Mama Bearings: In support

My childhood is a blur. I have pieces of memories, but like most trauma survivors, there are huge gaps in my recollections about people, places and things.

Recently, for a Tampa Pride event I attended, I was at Busch Gardens — a bright spot from my earlier years. Amongst the rollercoasters, games and animals, I was transported back to the best parts of growing up, time with my grandparents.

At the age of 45, I am now without any living grandparents, but I was beyond lucky to have had my mother’s parents. Paul and Priscilla Blanshard were both well educated, well-traveled, charitable and Quakers.

These talking points were mentioned in both their obituaries, and they had friends in literally each state. Although my parents had a contentious divorce, my grandmother visited my uncle (my dad’s brother) each year when she travelled to Maine. To know them was to love them; they were political, open-minded and always encouraged learning about new cultures from a very young age.

They were the model of unconditional love and in the past few years I have realized how much I miss them and this feeling of acceptance. But as a kid, I can tell you that none of that mattered to me.

My grandparents took my sister and me to the jazz festival in Clearwater and made me try gumbo because eating just American food was boring. They showed us books about other countries, other cultures, and shared stories about how they had lived in Nigeria with their young family in the late 1960’s.

They knew famed writers and artists and photographers, but none of that mattered because they were the people who took us to Busch Gardens. And let us swim in their pool. And brought us silk pajamas when they finally saw the Great Wall in person as retirees.

My parents did not do a lot with my sister and me growing up, but my grandparents loved to take us to festivals, parks and our beloved local theme park. We heard about them seeing real lions in person in Africa, we enjoyed meals at the Fest Haus (Grandpa loved a good beer and some sauerkraut) and watched the show, and we rode all the rides with people well into their 60’s.

Busch Gardens reminds me of these amazing people I was lucky enough to call family, and being back there brought back so many of the best parts of my childhood.

The world that my grandparents are no longer a part of is so much different than the one they hoped to make for future generations. My grandfather did so many things; he was a college professor, a member of the coast guard and he published a book about the family’s experience living in Nigeria.

He died before I could legally drive, but after his death I learned about his writing for the local paper and his activism. He (like my grandmother) was a pacifist like many Quakers. Opposing the war decades earlier had cost him jobs, so-called friends and many opportunities. He had even once written about a plan for peace in this century.

My grandfather would be devastated by the state of the world currently. I wonder if his heart and mind could process the seemingly endless attacks on marginalized populations, the people living in extreme poverty within our country and the division that so many of us feel currently.

My grandma died just a few years ago, a week shy of turning 100. She was able to enjoy my children and learn from that generation and continued to mentor, teach and inspire us until her final days. But she often spoke of her sadness and lack of understanding at the world and how people suffered.

A lifelong Democrat, she once schooled a female caller attempting to ger her to switch parties in an election year for 15 minutes, imploring her to be on “the only side a woman could be on.” Priscilla was kind and strong. Grandma did not play and to say she was a feminist would be a gross understatement.

My grandma and I once spoke about her absolute joy at finally seeing an African American president, and her hope that a female president would follow soon after. When my youngest came out as transgender at a very early age, she was compassionate, understanding and eager to learn how to support him.

She always reminded me to ask my own questions and fight for equality even if you had to stand alone. So, the other night, when I arrived at my childhood theme park for a LGBTQ event celebrating pride while the rights of this community so dear to me are literally under attack, I genuinely felt my grandmother’s presence.

Hate has no age limit or boundaries, but neither does love. Both my grandparents modeled civil service, kindness, acceptance and equality. My grandma reminded me several times that she was old enough to remember when women were not allowed to vote and her calls on election days were legendary. (“Sylvie, I know you are voting today, and I know you will make it count but I am just reminding you dear.”)

I know the current political environment — which is doing real harm to the transgender community, and thusly their great grandson — would have my grandparents so hurt, but also inspired. Inspired to help people in need. Inspired to learn and grow into a better advocate. And inspired each day to love people more because we all need it so very much.

You cannot erase people. You can try, but it is impossible. I know so many of us are so hurt and scared and disillusioned right now. No matter what group you identify as, it is likely that in some way your rights and liberties are being questioned and threatened.

I am personally struggling at navigating how to raise a transgender child in a state that is attacking him for simply being himself, a trait I learned from my amazing grandparents from an early age.

But not everyone is on the side of hate and misinformation.

If you had seen my grandparents out at Busch Gardens walking along with my sister and me, back from my childhood, you might assume a lot about them. But they were allies, advocates and supporters from before many of our parents were even born.

Those of us who feel so badly right now are not alone. We are not the only people who choose love, although the propaganda everywhere strives to divide us.

My grandparents would have loved that I was at our favorite place celebrating diversity despite everything. No, scratch that. In support of everything.

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