What Do They Call You?
Yes, you look younger than any of your friends. Yes, shopkeepers often mistake you for your grandchild's parent when you're out together. No, you don't have a single gray hair on your head. And, yes, your daily visits to Club Exercise are paying off. However, this is all wasted on your grandchild, who insists on yelling "Grandma" across the supermarket aisles for all to hear no matter how many times you've told him to call you LuLu.
What's in a Name?
When I was a young mother in the midst of raising a family, my best friend lived a few houses away. Our children's schedules were synchronized so we could walk and talk while giving our children a fresh air outing in their carriages every afternoon. Now, more than thirty years later,we write to each other from one end of the East Coast to the other. Our letters are mostly about our children and our grandchildren. In one of my letters I asked what her grandchildren call her and her husband. "They used to call us Grandma and Grandpa, and I honestly hated it," she said. "Now that they're getting older, I suggested they call us Joan and Tom. They loved it, and so now that's what we go by. Even when they write, that's how they address us. I explained that since they're growing up, Grandma and Grandpa sounded a bit passe. I like to think they see us as friends."
Mimi and Jon don't particularly like being called Grandma and Grandpa either. Mimi says, "I often pick up my granddaughter from school or one of her lessons. I arrive in my Jeep, wearing shorts and with my hair in a ponytail, and, quite frankly, I feel more like her mother than her grandmother. In fact, people are often surprised that I'm her grandmother."
Many grandparents who feel young don't like the stereotypical image the old-fashioned titles Grandma and Grandpa conjure up. Some grandparents have tried, in vain, to get their grandchildren to call them by their first names; others have done this successfully but aren't sure how it came about. Mimi says, "I'd love to be called Marmee, from Little Women, but this hasn't caught on."
But I Don't Feel Like a Grandma or Grandpa
Each one of my grandchildren calls me by a different name--Nana, Hannah (a variation on her sister's "Nana"),Gran, Grandma, LaLa--and I answer each of them in exactly the same way, with utmost interest in whatever they have to say. The two-year-old calls both grandmothers Gamma and gets two responses at once, which is just fine with us.
A Nickname Is a Nickname Forever
When my cousin had his first baby, my aunt Helen was a typical first-time grandmother. The title Grandma made her feel old, so she tried to teach him to call her Helen. His version of her name was cute when he was little, but now that he's a grown man with three children, his grandma remains forever Hum Hum.
When deciding what the baby will call you, try to project twenty years hence. And keep in mind that you may not have control over the interpretation of your name. Tori calls me LaLa.
My friend Ellie came into my store with her five-year-old granddaughter, Sarah. "Will you buy this for me, Ellie?" the girl asked, holding up a wicker doll set. "Do all four of your grandchildren call you Ellie?" I asked. "They know I'm their grandmother. I don't need a title," Ellie answered.
Most first-time grandparents-to be wrestle with this issue before the baby is born. They don't always feel like grandparents, and this title suddenly makes them feel old. When our first grandchild was about to be born, we told our daughter we'd like the child to call us by our first names. She was hurt, taking this to mean we didn't want to begrandparents. Of course, what we didn't know then is that your grandchildren will often call you what they want or can pronounce, not what you tell them to call you.
Nancy and Bill are boating people, and everyone refers to Bill as Cap'n. Bill is a stepfather to Nancy's children. Their grandchildren call them Nana and Cap'n. Many children today grow up with two sets of parents. When they marry, they are likely to have two more sets of parents. This leads to lots of potential grandparents, especially if there are great-grandparents still alive. In this case many families attach names to the grandparent title. For example, Jerry's twin step-granddaughters call him Grandpa Jerry. However, Jerry's daughter just got married, and when she has children he hopes they will simply call him Grandpa and call his ex-wife's husband Grandpa, followed by his name.
"We rarely see my son's children," says Harry, "because they live with their mother in another part of the country. We sign our cards Grandpa Harry and Grandma Bess, and their other grandparents do the same, with their names, of course."
Once a Grandma, Always a Grandma
My ten-year-old grandson, Andrew, often rides his bike down to my store in the summertime. The store is at the end of a gallery-lined wharf in the harbor, where leisureboats dock. The promenade is lined with crushed shells, so he is forced to walk his bike to the end. But, being a ten-year-old and impatient, he often announces his arrival long before he gets to the store and screams out for all to hear, "Hey, Grandma!" One day I suggested, "Andrew, now that you're older, why don't you call me Leslie? I think it would be more appropriate when you come down to the wharf." As he hopped on his bike he yelled back over his shoulder, "Sure, Grandma." Some habits are hard to break.
Later that day I was in the video store. From across the aisle I heard a familiar voice, "Hey, Leslie." I looked up to see Andrew checking out a video game. "How come you called me Leslie?" I asked. "Look around, Grandma. Everyone in here is a grandmother. Do you think I wanted everyone looking at me if I yelled, 'Hey, Grandma'?" Kids have their own sense of logic. We just have to hope it coincides with our desires.
Fantasy Meets Reality
When Susie's daughter had a baby at age seventeen, Susie was thirty-six and felt too young to be a grandmother. "It made me feel older in my own eyes," she says. "I knew one thing for sure--I would never be called Grandma. But when the baby was born, the reality of his existence was overwhelming. I found myself cooing at him and saying things like, 'Come to Grandma,' and I realized what an opportunity I had to enjoy all the most pleasurable things about being a parent again." Now she has three, and last summer she took them to Disney World to celebrate her fortieth birthday! And what do they call her? SuSu. "And would you believe," she says, "I keep trying to get them to call me Grandma."
TOTALLY COOL GRANDPARENTING. Copyright © 1997 by Leslie Linsley Enterprises, Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsover without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.