What Should We Name the Grandma?

Parental Advisory: this post may contain explicit content, strong language and drool

"Call me Clare, kids."  To my everlasting dismay, my mother detested the title Grandmother. In truth, at the age of 45, she was too young, too hip, too naturally frosted honey-brunette, and still too motherly, actively mothering me, to be anyone’s actual grandma, for Godsake. So she encouraged my sisters’ boys - her first grandchildren -  to call her Clare.

Clare and Pop!    That’s what my nephews called my parents.  Two very bright and crisp sounding names.

Clare. The designation didn’t do it for me by the time my kids came ‘round.  Clare in her sixties, living 2000 miles away in Florida -- seemed fine to me as Grandma.  I insisted that she be grandma - and she more or less conceded.  But since there were two grandmas - the other living in sunny San Diego -- my children, as soon as they were able to articulate the distinction -- started referring to their glamorously situated  long distance grandparents as Grandma-and-Grandpa-in-Florida and Grandma-and-Grandpa-and-California. The distance of course took its toll. Our visits were always larger than life, vacations, holidays, never the luxury of small, ordinary, day-to-day engagements. My sons bonded to their grandparents -- dutifully, respectfully, but their memories are few and far between.

I grew up with my grandmother living two blocks up the street, a block away from my aunt, my uncle and cousins. We called my grandmother Mom.  Not Mum.  Not Momma. Just Mom, like our own mother. And my sister and I always understood, by the slightest inflection of our voices exactly which Mom we were referring to. We were close-knit, but like most families in the 60‘s, we sprawled further and farther apart from the old neighborhood to the newer burbs. Then my parents moved on from the burb to the life of snowbirds, then on the retirement, long distance calls, birthday cards, wistful plans to fly down for visits.  They seldom came up North - our way.  

Today, from coast to coast, we are as near and dear to one another as our smart phones and iPads allow. There’s Facetime and Texting - communication abilities that would astonish my mother today were she with us. I recall how she used to scurry off the phone with us -- “It’s about to storm here, I must hang up.” (I never could understand the warning against talking on the phone and incoming lightning and thunder, but there it was, and so our conversations often were cut short -- and always strained when the kids were called on to get on the horn and say hello.. . . hello to Grandma in Florida, a long, long distance away.)

So here I find myself  - a grandmother now. With a two-year grandson in Cleveland, a 5 month old grandson in Chicago...  and one on the way in May back in Cleveland!

My husband and I are thrilled to be grandparents.  Nothing news in there.  We indulge in our good fortune, take pride and joy in our sons and their wives and their newfound wisdom as parents. We are enthralled by the smallest gesture of recognition from our little ones.  We hang on every focused gaze, every burble and gurgle and miraculous word.  And what will it be?  Surely those first words will not be Grandma-and-Grandpa-in-Detroit. God forbid.

At the center of our tri-state arrangement, we have the ability and freedom to jump in the car at a moment’s notice and be with our children within 3 or 4 hours.  And we do. We find ourselves on the road on weekends with great frequency these days. 

But even so . . . the dance between long-distance grandparents and extended families is delicate, indeed.  We must share. We must negotiate and manage our time and miles from one another.  As we plan our visits and make our holidays, we need to factor in the sibs, their kids, the new blended family we’ve all become.  We must prepare ourselves and our tables for either the more the merrier  -- or the absence of our children from time to time, as they will and must fly on their own.

Now there’s Christmas and Hanuakah to navigate. Trees to decorate and potato latkes to fry. There’s Easter candy and Passover matzoh, which we’ve all chosen to pass over this year.  There are birthdays, milestone anniversaries, the years behind us and ahead, flying by. In a blink.

Our little ones pull up in their cribs, already on on their feet, ready to run, catch and overtake us, as we chase the years gone by, gone in a blink.

What joy. To have little ones again. To peel back a generation as we change a diaper, ready a bath, cuddle and read with them, rock them to sleep.  So like, and yet so different than our own sons and daughters.  We scan their faces for our likeness.  Is that your grandfather’s hairline?  Is that daddy’s dimple?

A new generation.  Our grandchildren!  So new to the world and so precious to us, and ever-changing with every blink of our eye.   How do we keep up?

We are a digital Face : time on a screen. We are a visitors with suitcases, bearing gifts, coming in for a quick hello and bye-bye.  It’s all a dance, we must take our rightful turns, then take our bows and leave the stage, trying our best not be not to be overbearing, over-anxious or too greedy for time, more time. Together.

What of this new love?  This total infatuation with our new children?  We bond and then part and bond back again, each visit a new mystery and revelation. Waiting for the word, the connection to be made:  it’s grandma! It’s grandpa!  Remember us? 

It is said that we name our children, but that our grandchildren name us.  So true.  Which accounts for so many odd and fond names.

I love that my husband’s cousins have become CoCo and BoBo -  CoCo -- so Chanel and chocolatey  and BoBo, so warm and comic.

My sister, on the other hand, is Oma to her grandchildren. Strange to me because we are not of German origin - but a natural choice for her, on homage -- given that her first husband was born in Vienna, and his parents were Oma and Opa to her sons.

Personally, I’d like to be Grammy - like the the music award. But I’m fine with Grandma, mama, gamma like the rays. Gram as in weight, sounding like a cracker?  Who knows how those first words will pan out and stick to us, like glue.

At a recent visit my husband elicited a word from our two-year-old that sounded a lot like UpPup - a name we found most amusing.  Then came PopUp -- another delightful twist, which makes me - most appropriately MopUp.

My daughter-in-law’s mother’s name is Nan... a perfect segue to Nanna, I suppose. 

So who are we?

Bubbe and Zayde?  

Savta and Saba

Imma and Aba?

Grandma V and Grandpa M?

Nag and Nell?  We’ll keep working at it.

Our words, words as we bathe our children in them - have their weight and meaning.  What and how we choose to name ourselves in our grandchildren's young lives is a legacy we leave.  We take it personally.  Seriously.  Lovingly.  Curiously.  Strangely.

A Grammy and Grampy still waiting to be named.

Photos: VHenoch (who else?)
Awww, thanks for stopping. 


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