Category Archives: grandmothers

Grandma is so ready for next wave feminism

It’s been a quiet few decades on the feminism front. Grandma used to feel sad when she heard that young women didn’t want to identify with the f word, even as they took for granted changes in the work world and on the home front that we, as young women, could only dream of seeing “one day.”

That day has arrived, with women in the Senate, in the Board room, in control of their careers and their personal lives. Sometimes. Or at least a lot more sometimes than back when we formed our young dreams.

But women are once again angry and proud. One of the reasons this current round of outrage has erupted now, is that enough women have enough power that they can stand up to the loathsome behavior that has been commonplace for so long. We, in the second wave of feminism, gave names to some of these behaviors — rape, sexual harassment. We spoke of them in public for the first time. But, in our focus on present and future, we were also well aware that we stood on the shoulders of the first wave of feminists, the suffragettes, who marched through the streets in their long white dresses, demanding that men give them the vote.

So let’s cheer on our daughters and granddaughters, and give ourselves a shout out as well. Each wave may wash out to sea, but another wave will be back, reaching farther up on the beach, bringing us all along with its force.


Grandma Succumbs to the Safety Police

Want to watch a new grandmother splutter and try to retain her self-control? Just ask her about safety. Sure, we know that the goal is to prevent injury and save lives, but sheesh! don’t these people know when to lighten up?

These people would refer to the parents; the adults who are setting the rules and establishing the standards of proper behavior — standards that the new grandmother must follow, or at least pretend to, when the parents are in sight and/or the little ones are  old enough to snitch.

But there is still a good possibility that you, as the grandparent, will go along with rules. After all, 1) It is not your child. 2) You don’t want to run the risk of alienating your actual child (the parent in the situation. 3) What if your luck runs out and the baby/child injures itself on your watch, and you have to admit that YOU WERE NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES? You, who, in the faraway past, tore your hair out getting those very people to understand the concepts of risk, prevention, thinking ahead, etc. etc. etc.

The problem is that standards have leapt up several notches. There is so much more consciousness of the possibility of injury, such an explosion of specialized products, so much more child-centeredness.

In my first days as a grandmother, I resisted the baby bathtub. After all, the kitchen sink had worked perfectly well for my kids and, I assume, for babies back to the dawn of history. (All right; maybe they didn’t even have kitchen sinks at the dawn of history.)

But when I suggested that kitchen sink possibility to the new parents, you would have thought I was advocating…..oh, let’s not go there. So, at the baby’s house, I dutifully used the baby gizmo. By the time the baby came to visit me, I even bought one for my own kitchen.

Did I learn to love it? No. Every time I used it, I had the same mental conversation: Ok; I see how this would make you feel better if you were anxious. Is there something wrong with me that I had not been sufficiently worried about bathing my own newborn in the same stainless steel sink where I had washed onions, and which I cleaned out with products that were probably poisonous? Or did I now, with my failing mental powers, just not remember?

Even in the form-fitting cozy plastic tub, my grandchild baby was able to squirm and cry and generally act uncooperative at times, although at other times, said baby was a model of infant delight, enjoying the gentle pat-down with the soft, tiny baby washcloth and the premium baby soap. I enjoyed knowing that I was doing the right thing; that my children and my children’s spouses would not be branding me as truculent or worse.

I had passed the first test of grandmotherhood: maintaining family peace.



A college degree at 94

Amy Craton began her college career with high hopes, in 1962. Unfortunately, a divorce and single parenthood forced her to drop out in order to support her four children. Fast forward (maybe not so fast) half a century. In 2013, she decided to finish the degree that she had begun.

By this time, the New Englander was living in Hawaii, far from her original college experience. She also knew that she would not be able to handle campus life at any school. But an online program at Southern New Hampshire University seemed like a good fit.  She completed her major in creative writing and English with a 4.0 average.

“You have to live,” she said. “You have to learn as long as you can learn. It feels good to finish that part of my life. But I’m still on the road. I still have more to learn.”

So Craton is beginning the course work for her master’s degree.



Nanagrams: not cheap, but cherished

When Mary LaCava’s first grandchild went off to college, she tucked a twenty dollar bill into an envelope and, using old hotel stationery, sent it off with a short note.  “I figured she could use it,” she recalled. She continued the practice every week.

That was twenty years, and twelve grandchildren ago. This graduation season marks the end of the Nanagrams, as her youngest finishes college. LaCava didn’t miss a grandchild or a week.

The now- 92-year-old Massachusetts woman found it tough going during the period when three of her grandkids were in college at once. But she stuck with it, even as she traded in her old stationery for special Nanagram notes.

Some kids saved their money, others spent it. Nana continued her letters, always staying in touch. “They say, you start something, you finish it,” she explains. Her grandkids are delighted that she stuck with them.




A British fashion retailer ran a survey to see who Brits thought was the most glamorous grandmother of all:  do you think there was any self-interest involved?

