What Ouzo Shots Can Teach You About Your Grandmas
Why Loving A Child Is Not Enough, and How To Inspire Confidence
A rowdy family discussion erupted over dinner the day after my aunt, uncle, and cousins elected me designated driver for a raucous trip to Greek Town in Chicago. That adventure started with Ouzo shots and ended by closing the Karaoke bar across from the restaurant.
At Grandma’s Sunday dinner table my uncle became famously furious when he realized his Ouzo-induced fog had caused him to double-tip the waiter the night before. This discovery was complicated by the disapproving input from Grandma Sally, who had been blissfully ignorant of our exploits until my uncle lost his cool.
As a 20-year-old, it was amusing to witness the adults shushing each other, while Grandma Sally shot scathing looks across the table, especially since I was exempt from her criticism this time. My uncle withered under her scolding, and I imagined him as a kid getting reprimanded regularly.
Judge me and you will never know me
Grandma Sally was typically sociable and pleasant. She would take each of us out on our birthdays to choose an outfit as a gift. I have a school picture from fourth-grade wearing a red jumper I picked out with her. I loved that red jumper, but Grandma Sally and I never bonded.
I always felt I was just shy of good enough. My table manners needed correcting, I talked too loudly, and couldn’t remember to keep my feet off the couch. I knew Grandma Sally loved me, but it felt more like a familial obligation.
I was the oldest of four kids. As a practicing perfectionist, I yearned to please the people around me. When I couldn’t manage to pull it off, I pulled away. I didn’t confide in Grandma Sally, and we never got to know each other.
Encourage me to be who I am, and I will open my heart to you
My other grandma, Grandma Nora, always lived hours away from our family. Back in 1969 it was perfectly normal to hand your 5-year-old to a train conductor with her suitcase and train ticket and ask him to make sure she got off at the correct stop. When I was just five years old my parents shipped me off alone on a train from Naperville to Springfield, Illinois, where I spent several days with Grandma and Grandpa. The next year my grandparents moved to Mobile, Alabama, and our family would make the 20-hour car journey only once a year.
I adored Grandma Nora and treasured those visits. She was delighted with me, and I knew I was special to her. She didn’t just expect me to behave; she had confidence in me, and knew that I would. As the years passed, her belief in me was always there, encouraging me to achieve my best. Not her best, or my parent’s expectations of me, but my own shining best self.
She wasn’t much for phone calls, but she wrote often. Opening the mailbox as a kid to find a letter addressed to me was pretty grand. I wrote back with joy, not considering the formative effects those regular letters had on my writing skills. Our letters and our close bond inspired me to visit her every chance I had.
The “Not-Good-Enough” List
I was special. We all were, actually, everyone who knew her. She saw the best in every person, and we felt it. She not only loved me, but she had a rare confidence in me that I didn’t feel from other adults in my life. I did not need to be a better person; I was already my best self in her eyes.
I thought that might end when I was nineteen. I had good reason to dread my next visit with Grandma Nora. I made the drive to tell her in person about my decision to drop out of college. I thought for sure this would be the thing that would disappoint her, drop me out of favor, and finally put me on a “not-good-enough” list.
I discovered she doesn’t have one of those lists. She straightened her four foot, ten-inch frame, looked at me with concern, and asked me if I was okay with that decision. When I explained that Federal Pell Grants were no longer available, and I was uncomfortable with the level of debt I’d acquire if I took out more loans, she understood I’d thought it through. No lecture, no disapproval. Just a certainty that I would make the right choices for my own life.
Your Judgment Defeats Me, Your Confidence Inspires Me
Grandma Sally wasn’t unkind; she was simply critical of our faults in an effort to make us better versions of ourselves. As a kid, my very identity was all tied up in wanting people to approve of me. While I saw my Grandma Sally often and she bought me gifts, I was never close to her because I felt she was disapproving and judgmental. Hampered by my own perspective, my relationship with her was stifled.
Grandma Nora enjoyed each of us in the package we came in. She listened, was understanding, and emphasized our talents, without harping on what we were lacking. She had confidence in me to solve my own problems, and believed that I would excel on my own terms.
Grandma Nora valued me for who I was and imparted confidence that helped me believe in myself.
Pass on confidence, not judgment.
The result is an open, honest bond with the potential to lift another to reach his or her highest, best self.