Courtesy of Charlene Shepard
Gathered in a box is the collection of greeting cards that chart my oldest daughter's life. Birthday, holiday, graduation cards: I've kept them all. A closer look at the earliest ones, though, reveals yet another journey.
My parents' first cards to her are signed: Mania and Bob. Both just barely 50 years old then, they hadn't expected to be grandparents quite so soon. As my daughter began cooing her first baby words, Mania and Bob warmed up to the idea, slowly embracing their new grandparent status. They knew their granddaughter couldn't go around calling them by their first names. Soon enough, cards started appearing signed: From Grandmother and Grandfather. While these words looked fine scrawled onto a birthday card, out-loud, their clunky formality sounded laughable... especially if you knew my casual, fun-loving parents. At last, they settled on the casual Nan and Pop, names that, to date, have lasted five grandkids and 16 years.
Like Mania and Bob once did, you and your 76 million Baby Boomer pals are jumping full-steam-ahead into grandparenting mode. As you do, a new style of caring for your children's children emerges. One obvious difference: Newfangled grandparent names. You'd have to look far and wide to find a traditional Grandmother or Grandfather, these days.
Just Too Bland & Boring
In many families, the obvious names are taken — and, not by legendary great-grandparents, but by those who are living and breathing. This is likely the first generation of grandparents for which this is the case. Put simply, the scenario creates a bit of a naming dilemma: Nobody wants to be the other Granny.
What's more, the images conjured up by the words grandmother and grandfather are just too sleepy: A creaking rocking chair, wrinkled hands knitting Afghans. Nowadays, reports AARP, the average grandparent is 48 years old when his or her first grandbaby is born — and nowhere near ready to sport blue tufts of hair at Friday-night Bingo.
"My mother became a grandmother at the ripe old age of 41," says Amy Nolan, a mom of two. "She didn't want the stigma attached to being called Granny because she was still young, and had a 10-year-old of her own." She named herself instead, the youngish-sounding Nana. If you're a grandparent-to-be, just wait. You'll soon be wracking your brain, too, for endearing names — that don't necessarily ring of old age.
Grandparents Just Wanna Have Fun
To be clear, this is more than a name change. It's an overall reinvention of what it means to be a grandparent. "I remember my grandparents just sitting around watching TV and talking with my parents," says Kristi Nye, 31, of Texas.
Your generation of grandparents, though, is younger (chronologically and mentally), healthier, and wealthier than those that went before you, says Allan Zullo, co-author of A Boomer's Guide To Grandparenting (Andrews McMeel Publishing) who's a granddad of three.
"Boomers now have the resources to do the fun things with their grandkids," says Zullo, "that they didn't have the time or money to do with their kids before." He just might be on to something. Thirty-eight percent of vacationers polled for a 2003 Travel Industry Association of America survey reported taking a trip inclusive of three generations, up from 19 percent in 1999. The new monikers reflect this playful nature. One grandmother who lights up like Tinkerbell every time she sees her grandchild goes by Tink. A tuba-playing grandfather calls himself UmPaPa.
In the Trenches
And, less formal names ring with familiarity. If you live close to your children, it's likely that, in addition to changing diapers, you'll be lending them a hand shuttling the grandkids to and from baseball fields and schoolyards. Adult children heading up two-career households or coping with divorce, illness, or overseas military duty are increasingly asking - in some cases expecting — your active participation in managing the grandkids' daily lives.
Adopting a casual name can bring you deeper into the family fold whereas a more rigid title may set you apart. Grandparents like you are going with family nicknames such as Chief, or Jazzie, or combinations of a traditional title and first name: Granny Sue or Grandpa George. And, international renditions are also gaining popularity as more grandparents adopt the names they remember calling out as kids.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Maybe you've just heard the thrilling news: You're going to be a grandparent! You'll have nine months to mull over lists of potential grandparent names. Until you find the name you like. It's catchy. It's clever. It just feels right.
One word of warning: Don't get too attached. Many a family legend came about as a result of a grandchild bungling a grandparent's chosen name. After hemming and hawing, my mother-in-law picked Grammy — what my husband used to call her mother.
It was decided on...or so we thought. While we referred to her repeatedly as Grammy, my daughter was mum on the subject. Until one day, it just tumbled out.
Yes, my mother-in-law is a talker. But no, we never called her that. It was the result of a toddler's tongue twisting around a new word and making it her own. With a laugh, Gabby gladly accepted the new name bestowed upon her. We've since called her nothing but.
So, what's it going to be for you? GG, Cuckoo, Pappy... Oma? Whatever name you opt for, it's sure to sound like music to your ears spilling from the mouth of your toothless, smiling grandchild.
How well do you get along with your grandchild and other family members? Want to know if your personalities mesh?Find out here.