Three of my sisters and lots of my friends are grandmothers. I find myself fascinated by the variety of names their grandchildren use to address them. For years I have heard Nana, Granny, and Memaw and more recently LaLa and Gigi. When I was a kid, most of us just called our mother’s mother Grandma.
Some grandmothers prefer specific monikers, but occasionally names just happen, as with Ingrid’s children. A popular German word for Grandma is Oma. During my early trips overseas I noticed that they called Ingrid’s mother Oma Jeanne because she was almost always accompanied by her poodle of that name.
Tougher to figure was their name for Hubert’s mother: Oma Puffbahn, with Puffbahn meaning choo-choo train. Not until I visited her at home did I understand they were associating that grandmother with the several trains that passed her house each day.
Closer to home, one of my now-adult nephews chose his own name for my mother. She babysat for him and always spoke to him quite endearingly. Never was there a more apt name for my mother than his name for her – Grandma Sweetheart.
Even more surprising than this plethora of names is how quickly it seems that mere girls suddenly become grandmothers. The pace of transformation seems to be rapidly increasing; every time I turn around someone else is posting new grandbaby pictures. My non-grandmother status aside, as an aunt and a former teacher to forty years of current parents, I have also experienced this generational whiplash.
It seems there are three types of grandmothers-in-waiting. Some are so eager as to initiate “grandchildren talk” the day after the latest offspring wedding. Conversely, there are ladies reluctant to assume an advanced family title for fear of being considered old. My mother belonged to a middle group that realized grandkids would come whenever – as would the Grandma designation.
Actually, it was quite the adjustment for me when my mother became a grandmother – which seemed to happen overnight. One day she was the matriarch of the household on Ford Road, and the next day she joined the category my Grandmothers Maurice and Scott had occupied all my life.
That my mother would ever be a grandmother, however, was not at all clear during my childhood. She was lecturer-extraordinaire back then, infamous for her tagline: “and another thing.”
One subtopic of Mother’s periodic rants referred to our futures, and I quote: “And don’t ever think you need to bring any grandchildren home to me. I’m done with the lot of you!” It was a mother I scarcely recognized years later when she regularly offered babysitting services for the grandchildren who began popping up on the family tree in the 70’s.
I know how busy I was with my teaching job, even with no children. I still have no idea how my sisters and friends met all their professional obligations while simultaneously coordinating non-stop households complicated by housework demands and cluttered calendars. I am not sure these uber-busy moms even realized how many beautiful, quiet moments they missed with their children – or maybe they did.
And kids certainly did not make it any easier. To my adolescent way of thinking, my mother was unbelievably old-fashioned. She had no clue about modern times and never let me do what everyone else was doing.
However, I had no difficulty accepting that my grandmothers were just plain old and set in their ways. It never occurred to me to debate rules with them or to ignore them in stony silence during a disciplinary impasse. I guess it is a fact of life that mothers are impossibly old, but grandmothers are permissibly prehistoric.
Finally free of exasperating children and difficult teens, my mother entered Grandma-land, with time to savor all she had missed with us kids. And she was the best kind of grandmother. She never judged, gave advice only when asked, and loved each grandkid unconditionally and individually. The grandchildren not only accepted Grandma’s way of doing things, but often engaged in activities not always possible at home: baking cookies all morning, hearing story after story and then more stories, playing Candyland to their heart’s content.
Just when I seemed to truly understand and appreciate my mother’s grandmotherhood, my sisters became grandmothers themselves. So did my friends and even some of my former students.
Yes, the sisters with whom I had played house – now grandmothers. The gal pals with whom I used to unwind at the end of the day in the teacher’s lounge – now grandmothers. And two former students/high school sweethearts invited to my house to discuss buying my parents’ farm a few years ago arrived bearing photos of their grandchildren!
The most important aspect of the grandmother-grandchild relationship is what keeps a family united. Grandkids patiently translate the present world for their grandmothers, thus providing a hopeful glimpse into a future the elders will not experience. And patiently-mellow grandmothers have the time and credibility to describe life as it once was, framing a perspective to bridge the generations.
To all Mommys and Mothers and Moms who, come Sunday, will celebrate and be celebrated: please understand that before you know it, your status – along with your responsibilities and your rewards – will change. You are a mere moment and just a grandchild away from becoming Memaw or Nana or Grandma Sweetheart. Suddenly, you will be a grandmother…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.