The following are stories from our team on growing up with their grandparents in honor of Grandparents Day (10th Rabī al-Awwal)
School Drop Off – Sr. Sakeena
Dadabbu is running late, again. I’ve already dawned my jumper dress and leggings, downed my breakfast cereal, packed my lunch bag, and gotten my backpack ready. Ammi has brushed my hair into its daily braid. All that’s left is to get in the car and leave. But Dadabbu is running late. Again.
The anxiety begins to bubble into my stomach. I shift from one foot to the other, in an agitated shuffle. When is he going to be ready? Finally, like a steamroller, he comes rushing up the stairs, his back slightly hunched, lips pursed with purpose, cap in hand. He is, of course, dressed in a white button down dress shirt and ironed gray trousers. On any other man, I would call them pants, but on Dadabbu they look like they should definitely be called trousers. I wish I could shout an impatient reproach, but at nine years old, that is a line of respect I am unwilling to cross. Dadabbu slips his feet into his shoes and finally we are ready to leave. “Chalo,” he says.
All the car ride to school, I sit plastered as far away from Dadabbu as I possibly can riding shotgun. I am the only child who Dadabbu takes to school. My four siblings all go with my mother. And I hate it. Ammi has to drive to three other schools, so Dadabbu has taken on the task of getting me to school every morning of 5th grade. I envy my siblings the extra time they get with our mother on those mornings, and don’t like being singled out like this. Plus, I absolutely hate running late. So I sit squished against the door of the car, resenting, ungrateful.
Jump ahead nine years, and I’m in a social science class at Berkeley. Someone has called me during class, so I call back as soon as it’s over. I get the news, and I crumple. Dadabbu has been taken to the hospital while on his visit in England, and it’s not good. The days to follow are to be some of the most agonizing and sorrowful of my life. I pray Duʿāʾ Mashlūl for the first time. He dies anyway. The funeral offers me some sense of relief and closure.
Over the years, I have ruminated over my grandfather to no end. I have gone back over every childhood memory with him in it, chided my childish self, and filled my heart retroactively with the gratitude and love and awe for him that he deserved then. He used to love preparing fruit for everyone. Strawberries, he would slice and then sprinkle with sugar. Pomegranate, he would patiently roll every kernel out from its snug abode, a plate of shining rubies for everyone to savor. Persimmon, he would wait until they would melt with a poke, and then peel them and offer a spoon to anyone in the vicinity. Oranges, too. And others. Sometimes, I would accept, and sometimes I would decline. In my imagination, I gleefully seize upon the fruit every time, with an effusion of thanks on my lips, and a hug on my arms. He would love to take the family to Big Basin, a nearby state park of towering, storybook-worthy redwoods. I would grumble at the drive, enjoy the trip, and fail to give him credit for wonderful memories made. He was still taking classes at the local community college and teaching himself Qur’ānic Arabic, in his late seventies. I thought I was hip going to Cal, but Dadabbu’s insatiable thirst for knowledge that literally never died? No comparison. He would ask us about ourselves, inquire about our day, and become so concerned when we were sick, none of which I did justice to.
But it wasn’t until I became a mother, I think, that I truly understood what living with my grandfather and grandmother really did for me. As I raise four children under the age of ten under one roof, I struggle. With all that is involved in taking care of children, nourishing their bodies and souls, keeping their environment and minds clean, stimulating their intellect and their heart, balancing child care, self care, and home care, I struggle. Sometimes it feels like I am in deep water, doggy paddling to keep afloat. And I imagine what it would be like if my children’s grandparents were nearby to help, to rescue me from the constant ache of feeling like I’m not doing enough. My grandparents did this for my parents. My grandfather was an extra pair of hands for his daughter-in-law, giving her his time, his love and affection, and his guidance. The emotional support that he provided her, and my father, I know, was tremendous. What this did for the level of peace in the home, I now see, is immeasurable. I grew up feeling secure in our home. I grew up feeling treasured, surrounded by love. My parents could give me more, my grandparents gave me more, I had so much. And I didn’t even understand it, until now, as I wonder how to recreate that sense of calm and harmony for my kids. But some things can only come with having an extra generation around, an extra pair of rolled up sleeves, an extra pair of discerning eyes, an extra pair of beating hearts, looking out not just for grandchildren but for their own children as well. The effect is enveloping.
So I go back to those moments often. Those moments on the way to school. I settle into my seat in the old sedan, smooth the hem of my jumper over my knees, and look at my Dadabbu. I ask him questions. I share with him my thoughts. I wonder out loud to him. I seek his reassurance. I voice my appreciation. I smile, I cry. And I miss him.
My Love and Joy – Sr. Raihana
I would say that I am privileged to have known two sets of loving grandparents. Living in a joint family with my dad’s parents since I was born and having my mum’s parents living not too far made many memories while growing up.
Living with grandparents can provide additional support to the parents and extra love and attention to the grandchildren, especially if there is respect between the adults. Grandparents are those special people who give their time and help make a child’s life sweeter just by being part of it.
When nuclear families are more common or busy schedules take over, the value of having grandparents tends to be overlooked. But the type of love and care that a grandparent gives is incomparable. Through their informal teachings, children learn valuable skills while creating memories and are given many experiences that parents aren’t always able to offer.
There is a beautiful narration from Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) where he says:
This recognition can only come from the parents’ giving importance to the grandparents. There is wisdom that the elderly have and imparting that wisdom can help guide the grandchildren and the parents. As we all know, experience is the best teacher and our elderly have been through many.
Due to my interaction with all my grandparents, I would describe their presence as one that exudes love and joy, while bringing a sense of peace to the environment. Being given the blessing of knowing, loving, and spending time with them is a pleasure not many are allotted. If you are given the opportunity, be sure to take advantage of their wise words and the affection they have to share.