I touch even a fraction of the people she clearly touched, I will have lived a life she would be proud of. And that is reason enough for me to keep trying.