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Becoming a Matriarch

Can you find the new matriarch?

Published in ChicagoNow, May 13, 2015

I was helping one of my grandkids with her third-grade spelling homework when she asked me how to use “matriarch” in a sentence. The old English teacher in me launched into a complicated explanation that ended with my telling her that my mother, her Bubbe, who died last month was the matriarch of her side of the family.

And then my granddaughter lowered the boom: “I guess you are the matriarch now.”

I did some fancy dancing on that one, explaining that other women were the matriarchs of various sides of her family. I could only speak for her mother’s side, and there were a few people older than me. But she kept insisting that I had to have that title for our immediate family unit, and she is right.

In fact, if you remove my dear mother from the featured photo, I am the one (holding my grandson on her lap) left wearing the tiara.

There are no actual dictionaries in my granddaughter’s house, so we look up “matriarch” in the online thesaurus on my iPhone. OMG! The synonyms include words like matron, dowager, grande dame, elder, senior, oldest, and even old fogey. No way that describes me, right?

I try my hardest to explain that I am not a matriarch. My cousin Brenda is now the matriarch on my mother’s side. My Aunt Sara is still the matriarch on my father’s side. But those are the extended versions of my side of our family. No matter how I try to spin it, in our nuclear family, it’s me.

This passing of the baton from the Greatest Generation to the early Baby Boomers is painful. OK, technically I am three months shy of being a Baby Boomer due to my father’s early honorable discharge from WWII and a lack of family planning. But my love beads, long hair, and protests of the war in Viet Nam gave me the right to claim admission to that generational club.

Like all of us arrogant Boomers, I always thought my club was hip, smart, youthful, and on the right side of every political issue. I still wear jeans and try to keep up with technology. So what if I have eight grandkids. How could I possibly be a matriarch?

And yet, I find myself telling my grandkids lots of “when I was your age” information:

  • We had no TV, Internet, cell phones, computers, or any other form of electronics

  • The only phone we had was a party line (Google that one) and attached to the wall with a cord

  • There were no microwaves or convenience foods, so we ate whatever my mother prepared from scratch

  • We had family dinners almost every night

  • My mother never drove me to school – I walked no matter what the weather

  • There were no activities like dance class, swim lessons, soccer teams, or even play dates – we just played outside with any kid who showed up

They look at me with an expression that says, “Wow, you are old.” And I guess they are right. Along with the profound sadness I feel about the deaths of my parents in the last three years, losing my mother in April has also made me feel very anxious. I am no longer someone’s daughter. I am now at the top of the family chart.

Yes, dear grandchild, I am a matriarch.


by Laurie Levy
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