The author seated on a couch, looking at a newborn baby

I’ve Hit the Grandmom Milestone. Now What Should I Be Called?

How I’m finding my new name and managing this new phase

My first grandchild was born in March, but please don’t call me Grandma. It’s not that I’m not thrilled about this milestone and the monumental adorableness of my grandson. I just don’t like the sound of “Grandma Amy.” 

As the baby’s birth was approaching and I considered what he might call me, I found myself wondering why I had such a negative reaction to that title. After all, I loved my own grandmothers who I referred to as Grandma Jean and Grandma Dorothy. But when I sifted through my memories of them, I knew I didn’t look or act as old as they did when they became grandmothers. Both were matronly with their teased and lacquered hair-dos, industrial-sized undergarments and sensible shoes. That’s not me. 

Yes, fashions have changed and both ladies might have modernized their looks if they were around today but their attitudes were matronly, too, reflecting their times. When they babysat, they made sure my brother and I were fed and didn’t kill one another but they never played or danced or goofed around with us. That’s not me either. 

When I picture my relationship with my grandson as he grows up, I want it to center on connection rather than caretaking. I will absolutely be a willing babysitter (our apartments are only a ten-minute walk apart) and I will change diapers and spoon cereal with a genuine smile. But my wish is that my grandson — and any future grandchildren — and I tap into a deeper vein of connection as we (hopefully) share the next three or so decades. I want a name that reflects that. 

For many women my age (early 60’s) whose children have grown and flown, there’s a feeling of gratification that we’ve succeeded in raising kids who are navigating life without much if any help from mom. But the flip side of that notion can be a sense of irrelevancy. Who needs me anymore? I’ve got friends and hobbies and a great husband and all of those buoy my sense of self-worth. But there’s a part of me that mourns and longs for the days when I was the primary nurturer of a little person’s body and spirit. As a mother of young children, you are the queen of relevance. Now, with the birth of my grandson, I’ve got a new opportunity to be relevant in that very specific, special way. Perhaps he can call me Grandma Relevance?

I next considered Granny, which I kind of liked, but ultimately couldn’t get past the image of a wizened Irene Ryan playing the twangy bumpkin Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies. There were even worse options that I eliminated out of hand. Nana was one of them, with apologies to anyone who happily called their grandmother Nana or answers to that today. Same goes for Bama (that’s what my husband called his grandmother) and Bubbe — there’s not a chance in the world I would answer to either of those. My daughter-in-law’s parents avoided this grandparental naming struggle altogether due to the fact that they are Brazilian and their titles are proscribed. The spelling may be tricky (avô and avo’) but phonetically, they are the delightful sounding Vo-vo and Vo-vaw.

In my quest, I surveyed friends who are already grandmothers. One goes by GoGo (cute, but not for me); another is Sugar (the name of my aunt’s manic Yorkie, so no). Where did that leave me? I landed on Mimi, which sounded playful and similar to my actual name. I told my family and a few friends of my decision and they gently teased me by calling me Mimi even before the baby arrived. But every time they did, I inwardly winced. Not a good sign.

Recently, my five-week-old grandson and his parents spent a long weekend with us at our upstate house. It was time to take my new name out for a real test drive, as in my pronouncement that “Mimi will give Harrison his bath.” Of course, I needed to post a picture of this memorable event but when the time came to write the caption, I hesitated. Mimi didn’t feel right. Maybe it was just the newness of the name but I felt like an impostor, an ordinary American grandmother trying to pass herself off as a flirty French can-can dancer. I composed then deleted a dozen different captions, ultimately defaulting to these five words: “First bath time with Grandma.” 

What a wimp. I didn’t even make it through one weekend as Mimi. 

As with many other issues in my life, perhaps I’m overthinking this one. My husband has joyfully adopted his moniker, Grandpa Brad. Maybe I can accept Grandma Amy with grace, if not glee.  Harrison may end up calling me something completely different anyway.

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