Guess who won with 40 percent of a seven-woman field? Kate Middleton’s mum Carole, who, it is said, shares clothing with her duchess daughter.

Goldie Hawn came in second. Camilla came in dead last. (Camilla? Who thought of including her?)

For those of you who thought that grandmotherhood would save you from status envy, think again. Not only do you have to look great; you have to have married off your daughter to a prince. But for those of you who think, yeah; why should I look like a rag, the answer is, why indeed? Go out and buy a new British dress. And wear a big smile.


Granny Rocks the Keyboard

The crowds of young D.C. music fans show up on Sunday nights Alice "Granny" Donahue (center), Richard Lynch (far right) and the rest of Granny and the Boys pose with fans and friends outside Showtime Lounge in July Show Time, a dive bar that features perhaps the most unusual show in town. Granny and the Boys include three middle aged African American funk musicians, and “Granny,” 84-year-old Alice Donahue, a white, classically-trained keyboardist who never played in public before this gig that has lasted almost 20 years.

Bassist David Lynch, two decades Donahue’s junior, met her when she was taking college courses soon after her husband died. Despite their age difference, they became a couple. And, in time, she was convinced to fill in for a missing band member. The rest is (unlikely) history.

Donahue, who raised five children, and did not previously have a job, explains it this way: “I can only say God has a tremendous sense of humor.”

In the photo, the three band members wear black t-shirts. Granny stands front and center.



Grandma Hikes the Appalachian Trail

More than 60 years ago, in 1954, Emma Gatewood, a 66-year-old grandma-gatewoodgrandmother, equipped with sneakers, a blanket, and a plastic shower curtain, set out to hike the Appalachian Trail.  She was unsuccessful. Her glasses broke, and she was forced to give up.

But the next year she tried again. And succeeded. She was the first woman to hike the 2,050 mile trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. She was also the first woman to hike it twice, and the first woman to hike it three times. (She was 75 on that trip.)

One of 15 children born to a Civil War veteran on an Ohio farm, she went on to marry and have 11 children of her own. She also had a husband who beat her for 30 years, until she found the courage to divorce him.

Gatewood’s conquest of the A.T.  garnered a lot of publicity. Grandma Gatewood, as she became known, did not talk about her past. However, she did talk about the poor conditions on the trail. The stories she told, and the repairs that followed, inspired a new generation of hikers.

She also walked 2,000 miles of the Oregon Trail, visited all 50 states, and left 24 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild when she died at age 85.



Poem 2 Go

When I visited my grandchildren’s school recently for a fundraising img_5303fair,  members of the poetry club had set up a booth. They offered to write a poem to your specifications, using — typewriters! First, of course, they had to learn how to use the typewriters.

I commissioned a poem using the subject: Grandma comes to visit. A sonnet or a haiku was not necessary, I said. And, just a little bit later, here is what they produced:

Grandma comes to visit

What a delight.

Grandma comes to visit

Only happiness in sight.

There is little to no time left.

And there is excitement in the house.

I can’t wait to see her

In her beautiful blouse.



GOTUS: First Grandmother

Family_of_Barack_Obama.sized-770x415xtIf the President is POTUS (president of the United States) and the First Lady is FLOTUS, then the first grandmother is obviously GOTUS. And, in the current administration, she has played a critical role.

Although Marian Robinson, Michelle’s mother, moved into the White House “kicking and screaming,” according to her her son, and only agreed to do it as part of the transition to Washington, she has stayed for the entire two terms. She has kept a low profile, but her presence has helped her daughter maintain a higher one. And she has contributed to the stability and “normalcy” of the family in an extremely abnormal environment.

Remember how I began this blog, with the concept that  the involvement of post-menopausal women in childrearing has helped us to improve as a species? Well, score one for the Robinson-Obama clan.

The last time there was a GOTUS was back in the Truman administration. “Mother Wallace” never approved of her son-in-law, who felt that her daughter had married down. But she lived with her daughter and son-in-law for 33 years. In the apartment they lived in before they moved to the White House, she shared a bedroom with Truman’s daughter Margaret.

The Obama-Robinson set-up appears to be working. When the family leaves the White House, their new home will include an apartment for Grandma.


In My Day…..

Want to instantly drop five points in the eyes of your children or their spouses/partners/co-parents? Just use this simple phrase for immediate results.great_grandmother_gress_margaret_conner_gress1

They may not stop asking you to babysit or attend family functions, but they will do it with gritted teeth. Nothing like a disparaging comparison between the imperfect world of competing demands that parents struggle through every day, and the all-sunshine-all-the-time vision that you remember so well. Oh, and did I mention the wise and immutable rules that governed your life as a young person?

Here are a few corollaries for you to excise if In my day is not your cup of tea. When I was growing up, in my family, when I was young, offer the same easy deification of a dead time.

Maybe you had a good upbringing, maybe not. But it happened at a very specific time, in a very specific environment. Use comparisons sparingly. In my day, we never ever laid it on too thick.