When my daughter was pregnant with my first grandchild she asked me what I wanted to be called. I’d been thinking about this, and had already ruled out Oma (makes me feel old), and Nana (makes me think of the dog in Peter Pan). “Just call me Grandma,” I said. “Grandma Opp.” Classic and elegant.
I guess “Grandma” was too generic, so one day my daughter said, “How about MeeMaw?”
“What would that make Dad?” I asked her. “PeePaw?” She nodded.
“That will never fly,” I said. I think I rolled my eyes. We both laughed.
In my childhood I had Grandma Stober on my dad’s side, and Grandma Wolitarsky on my mom’s side. Grandma Wolitarsky then remarried after eighteen years of widowhood and became Grandma Franke. It was simple. But that was then, and this is now, and things are more complicated.
My grandson has a total of six grandparents plus a set of great-grandparents all living in the same town. That’s a lot for a toddler to keep track of, so as he started to talk, he began referring to his other grandparents by inserting their first name after saying “Grandma” or “Grandpa.” My husband and I were just Grandpa and Grandma, without those first names attached. I started feeling a little anonymous, so one day I told him, “Why don’t you call me GiGi?” I don’t know how I came up with that one, but he didn’t comply anyway. I was still just Grandma.
Last week I tried another tack. My grandson filled me in about something he’d done with Grandma Vicki (only he says “Grandma Wicki”), and I saw my opening.
“You know,” I said, “I have a first name, too. My name is Linda.”
“No,” he said. “You’re Grandma.”
“You could call me Grandma Linda,” I offered. Surely he could see the logic.
Nope. “I don’t want to.”
A couple days later we were together in the car. He called me Mama a couple times. He of course knows the difference between his mother and me, but he was so excited about what he had to tell me that he wasn’t paying attention to how he addressed me.
“I’m not your mama,” I pointed out. “I’m your grandma.”
“No,” he insisted. “You’re a mama.”
Smart kid. “I’m a mama, but I’m not YOUR mama.”
“You’re my Grandma-Mama,” he said.
I melted. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have crawled into the back seat and hugged him. I finally have a name, and I love it.
What exactly is a Grandma-Mama? It’s a position of high honor. A designation for someone who is loved and trusted. An acknowledgment of the important place I occupy in this little boy’s world. And a reminder of great responsibility.
I’ve earned this name, I think, by virtue of many days of babysitting, countless stories read (actually a few stories, over and over), and bravely taking him to the yucky restroom at the park (I’m holding on to you! Keep your hands in the air and don’t touch anything!). I’ve earned it by forcing my nonathletic self to shoot baskets with him, and by singing seventy-five stanzas of “The Wheels on the Bus” until he falls sleep.
I’ll keep earning my title of Grandma-Mama by answering his millions of questions (actually a few questions, over and over), running beside him as he zips along on his tiny bike with training wheels, resigning myself to years and years of soccer and basketball game attendance, and, as yet unknown to him, praying for him to grow into a boy and then a man who loves God.
“Grandma-Mama” is what I want to be. I cherish the title and the role. Especially on those days when I open the front door to this little guy standing on the porch, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “Where’s Grandpa?” Because, as much as he loves his Grandma-Mama, there’s just nobody like Grandpa.
I can live with that. I’m his Grandma-Mama, after all.