A few weeks ago, Carrie Ryan - a college student who, when in high school in California, organized and led a successful intergenerational program - was invited to go to the White House Mother's Day Tea with her grandmother on behalf of Generations United. Read Carrie's eloquent account below!
It was an experience I will never forget. Walking through the threshold of the White House, hand in hand with my grandmother, who was, in every way, the reason we were both there. She was in her best brightly colored suit, I in my best dress. And together, we walked the halls of the White House amongst many other women, mothers and daughters, mentors and mentees, granddaughters and grandmothers. All of us came from different backgrounds, all of us had different stories. But we were all there for the same reason – at some point in our lives, we had all been touched by an incredible woman, who told us we could do anything, who pushed us to give of our gifts, and who held our hand as we did it. My grandmother was and is such a woman for me. And so, walking around the East room, through the ballroom and the Green room, I held her hand with gratitude, in comfort, and to experience the moment close beside her.
I have always held my grandmothers hand. I have a picture of us in my room, walking together down the sidewalk near our church, linked together. I was a young five years old and the difference in our ages is noticeable. But the difference in our ages is the beauty of the picture – an older woman and a young girl, connected through love, family, hands. And this is how it has always been. I have had an incredible bond with my grandmother, a connection that far surpasses differing years and generational gaps. We are bound up in one another – she shares her stories, I share mine. And on May 7, we were fortunate to share a story together, a significant story that is a milestone for both of us.
Mother’s Day Tea at the White House, hosted by the welcoming and gracious Michelle Obama, is that story my grandmother and I were blessed to experience together. Sent on behalf of Generations United, which I humbly and gratefully represented – to my great honor, my grandmother and I toured the halls of our nation’s home and sat for tea amongst Washington representatives and some of the most distinguished women of the country.
Sandwiched between Jill Biden’s Chief of Staff, the only female Chief of Staff of a UN President, and a military wife and her daughter, my grandmother and I enjoyed conversation with our table mates about influential women in our lives, what it is to be an American woman, and the reason we had all been invited to the tea. I heard stories about what life is like on a military base, on a campaign trail, and meeting with Sudanese and Iraqi officials. Throughout the tea, as I was listening to others stories and sharing my own, my grandmother and I kept looking at each other in awe. What we were experiencing was phenomenal, what we were hearing was transformational – and to be able to do it together made it all the more special.
After the tea had commenced and the beautiful plates of small tea sandwiches and scones were passed around, Michelle Obama began to make her way around the room to visit with each person at each table. With about twelve tables of ten people each, it took Michelle a while to graciously and warmly greet each invitee. As Michelle approached our table, I tried to prepare something to say – but my mind drew a blank. As she made her way over to greet my grandmother and I, she hugged me first (with an embrace that immediately put me at ease) and I subsequently introduced her to my grandmother. The immensity of the moment was overwhelming, but when I was introducing my grandmother, everything became quite clear. My grandmother and my grandfather and all of the older people in my life that have been so influential were the reasons I was there. And I told Michelle that. I spoke to her about what my grandmother meant to me. How her influence and many of my relationships with older people propelled me to start the project, Bridging the Generations, I began in high school and am continuing today. I expressed the importance of intergenerational relationships in my life – how they had shaped my very being, and how they had touched my soul – and urged her to support organizations like Generations United. Michelle agreed, applauded me for my work and congratulated my grandmother for the mentorship, love, and support she gave to me. She continued to talk about how wonderful it had been for her to have her mother in the White House and how her children loved their grandmother from the very depths of their being. She knew that the bond her children had with her mother was something special, something to be cherished. She thanked us for being there and continued to make her way around the table.
Speaking to Michelle Obama and hugging her twice was something out of a dream. But probably the most special part of the day was the recognition of the importance of intergenerational relationships. I was at the White House because of all of those talks I had with residents in the Nursing Home, all of the advice I had been given by my grandparents, and all of the lessons I had learned through the many narratives of older people I had met throughout the years. This tea was in celebration of them, of young and old together, of the incredible bond my grandmother and I have. So as I walked out of the White House, having met phenomenal women, having seen the nation’s home, I held my grandmothers hand and gave her a tight squeeze and said, “We did it.” And we wouldn’t have been able to do it had we not been together, united.
I go forward this summer with this memory and this special story in my heart to India, where I will be conducting a fully funded anthropological research project on elder care. I will be researching with four different organizations to explore the cultural debate occurring in this country about the implications of the changing elder care methods from family based care to more institutionalized care, like nursing homes and senior centers. With open eyes, ears, and heart, I will listen to the stories of India’s elderly and their families. I am ecstatic to learn about how the bond my grandmother and I share might translate halfway across the world.
I want to thank Generations United for the opportunity they have bestowed upon me and for the wonderful leadership they provide in the field of intergenerational relations. It is wonderful to know that there are so many people in this world that cherish these relationships and that are committed to encouraging, fostering, and nurturing them. For everything you have done for me and for helping me recognize the significance of young and old together, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.