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.
The crowds of young D.C. music fans show up on Sunday nights at 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.
More than 60 years ago, in 1954, Emma Gatewood, a 66-year-old grandmother, 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.
When I visited my grandchildren’s school recently for a fundraising fair, 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.
If 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.
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.
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.
Finding out that your darling baby grandchild is deaf is certainly tough. The parents are most likely in turmoil. You probably are as well, and in addition, your family needs you to be strong, whether or not strong is what you feel.
An Australian organization that helps children with hearing loss had some advice that seemed like it could come in handy in lots of hard situations. You might call it the support stance, with caveats.
A woman identified as Grandma Carol offered this: “We are the support, the shoulder to cry on, the ones to be grumped at when things go bad and understand the reason for it and not get angry. We are the backstop to take the baby and give Mum a break. We are the font of all knowledge, and know nothing at all. We are the ones who give unconditional love to our beautiful grandchildren and walk with pride as we wheel them in the supermarket with the hearing aids and processors, and answer the questions from other children, and well meaning stupid adults.”
The upshot for Grandma Carol: She went back to school, and became a teacher of the deaf. “I have amazed myself…..I am loving every minute of it.”
At least I didn’t show you the really awful photos of babies with
oxygen masks, or the video entitled “Three days after this, he died.”
But you might have heard that whooping cough, or pertussis, is on the rise, and that, as grandmothers, we should be using our brains and sticking out our arms to get our shots updated. That is, if we can remember when the last time was that we were vaccinated.
Although whooping cough seems to come in waves, the number of cases is bigger now than any time since the 1950s, when a vaccine first became available. The CDC says,“Babies who get whooping cough often catch it from family members, including grandparents, who may not even know they have whooping cough,” Also, even if you had whooping cough as a child, “Protection wears off over time.”
The poor little babies are vulnerable until they are old enough to get their own shots. And so we must do what we must do. This is no time for grandstanding or plugging in to your own anxieties. (There are some grandparents who refuse to get vaccinated.)
Smart parents say, “No shot, no kissee kissee.”
Wouldn’t we all like to be raging grannies, some days? The movement that began in Canada more than 30 years ago has spread to the U.S., the U.K., and beyond. This loosely-knit assortment of social activist specializes in writing songs of protest which they offer up at public events. Their in-your-face dress up gear, as well as their songs, take our old lady stereotypes and fling them them up in the air.
Over the years, they have gained enough cred to have been investigated by the California National Guard, and to have been the subject of books, films, and academic articles.
But their signature remains their songs; close to 500 of which are available on their website. For example, the Anthem for Women begins, to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner: O-oh say there’s no way, Women get equal pay! Recent hits include Flint Water Atrocity and Come to Me: Song for a Syrian Refugee.