Jamaica Generations: The Grandparent Effect
I’m a journalist. Facts and documenting them are what I love. Phone in hand, notebook in purse, I aim to balance experiencing a place, with standing just outside the camera lens so that I can try to share it as objectively as possible.
It’s never an easy feat but on a recent trip to Jamaica with three generations – my parents, husband and children – there were times when it was impossible.
It was the first trip to the island for my youngest and the first time that all six of us would be there together. This is the land of my parents’ birth, the place they roamed separately and together before immigrating to Canada in the early 1970s. I knew from the moment we started to discuss this trip that it would mean a lot to all of us.
The Generations: My Parents and My kids
My kids and my parents have an incredible relationship at home but this time together – in a place at once familiar and strange to both of them – has only drawn them closer.
The memory-making moments were constant: The smiles and wet eyes of my parents as they showed us their childhood homesteads and schools. The excitement in my kids, as we broke bread together every evening as a family. The secret eye rolls with Ish as we watched my parents do way too much for our kids.
Maybe it was because I was so relaxed in their love for each other that my own emotions completely blindsided me.
The Generations: My Grandmother and Me
I first remember meeting my maternal grandmother in Jamaica when I was about five. She wasn’t one for planes (hated them) and so my father and I had come to her. Even now memories of the multi-paks of Juicy Fruit gum we brought for her and the bouncing braids – hers and mine – remain vivid in my mind.
Her Cherokee-like presence, hearty laugh and gaping grin made an immediate imprint on me.
As I got older long distance phone calls and infrequent visits didn’t dim the affection. I wrote to her and she, through my mother, to me. Both of my grandfathers passed away before I had a chance to know them. And while my paternal grandmother lived in Toronto, she was a powerhouse of a woman with goals and things to do. My maternal grandmother back in Jamaica was likely just as busy, but strangely, the distance made me feel like she was more accessible to me. My imagination built her into a larger than life figure – a combination of the grandparents I’d read about in Judy Blume books and the potential confidante who had dirt on my mom.
My grandmother passed away in 2001 and I returned with my parents for the funeral. A hot, long affair that ended with her being buried in a plot next to the house she’d known for most of her adult life.There was little time for tears on that visit. I was an adult and I wanted to be strong for my mother.
I’ve returned to Jamaica since then for work trips to the north coast but not to my grandmother’s tiny village.
Now, we were here. As we made our way up the winding roads outside of Spanish Town, memories of her came flooding back. Sights, sounds and smells were all tinged with memories and as we got closer, composure was a struggle. Cameron, 13, saw the tears spill onto my cheeks and squeezed my hand.
I realized then that I haven’t told my kids much about her and the impulse to do so in the moment was strong but as I went to speak, hot tears made it impossible.
Grief turned quickly to anger. Who was I to be upset when my parents were strong? When people who’d known her far longer and better than I were keeping it together?
I wiped the tears and soon we were exiting the vehicle, meeting family friends, visiting the grave site and listening to stories. The overwhelming sadness passed and was replaced with laughter as we created new memories in the shadow of her home.
When we turned to leave, I realized that a truth I had long understood about my parents’ relationship with my kids was one I had failed to see for myself.
The love between grandparents and grandchildren has nothing to do with the shared generation in between.
The relationship exists above and apart from the parents of the grandchildren. They…we…are only the necessary pipeline for their initial meeting; a means to an end. It is a relationship that – no matter how long or short, distant or close – belongs only to them. My connection to my grandmother was mine to cherish and miss and call upon. I had a right to whatever I was feeling. There was comfort in that.
In the days to come, I watched my parents and my children enjoy each other: My father running on the lawns behind Cameron as if they were both teenagers; my oldest hovering over his grandmother’s phone patiently teaching her how to take better photos. And as I watched my parents and my children ignore the generation of time that separated them, I realized exactly how lucky we all are.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Visit Jamaica, Canada. As always all opinions are my own.