The most eventful thing that happened to me last week didn’t happen to me. It happened to our daughter and our son-in-law. She had a baby – which for those of you who are counting know is her second child. Which means I am a grandmother 2x.
How did this happen?
Well, I know how it happened technically – and that intimate part is thankfully between our daughter and her husband. But exactly how did time pass to this point – where I am supposed to be able to somehow casually admit, oh yes, I’m a grandmother, that part I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around.
While I adore the two little guys, I stumble over the word “grandmother” – and all it implies as an image to others.
Earlier today I had to fill in a form that called for you to check off your occupation. I hesitated. No, I’m not a “Lawyer” anymore (but wait, once a lawyer, always a lawyer?). I couldn’t exactly check the box for “Homemaker” either – though my hard-working husband would be most happy if he arrived home at night to find me cooking his dinner more often than I do. The box for “Retired”, forget it. I’m adamant in thinking of myself as semi-retired. And the form did not contain a box for “semi-retired.”
Neither did the form have an occupation box called “grandmother.” If it had, I probably could not have brought myself to check that one either.
Why am I so afraid of the labels that imply aging when they are factually correct?
I think back to my own grandmothers, both of whom I was lucky enough to know, and up come images of printed dresses, papery, wrinkled cheeks to kiss and being enveloped wafts of strong perfume. My sister and I would visit them in their respective apartments, filled with figurines, memorabilia and the latest TV Guide magazines. We took them out to dinner on Sunday nights for Chinese food, then considered a rare treat. The more stylish (fresh lipstick always) of our grandmothers had six grandchildren; the more comfy of the two had twelve.
They were the classic grandmother types. I’m not in that mold, I like to think.
I catch myself consciously practicing to be the “young” grandmother type. Our older grandson calls me “Nina.” A variant on my first name, Nancy and the word “Nana”. He picked the name on his own – and to my ears, “Nina” sounds youthful and hip. It goes along with my getting down on the floor to build Lego towers, stretching play dough into colorful ropes and taking walks to the playground to go on the slide.
Were my grandmothers ever the “Nina” type?
In my memories they sat on couches or in heavily upholstered chairs; they never crouched on wood floors to stack blocks or line up trucks in a row. Did they read to us when we were little or mostly pinch our cheeks and then make soup? They certainly didn’t drape themselves in blankets and create pretend forts.
So therefore I cannot really be a grandmother because I don’t act or look like the grandmothers I once knew.
I am a “Nina” instead. And I’m not alone in this – wanting to be perceived as the youthful g-ma type. A friend of mine who has two grandchildren likes to be called “Mimi” and another has her three grandchildren call her “Gigi”.
Likely we fool no one with these young-ish sounding names. But somehow they make us feel better that we haven’t morphed into our parents’ parents generation.
The photos we post on Facebook (with permission of our adult children, of course) show us being active grandparents. Look at us, how energetic and playful we are. Hardly grandmotherly at all, we say to the world.
At a meeting last night, a friend came up to me to offer congratulations (although as noted above, I had nothing to do with it) on our daughter’s new baby. The friend hugged me, then pulled away to look at me – assessing my appearance. Non-Mom jeans, a dark cardigan sweater, stylish (I think) short black boots.
“You look pretty good for a grandmother,” she said.
I guess it was meant as a compliment. Maybe my friend is also recollecting her own black and white photos of an apron-wearing grandmother at the stove.
25 years from now will my two grandsons look at old photos of me (assuming they make it into print and aren’t forever trapped inside an iPhone) – and think how stodgy and old-fashioned their “Nina” looked way back then? And yet we called her “Nina” – wasn’t she fun, I hope they will say.
How she loved being with us, singing silly songs and playing on the floor. Just like “Ninas” are supposed to be.