Lisa Quiñones questions whether grandmothers are better at that role than they were as moms. 

I am always amazed when I watch my mother kiss my son goodbye. She will not leave my apartment without several hugs and kisses from her only grandson. My mother will give him a big squeeze and kiss him repeatedly on the cheek, “Bye my little pussycat.”

And I roll my eyes because (a) she refers to my seven-year-old son as a “little pussycat” and (b) she’s never, ever called me anything other than Lisa.

As I witness this exchange I wonder: who is this sweet woman who claims to be my mother? This is not the woman who raised me.

My mother is one of those “old school” Puerto Rican women, a big believer in tough love and teaching lessons. She was quick with a slipper and quicker with her hands; she moved so swiftly, you didn’t realize you were given a cocotazo until you felt your scalp stinging. Needless to say—I got the slipper and cocotazo often.

We spent most of my teenage years arguing, clashing the way mothers and daughters often do. We argued over clothes and makeup and curfew. When I was about 16 years old, I yelled, “When I have kids, I’ll never bring them to your house!”  To which my mother replied, “I want that in writing.” So I wrote down my words on the back of a bank deposit slip. I even signed and dated it as if it were a legal document.

A few years ago, while having dinner at her house, my mother brought out the note to show my husband. We all laughed because my son (who was two at the time) had just spent the night at her place.

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And now I laugh because every afternoon my mother takes the train from Queens to the Bronx so that she can wait for her grandson to come home from school. She stays until my husband or I come home from work. She sits in on his SEIT therapy sessions, makes dinner, washes dishes—even manages to do laundry. And when I try to pay her, she shoves my hand away. 

As for her lessons, the older I get, the more I can appreciate what she tried to instill when I was a kid. 

I often come home and find my mother reading to my son—who has autism—in a quiet, patient voice; a voice that I don’t recall hearing as a child. There is a small part of me that feels jealous, almost slighted because my mother never read to me. On days when my son’s therapist cancels a session, I’ll come home and find my mother and son sitting at the table in his room, working on fine motor skills like stringing beads or rolling out play dough. I hear her singing to him and her voice is always playful and sweet. Don’t get me wrong—she scolds him, but even when she does it’s not the same as when she scolded me.

I love watching my mother and son together—the bond they have is special. And I’m grateful that my mother kept that note I wrote so many years ago. It makes me realize how wrong I was and how lucky I am to have a mother like her, and that my son benefits has her as his abuela.

Maybe it’s easier to be a grandparent than a parent. With my son, she can share all her love and not have a parent’s worry of keeping him safe, raising him right and teaching him life lessons with her slipper. So I try not to be jealous of what I may have missed out on growing up, and instead glad that with her grandson, she can be her sweetest self.