“With the words, You are a grandmother… I became something different than I’d ever been before.”
Anna Quindlenfrom Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting by Anna Quindlen
For the first time, my husband (aka Papa) and I (Didi) took care of grandson Louis for a string of days-while his parents had a little time off. Louis is a child with predictable routines around sleeping and eating, and our home is a place he knows with toys and books and bed. Piece of cake. There were two of us at the ready-one playing, one doing meal prep or running the bath. It was exhausting even so.
I seem to be accustomed to time off, not used to the constant demands of childcare and oversight. And I now know why grandparents offer a slower pace for looking at butterflies or finding puddles, watching neighbor John mow the lawn. It is the speed we move now.
“Ready. Set. Go!” says Louis on his cute wooden tricycle, not the plastic hot wheels our kids had that made a racket on the sidewalk, this is long and low, with rubber wheels, the kind without pedals, you ride Fred Flintstone style. He goes along at quite a clip. I run. He catches me. Then speeds ahead. I would follow at a jog. He decided 3/4 of the way around the neighborhood to get off. I watched his blue-helmeted head take off in a dead run. Fast. Oh boy! He looked over his shoulder at “Running Didi.” He didn’t like my suggestion to stop, and when I attempted to pick him up, he went limp in protest, lying back on the Morozynski’s lawn.
I carry him. It is hot. He is heavy. I am surprised at my lack of skill, searching my dusty parenting tool kit for the right–what? consequences? limits? What applied here for grandma? And how frustrated am I allowed to be? I hand him off to Papa and retrieve the trike, walking it off.
I am reading Anna Quindlen’s book, Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting. The moniker “No-no Nana” comes to mind, with too many other priorities and a pristine living room who doesn’t “do” childcare. You know what I am talking about. And there is grandma fun, aka “Fun-ma” who wears the badge of spoiler, breaking all those well-wrought parental rules with abandon and delight. And there is “do over” Grandma wanting to set right some of her past parenting mistakes. What kind of grandma do I want to be?
I have the legacy of my own mother, the illustrious “Grandma Kay” who provided day care for her six grandchildren, not all at once, but over the period of infancy through school age that added up to 10 years! Later, at their choir and band concerts, sporting events and high school graduations, she would share, “Caring for my grandchildren has been the greatest joy and privilege of my life!”
And I had two grandmothers who were as opposite as they could be and both treasured for their uniqueness. Grandma Marie’s well-pressed embroidered pillowcases, delicate china, African Violets and perfect potato salad. Grandma Lee’s laissez-faire attitude offered sewing lessons upstairs on her Singer, stirring Tang into bumpy plastic glasses, cutting a dog’s toenails and watching for Baltimore Orioles at the feeder. Their gift of time and attention made me feel loved.
Just like Quindlen I give high praise to my children for the parents they are. It makes the “nana job” so much easier when the big things (bedtimes, dietary habits, potty) are already in place. I share the sentiment of other grandmas I meet at the gym or the grocery, who describe the experience as simply “the best.”
We want a name along with the new job description. I know mimis, gigis, didis (me), nana, nona, mormors. In truth we prefer to name ourselves, not leaving it to the child to come up with an adorable name when they try out “grandma.” I think of grandma names as vanity plates, and I have one too.
Does any other grandma share an insecurity of how to be? What is our role? I find myself hanging back when the family is all together, taking on the safer things like bedtime reading or wiping sticky fingers. I am careful not to overstep or foist my overly cautious nature on every sharp edge and headlong leap the little guy takes, but that protectiveness urge is primal.
The truth is that becoming a grandparent means we are the elders that are named in the highest branches of the family tree, and at the same time our position is moving closer to its roots.
I am not sure I have anything to add to the grandma conversation that hasn’t already been said or heard. I don’t have THE superlative, over-the-top name for that feeling I have for Louis.
It isn’t the fierce protective love of a parent, although that is there. It is a joyful sort of love that comes in a precious space. Because I know that life is short, childhood is shorter and the joy comes in small moments, if we are lucky enough to be there.
When Louis saw me when I arrived to pick him up to come for those few days? He squealed “Didi!!” and ran for my arms. And when I held him he hugged me long and tight. It was the best.