I am watching with envy and trepidation as my baby boomer clan, one by one, add grandparent to their list of achievements. Their children, launched from an abundant upbringing, now with homes and careers, are hatching babies and building families. The profile of Nana as I remember bears no resemblance to what I am witnessing as my friend, one arm around a small hot pink snowsuit with a bulbous dark helmet and skis askew, slides her granddaughter onto the chair lift, pulls down the bar and pushes the tiny bottom gently back from the edge of the seat.
I had a Grandma and a Nana. Both were long- time widows. Grandma had steel grey hair, beady eyes and a tight, compact body. She was always in a hurry – permanently impatient. My dad and his brother sister referred to her as Hurricane Edith. She drove a blue Plymouth Valiant with a pushbutton transmission. Having once had an accident making a left turn, she would take circuitous routes to our house and her hairdresser, only making right turns. When she died my brother was given her car. It was ten years old with less than five thousand miles on it. He was thrilled and named it the Blue Warrior.
I have little recollection of her smile, voice, or essence. The occasional Sunday dinner in her dark house was to be endured. The roast had been placed in the oven before she left for church. It was a grainy, grey slab of leather on the pink flowered plate, faded green peas from a can beside a mound of mashed potatoes flanked the meat. Only after she passed did I learn that she was a rock collector and creator of whimsical pieces of jewelry. A hobby that she took up when she could no longer lawn bowl. I learned these details while helping my father empty her apartment after she died a slow perplexing death that only an autopsy was able to clarify. I still have her square leather case with compartments of polished stones, small tools, and jewelry finings. Only in my imagination do I see us together leaning over of the red box of treasurers.
I have a greater collection of memories about Nana. Even though my mother had a distant and intolerant relationship with her mother, Nana lived close to us and helped with the housekeeping and my lunchtime when I was in elementary school. Mabel was a tiny woman, with a mass of neatly organized curly white hair, oversized breasts, and an appetite for fashionable clothes and high-heeled shoes. She had a wide smile and a deep laugh that didn’t match her five-foot frame. She would spend hours depilling our sweaters, scrubbing burnt pots until they shone, folding our underwear, and making me baked apples for dessert. In her later years, she would announce that she was in constant pain as she lit up another Craven A and nibbled a steady diet of vanilla ice cream and digestive biscuits.
The reflections that defined grandparents for me are obsolete. While my children’s grandparents were slightly more active and engaged, they weren’t hiking and skiing with them. Or teaching them how to swim. Or taking them on bike rides. They followed the traditional and elderly grandparent manual. Read them bedtime stories. Took them to an occasional play. And made them homemade macaroni and cheese and chocolate chip cookies.
Blessed with an active lifestyle, healthy bodies, and energy more akin to those a decade younger than us, the grandparents presently in my sphere are keeping up with their prodigy. They are teaching them the value of community, outdoor activity and family connection. They are enjoying their expanding families – thankful to be in their lives. And bending down low, lifting them up high, wiping noses, and reminding them of what lies on the other side of the screens and virtual world that so dominates.
While I wait for my turn – hoping yet realistic that it’s not up to me, I enjoy the occasional visit with other people’s grandchildren (OPGC). I am aware that welcoming the next generation is an affirmation of my aging. Like so many in my circle, I find babies and small children excruciatingly adorable. However, being called a grandmother feels like an aged and withered designation. It has me pondering other titles. I have taken on the moniker of GG when addressing my two grand-dogs. It works.
For now, I am engaging in a variety of sports and activities to keep me nimble, energized and mentally agile. I am doing this for me, for us, for them.
At least, that is my experience.