Home' Aurora : Aurora May 2013 Contents Grand opportunities
for gentle lessons
BY TRACEY EDSTEIN
Grandparents used to be
older people who dispensed
stories, treats and wisdom
in roughly equal measure. They
were generally available, at least for
grandchildren who lived locally. They
could be relied upon to remember
and celebrate birthdays and to have
time for Monopoly, long walks and
baking cakes. Now that I'm older, I
notice that grandparents are younger,
and busier, and more technologically
literate -- but just as important, if
not more so, in the lives of their
grandchildren. This month, Aurora's
Seasons of Grace feature shares the
grace embodied by grandparents.
Children's books are wonderful sources
of wisdom and insight, and their gorgeous
illustrations add another dimension to the
story. The young storyteller in Passing On
(by Mike Dumbleton and Terry Denton)
says of his grandmother, "She had a way
of making me feel grown up, from the age
of three." I believe this captures the unique
gift of grandparents -- the ability to ask a
little more, to set the bar a little higher, but
at the same time to indulge, and to know
what will really touch the heart of each
Sue Hoppe is a walking advertisement
for involved grandparenting and for the
small community of Gloucester. She is
an integral part of St Joseph's Primary,
spending two days there each week as
canteen manager. Her work is voluntary,
yet no one could be more professional or
When Sue's three children were
St Joseph's East Maitland and St Peter's
Maitland, Sue was heavily involved, and
now that she's had a 'tree change', she's
more than happy to continue serving in
the way she knows best.
The day of my visit, Sue's offsider was her
daughter Marissa. Marissa's son Thomas
is a Year 6 student at St Joseph's and
Zahli is in Year 1. "A big majority of the kids
-- even the parents -- call me 'Ma' like Tom
does." Of course Sue knows every child
by name, and also knows of any allergies
or intolerances that affect them.
"I like to do some special days for the kids.
We do a beach breakfast in summer, and
they all wear their swimmers! In winter we
have a pyjama day. They come in pyjamas
and have a hot breakfast to start the day.
"When Year 6 leaves the school we have a
cake with each of their faces -- they like to
eat 'their' slice."
Running a canteen is more complicated
than it used to be with regulations
governing food handling and storage,
and the expectation that all food sold will
be fresh and nutritious. Sue has taken
all this on board, and is loving the new
canteen and hall provided by Building the
Education Revolution funding.
While many would be looking to slow
down, Sue says, "It's easier to do things
on a voluntary basis when you're a
Sue would like to be able to support the
schools her other grandchildren attend,
but she can't really commute to Forster,
Maitland, Dubbo and the
United States! Even in the holidays, she's
usually accompanied by at least one
grandchild, and insists, "I love nurturing
the kids. I love them to bits. I'm a much
better grandparent than I was a parent!"
That seems unlikely, but even in a short
visit, it was obvious that Sue looks forward
to her 'salad days' at St Joseph's. Seth
will be in Kinder next year so she will want
to nurture him and his mates as she has
Thomas and Zahli.
In these days of regular overseas travel,
families are likely to be far flung and that
can make keeping in touch challenging.
Enter Skype, which enables doting but
faraway grandparents to stay in touch
-- sharing games, reading stories and
even helping with homework as required.
Teacher at St Michael's Nelson Bay, Anton
van Zeeland, grew up in the Dutch village
of Mortel, where his parents, Toon and
Riek, still live. They visit each other when
they can, but meanwhile, Anton and his
wife Lynette's children, Claire, 8, and Jack,
6, need not feel at all disenfranchised.
Lynette's mother Draga lives nearby and
is a wonderful support in terms of after
school care. It could be said that Claire
and Jack have the best of both worlds!
For children whose grandparents are
nearby, there is the possibility of a familiar-
but-special 'home away from home'. Kevin
Enright, of Dunns Creek, says, "I always
pictured the garden as a place that was
attractive to children", and as Kevin and
his wife Jill welcomed nine grandchildren
in quick succession, the garden project
on the family property, "Palanari", took
on new impetus. Kevin says the area is
not large, but it involves a winding path
with plenty of diversion along the way
to enchant the five-years-and-under
members of the extended Enright family.
When the second grandchild, Tom, was
learning to read, Kevin helped him print by
hand metal tags with family names and
attached them to trees and plants. As
the children reach school age, the tags
-- which move mysteriously at intervals --
help them to learn painlessly, and even
little Gabbi delighted in showing me her
tag. There are also bird baths, old tools
magically lodged in trees, a frog hiding in a
trunk and seats for shady rest.
It doesn't end in the garden though.
There are chooks to be fed, plots to be
played in, a happy pair of stone giraffes
seated at child's-eye level, and alpacas
'Tex' and 'Rosie', whose names are also
immortalised in the garden. In the evening
kangaroos graze, providing further
diversion for grandchildren who may be
enjoying a sleepover with Nanna and
One of the realities grandchildren -- of
all ages -- must almost inevitably face is
the loss of grandparents, so often the
buttresses of our lives. Sue Lawson's
picture book, My Gran's Different,
tells a touching story of a Gran with
Alzheimer's disease through the loving
eyes of her grandson. For many of us,
this will become our reality, in terms of
our grandparents, our parents, maybe
ourselves. While this is a difficult path to
walk for all concerned, Lawson offers a
coda that may be of some comfort:
She can't remember who she is.
But that's all right, because I remember
who she is.
Kevin Enright and grand-daughter Gabbi with 'her' tree.
Claire and Jack van Zeeland Skype 'Oma' Riek and 'Opa' Toon.
Sue Hoppe serves grand-daughter Zahli Mason and Sam Wilson at
St Joseph's Primary, Gloucester.
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
SEASONS OF GRACE
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