When Mothers Turn Grand

When Mothers Turn Grand

By Alice Henry Whitmore

I admit to being envious of my friends who have already turned into grandmothers. It sure seems like a pretty grand gig. Grandmothers get to hang out with cute little kids while reading Good Night Moon out loud, singing Wheels on the Bus even louder, and playing Sorry and Go Fish to their hearts’ content. Then they get to hand the kids back to their parents—a couple of grownups who just ten minutes ago were little kids themselves.

But even though they’ve achieved hard-won grandmother status, “Grandmother” is the last thing my friends want to be called. I personally know a Nonna, a Nanna, a Nanny, a Mimi and a Gigi. And I've heard tell of a few MomMoms and even a G-Ma. That last one sounds a tad X-rated to me, but maybe that's why she picked it.

I got curious about this whole Grandmother Name Thing, so I did a little research on the internet. Among other things, including a hilarious YouTube video called Choosing your Grandma Name is Serious Business, I found The Ultimate Guide to Grandparent Names, which claims that “choosing your grandparent name—you know, the one you want your grandkids to call you—can be almost as challenging as it was to select your own kids’ names.”

Now, not to sound old and cranky, but when I was a kid I didn’t know anyone who was “challenged” by choosing a grandparent name. There wasn’t any question what your grandkids were going to call you. No, not “Grandmother”—I didn’t know anyone who called his or her grandmother “Grandmother.” True, there was that “Grandmother” whose house everyone was going to by sleigh in that song Over the River and Through the Woods, and I remember a nice “Grandmother” in the book Heidi, and a scary Big Bad Wolf pretending to be a grandmother in Little Red Riding Hood. But like most kids I knew in real life, I just called my grandmother "Gramma". 

This was actually spelled "Grandma" when written down, like when we wrote letters. But at least back in the Midwest, when we kids said “Grandma,” it came out "Gramma." (Yes, we wrote letters. When my Gramma Peterson died, I got a big envelope in the mail. It contained every single letter I'd ever written to her-–she had saved them all, including the first one I’d sent her when I was about six, and a multi-page tome I'd written her from my honeymoon.)

And, like most kids, I had two grandmothers – but only just the two. Maybe one of the reasons grandmothers today go for monikers like Glamma and G-Mom is to avoid grandkid confusion, what with multiple marriages—and multiple grandmas—being so common and all. I know a "Gramma Carol", who is called that by my husband’s older brother's grandkids because they already have another "Gramma Whitmore" who is their Grampa’s ex-first-wife and the mother of their dad. Whew. And, yes, they have yet another grandmother on their mom’s side of the family. I have no idea what those grandkids call this woman. But having met her at their parents’ wedding, I don’t think I could look her in the eye and call her, say, “MeeMaw”. 

I’ll bet another reason that today’s grandmothers go for less traditional grandmother names is that they don’t act or look very, well, traditionally grandmotheresque. Sure, these GaGas and Bamas do traditional grandmother things like sing songs and play games and make cookies (or some of them do). But they also go skiing in Aspen and hiking in Nepal and to tennis camp in Hawaii. And they certainly don’t dress like traditional grandmothers. Take housedresses (please). Both my grandmothers wore them exclusively, usually accessorized with an apron, support hose and orthopedic shoes. 

I guess it should come as no surprise that a woman confident enough to rock a pair of yoga pants while climbing the Vessel at Hudson Yards might resist being called “Gramma”.

So, to my good friends Nonna, Nanna, Nanny, Mimi and Gigi: I’m happy that you’re happy with those jazzy grandmother names you’ve chosen.

As for me, if I ever get lucky enough to join your ranks, I'll be happy to be called anything—as long as I get called something. And visited. A lot. 

Alice Henry Whitmore is a writer and a keen observer of human nature, skills she honed while working on Madison Avenue for many years. Now that she is retired from the advertising business, she focuses her attention on her weekly humor blog, Her pieces will comment on situations and experiences that Lustre readers share.

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