Everyday Icon: The Grandmother

Need advice on parenting, perspective or aging with grace? Read our interview with The Grandmother.
grandmother photo

Image Credit: Alecia Zasiebida

Sometimes our Everyday Icons are globe trotters and game changers and famed filmmakers. Other times their influence flies just below the radar on a somewhat smaller scale. Still, the women we strive to celebrate are the ones who choose to do good with this influence, no matter how big or small, young or old. Enter Sally Feldman, a cancer-surviving mother of four and grandmother to six with a heart of gold, peace-filled soul and a few decades of brilliant wisdom to offer our younger generation...

How is grandmothering different from what you'd envisioned it to be, if at all?

I'm in love with all things "Nonnie," but being the grandmother to my son's children has a unique flavor due to the hand that rocks him—his wife. Even though I am a strong, accomplished woman, I'm finding that there's a definitive learning-curve to this new role. I must relinquish power and relax. After all, my job is done. Santa has passed the proverbial torch, and a new woman  has arrived with a smile on her face, art projects in tow and a glass of wine in her hand.

After forty years of being Mommy, I know many things, but need to keep them all to myself. This takes practice and perseverance. Yikes.

I've learned to take it in stride, enjoy the babies, and put my own insecurities where they belong... buried under my tongue instead of having a weak moment and spitting out my opinions all over their kitchen. It is a delicate balance in order to keep the real mommy happy.

Mommy is the Queen, after all. I know this because I, too, sat perched on my throne for many years. Frankly? I've never been happier. I get all the adoration and none of the stickiness on my floor.

How has your life changed since becoming a grandmother? What life philosophies have you formed as a result?

My life is richer. There are no words to describe the joy in meeting the children of my children other than blissful. My cancer and grands came at the same time, so I have a cool perspective in facing my mortality. Everyone should get a near-death experience so they can truly understand how great all this mundane stuff of life really is. Even getting to go to Starbucks and having coffee spilled in your crotch is a reminder of being alive.

I have been given perspective on the terrific job I did with my own kids who are happy, successful, creative and funny humans. All that stress and craziness built something even though at the time I thought I was a consummate village idiot. In spite of myself, I am sitting back and watching with wonder at what I did. It is unfolding before my eyes, and the heavenly fruits of my labor are filled with the essence of my inner self. The humor, the laughter, the silliness, the manners, the values, and the faith are all seeping through their veins. Some of them good, and some of them humbling, but humankind has a way of being imperfect. It is that glorious imperfection of ourselves that makes us alive. I am in awe.

It is about gratitude. When you understand gratitude, you will be able to relax and enjoy this insane ride. (Go spill something, would ya?)

What are some tried-and-true ways you enjoy a sweeter every day?

Any day that would include being around my family or my friends is a sweet time. Having been through a health crisis, it's difficult to see a hobby, a passion, or a dream trip trumping the importance of being around those I love.

I don't take one day for granted. That has been a gift.

What can children teach us about life?

It is important not to take things so seriously. Stop worrying about other people and what they think. Dance in the park like no one is watching you. Spill things and laugh. Giggle too much. Run around and build forts for fun. Do what you love—a lot. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Sing.

What are you learning about balance, passion, and embracing imperfections?

I am listening now to my body and my mind. I have spent years pleasing others only to realize that somewhere inside, I am important too. I am embracing that selfish part of me and taking time to make it about me again.

It is essential to find what you love, but most of all do it for the passion and NOT for the money. I wrote a book because I was driven by the story almost as though it was a relentless obsession. It fed every part of me… and became my passion, my joy, and the devotion of my day. I write because I need to. Find the one thing that you do for no other reason than loving it, and it will give you balance and harmony.

Tell us, what is the secret of life?

Love. Find it, cherish it, teach it, nurture it, have realistic expectations with it, keep it sacred and most of all... love and accept yourself for all that you are.

What would you like to say to the younger generation of women? What would you like to teach us? What do you hope your grandchildren can learn from you?

Stop being so darn hard on yourself. You can't do it all, so quit trying. There are no rules. The status quo for women has evolved. Continue to grow or you will never be interesting to a partner. Never allow your partner to fill all of you. They can't. Fill yourself with interest and yearning. If you don't have a passion, try to find one. It can be anything, but it is essential for your growth. It isn't about money. You may need to sell plumbing supplies to pay your rent, but that doesn't mean you can't come home to your container garden or your guitar. It is not the destination but the journey that will fill your heart. That fulfillment and confidence will make you irresistible to others.

I want my grands to think I am as crazy, eccentric and interesting as their parents think I am. If I leave this Earth allowing them to know the stunning possibilities for their lives, I've done my work.

(They will all have a good laugh at my funeral. I'm smiling just thinking about that.)

p.s. We have much to learn from those who have come before us, but we've got to ask first. Here are 10 questions to kick off a life-changing conversation with your mother.