Grandma Games

A modern look at the timeless battle over a grandchild's affection

By Kelly Wingard

The competition often starts before the EPT strip has dried. The Grandma Games open with a sprint to see which grandma-to-be can spread the happy news farthest and fastest. Friends, family, co-workers, the nurse at the doctor’s office, strangers on the elevator — everyone’s a potential point. Then, it’s off to the mall to see who can accumulate the largest stash of infant supplies and adorable little outfits before the blessed event takes place.

Naming the baby provides the next challenge. Both sides usually begin pitching their family names early. But since Myrtle and Edna don’t offer as much appeal to modern-day parents as they did to their grandparents, this contest may end in a draw. If, however, baby Kathryn is named after Daddy’s grandma and Mommy’s mom, both grandmas can claim bragging rights. Bonus points accrue to the one who controls the spelling of the name.

These activities are just the warm-up. The real competition begins when the little bundle of joy arrives. “Let the baby cry it out. It’s good for her lungs,” vs. “Pick her up. You can’t spoil a baby.” Whose Mom’s advice will the new parents follow? The maternal grandmother is typically the odds-on favorite in this category, but really savvy paternal grandmas can pick up some points by keenly observing celebrity parenting trends.

Of course, the biggest/best contest presents the largest opportunity to rack up points. Who’s got the best “Grandma house / yard / neighborhood / toys / electronics / vehicle / etc.?” This part of the competition can span decades and will focus on different elements as the grandchild progresses in age. Although the apparent winner is the grandma who lives in the material world, ingenuity has been known to trump income. The grandma who can make a castle out of a cardboard box can often surpass the grandma with the Xbox.

Closely linked to the biggest/best contest is the gift-giving challenge. This is the freestyle part of the competition where grandmas are encouraged to display their personal style. Again, the grandmother on the lower end of the economic scale is handicapped in this contest, but she can overcome the financial obstacle with innovation. Although Mimi may get high marks for maxing her credit card at Abercrombie and Fitch, Nana can sweep the competition with some drugstore makeup if she also cons Mom into letting her 11-year-old daughter wear it.

The innovative grandma will also have an edge in the “funnest" grandma match-up. In this category, age and health are often factors, but a young-at-heart, 70-year-old grandma can beat out her younger-in-years counterpart if she maintains a positive attitude (and an abundant supply of energy drinks). Although the Funnest Grandma title may be conferred on the grandma who is the craftiest, the coolest, or the one most willing to play Candyland for hours, it also may fall to the one who doesn’t get upset when her darling grandchild expresses his creativity by grinding red Play-Doh into her white couch.

Although they compete fiercely, most grandmothers would deny ever participating in the Grandma Games. The competition is often carried out clandestinely, with subtle moves designed to tip the favorite-grandma balance in one grandma’s favor without drawing the attention of the other grandma. A couple of cookies here, a special toy there, they volley “grandma goodies” back and forth in their bid to be the one whose lap her grandchild prefers on holiday gatherings. But if their grandchild is lucky, they’ll both be winners and the score will end “Love-Love.”

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