A Voice in My Head, or, Happy Birthday Grandma Mary, I miss you.

“Don’t you hurt my granddaughter!” Grandma Mary would say. Often, these words would come after seemingly silly things like bumping my funny bone on a pointy corner in the house or a particularly powerful, yet failed twirl during ballet practice. Yet sometimes these words would also come in a deeper way. Despite the 3,000 miles between us, we were close and my Grandma was witness to the not so lovely years of adolescence. “Are you saying bad things about my granddaughter?” She would say. Despite my temper tantrum I would pause, smile, sometimes, and shake my head: “no Grandma, of course not” I’d say, and give her a hug.

Repetition is powerful. Learning by repetition can store lessons and create routine. Repetition can create routine and store lessons even without fully understanding the lesson itself. A lesson can be repeated time and time again to only be understood as a lingering voice in your head later on in life.

My grandmother was a teacher who specialized in practicality. From my perspective, for my grandma, problems in life could almost always be figured out like a simple math equation. Like probably many women of her time, she knew the importance of balancing her caring, feminine nature with a logical mind. Like many women of her time, I think it was important to her to hide her logic and success beneath a blanket of femininity. But after all, hiding her victories was a way of success in its own right if it allowed her get what she wanted in life and keep those around her happy.

She didn’t bury all of her success. My grandmother was the proud mother of four children and helped her children to raise many grandchildren. She even helped to raise a few great-grandchildren and including my own furry child. I still use her helpful and logical solution of swift replacement: i.e. When your puppy starts to chew on your shoe, quickly replace it with a toy to restore peace and happiness.

My grandmother was a teacher and one of her favorite stories, perhaps because it entertained her many grandchildren so much, involved her logical solution to curiosity, and the embarrassing indecency of early sexual exploration. She taught many grades but during one year of teaching younger children my grandmother came up with a solution to the curious nature of young boys and girls underpants. The solution again was a matter of simple, quick replacement: “I can see that you’re curious about girls underpants. Do you know where they have TONS of girls underpants? Go to the department store and visit the girls section–they have a whole wall of girls underpants that you are welcome to look at.”

My grandmother’s birthday is today. I still hear her voice often, and I still have to replace things in Franco’s mouth with his toys. Today I am thinking of her and the lessons that she has taught me. Some of them lovely, happy memories, some of them funny, and of course, some less desirable memories of unwanted lessons in practicality; no one is perfect.

Years after she has passed I still struggle with the fact that my stubborn, elegant, smart, and talkative grandmother is no longer a phone call away. But my grandmother loved to talk and so it should be no surprise that her voice carries on. Perhaps the most important lesson that my grandmother taught me lingers as her voice that rests inside my head. “Don’t you hurt my granddaughter!” My grandmother, parent to four children and grandparent to countless grandchildren, in her own way: simply, logically, and without grandeur or recognition, taught me how to parent myself.

Repetition is powerful. Sometimes a lesson can be repeated time and time again to only be understood as a lingering voice in your head: “Are you hurting my granddaughter?”

I pause. “No, of course not Grandma.” And I send her a hug.

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