Last week my wonderful grandma turned 90.
And she wasn't very happy about it - at least when she could remember it was her birthday. She's very anxious to be done with this life - especially when she briefly remembers how old she is and how frustrating life is these days.
She's had dementia for the past five years or so and it's been very hard to see this vibrant strong women - a little 5-foot-tall powerhouse - decline into a feeble sweet old lady who can't remember who anyone is, can hardly see and doesn't hear very well either.
She organized a brilliant volunteer program at the hospital while working to support her five young children (ages 3-15) after her dear husband died of cancer. She somehow saved up enough money to send all five children on missions and went on her own mission plus helped put all her kids through college. She took care of all the older widows in her area while fulfilling a "calling" to serve as the Relief Society president at church. She ran her own preschool for over 30 years and could whip a group of 20 preschoolers into shape with kindness and firm rules in no time. She taught her grandkids so much about cleaning up after themselves and doing their duty and teaching kids important principles with fun and firmness (she left a posterity full of people who are serious "kid magnets").
These days, Grandma is surprised, and actually quite delighted, every time I tell her that she has raised 5 wonderful children, was an important influence in raising her 23 grandchildren, is adored by more great grandkids than I have the energy to count up right now, wrote all the original lesson plans for the Joy School program that have been used by hundreds of thousands of families to conduct their own co-op preschools and ran the original Joy School preschool for 30 years. Grandma has been a huge force for good in this world.
Now she just wants to be done and to go be with her husband who she's been missing for over 50 years now. But she's in excellent physical health so she may have to wait a while.
Every time we go visit her, I ask "How are you, Grandma?" and she says, "Well, I'm still here." One time I asked her if there was anything I could do for her and she said, only half-joking, "Well, you could shoot me!" But mostly she has a great attitude and she is so sweet to me and the kids - even though she can't remember our names. I love how she speaks to us in her always-soft voice that I will always love, asking us questions about our lives (and usually asking the same question again and again and again - it's so cute to see how patient and loving the kids are with her). She doesn't remember exactly who they are. But she remembers to ask questions and really listen to the answers. And she never forgets to tell them that she loves them.
Plus she's still so beautiful, don't you think?
For her birthday, we went to visit the original Joy School, the one Grandma ran for 30 years but then sold when she was ready to retire. I remember going there with Grandma SO many times during my growing up years - first to participate in Joy School on rare occasions when we were in town on a school day, then to dance and play with the toys when we visited Grandma's house, then to help my grandma clean and set things up as a little summer job. Now it's in some disrepair here and there but it's still run as a Joy School and so many things are still the same.
Every time I've visited Grandma lately, the one thing she seems to remember well and smile about is Joy School. She always says, "I wish I could go there. I wish I could be a little mouse in the corner and watch it in action again."
So we decided to make her dream come true and take a bunch of her great-grandkids to re-enact some Joy School stuff at the old Joy School (thanks to the kind new owner for letting us in!). She sang right along with the kids as they sat up on the big steps where generations of Joy School kids have sat for lesson time and singing time and sang Joy School songs (she said she couldn't remember the words but they all came right back to her). She smiled beautiful smiles. She didn't remember she'd been at the Joy School at all after we got her back home but at least she was happy in the time we were there together!
Here's a little video of the kids singing and then her singing along and demonstrating the actions.
Here's one of the wall murals at the Joy School that I remember my mom helping to paint on the walls when I was a little kid:
I love Joy School. It's this co-op preschool program where you get minute-by-minute lesson plans on line (including stories, songs and simple activities that teach kids important social skills and pre-academic skills) and you trade off teaching a group of kids including your child and your friends' children (groups are usually 4-8 kids - I recommend 5 or 6 kids - more gets less fun for everyone). I've taught Joy School to all my kids for two years of preschool each, putting them in regular preschool plus doing a day or two a week of Joy School with some of my kids the year before they start kindergarten so they can get used to a more formal school program. I love how Joy School has helped ensure that I do fun and meaningful stuff with my kids, get to know their friends, and work with some great friends as my co-teachers. The moms I taught Joy School with will always have a special spot in my heart. We always knew we could count on each other to help out when we needed babysitting or a shoulder to cry on - and helping out with each other's kids was extra easy when we already knew each other's kids quite well. And my kids are still friends with a lot of their special Joy School friends. Plus those Joy School songs still come to mind when needed ("When a thing is hard to do, I don't sit and cry, I just sing a happy tune and try, try, try" or "Everyone is different...that's what makes us special..." or "Here comes Gunny Bag - he eats leftover toys and keeps them in his tummy...")
Anyway, if anyone wants to check out more info on Joy School, click that Joy School link on the right in the side bar.
And here's my mom's great post with lots of photos, details and videos about grandma's birthday: