Editor’s Note: I asked Ana if she’d like to dialogue with me on this topic. She is “ahead”–in that her grandchild is a year older than mine, and I benefit from her insight as well as hand-me-downs. These pieces were written separately, then we read the whole. Hoping there is more to come–and that you, the reader, enjoy.
Right Here. Right Now by Ana Consuelo Matiella
When I think about what I expected being a grandmother would be like, it makes me ponder still, right now, about what I expect even today. My frame of reference is not that illuminating. My mother was Sara’s grandmother for one-year-and-a-half. Then my mom died and that was that.
What kind of grandmother was she? She was loving and affectionate and opinionated. I check all those boxes. But there is incomplete information. She was gone too soon.
I remember she believed in letting babies cry and I don’t. I don’t let Lala cry and I never expected that I would be “one-of-those” grandmothers. The way I see it, when babies cry, they’re trying to tell you they need something, and it’s my job to find out what it is. Luckily, Lala now has an extensive vocabulary and if she needs something, she just tells me what it is and I give it to her.
You hear the word “doting” a lot when it comes to grandmothers. I dote and I expected to dote. Doting was something I expected to be doing and doting is what I do but I dote in my own way. To me, “doting” has come to mean, “ being present.”
Prior to meeting Lala, I had the expectation that doting would be something like buying her lots of clothes and giving her lots of kisses. Now they have this thing called “consent” for babies and it’s not okay to kiss a baby without her permission. So we have both perfected the art of the “Mwa.” She is particularly good at kissing her hand and waving it at me while she says “Mwa,” at the window.
Sometimes, I must admit that I am overcome with joy and have to give her very smoochie and loud kisses on the cheek, Spanish style, and without warning.
And then I say, “You do what you have to do and I’ll do what I have to do.” But it is rare that I do that now, on account of the new consent protocol. Plus, she knows how to say, “I need space.”
I expected that I would be a dedicated and loving grandmother, a little on the overbearing side, and I am that. But I did not expect to be blown away by a two-year-old. I thought she would be cute, and charming and fun to dress, and she is that. But I did not expect her to knock my socks off.
But here’s the real deal and how being a grandmother impacts my existence as a human: When I am with Lala, I am completely present. I have zero Attention Deficit Disorder. I don’t think about anything else but what I’m doing right here, right now.
I was a pretty attentive mother; some would say an over-attentive mother. The Runaway Bunny Mother had nothing on me, but as a youngish mom, I remember being distracted. I had all those balls in the air. I had a husband to manage, and two dogs. A house and a business to run. There were many other things that I had to pay attention to. And now, sure, I still have a full life, a partner, a business, a house. But only one dog. (Surely, that can’t be it.)
For me, there’s something about being a grandmother that grounds me in the present. Everything else just falls away.
And that, was unexpected.
Am I Bubbe? by Miriam Sagan
“Here’s Bubbe,” my daughter tells my grand-daughter. The pandemic has shut down daycare, and so I’m babysitting most afternoon. Sixteen month old tow-head Grainne Rose sees happy to see me. She does her little dance and asks to be picked up. Her birth made me a grandmother, but I’m not exactly “bubbe,” the quintessential Jewish one. I can’t cook and my Yiddish is limited to curses
My mother, a devoted grandmother of seven was no “bubbe” either. She didn’t cook, but instead played the piano and read aloud to her grandchildren. Her mother, my grandma Sadie, was a terrible cook. Her brownies were barely edible when hot from the oven—stone like when cold. She was a fine seamstress—and had been blacklisted as a union organizer. She did give us unconditional bubbe love—scratching our backs for hours, crocheting for our dolls. But even as a child I sensed she was a woman caught in too small a sphere.
My father’s mother was bosomy but emotionally vague. We inherited a love of lavish clothing, massage, and exercising naked from her—she had the Russian Jewish affinity for “calisthenics.” She set a delicious table—but just because she employed an excellent cook.
However, I can’t deny I’m now a matriarch—the oldest woman in my family. No one else seems to care but I feel some responsibility—to what? Representing the ancestors? Transmitting values? When Grainne was tiny I held her in my arms and danced to Laura Nero, singing along: ”Little girl of all the daughters you were born a woman not a slave.” Something I sincerely hope is true.
When my daughter Isabel was pregnant—and frighteningly in labor with pre-eclampsia—I didn’t really love that unborn child. She was threatening this child I held most dear, my daughter. Once Grainne was born of course I took to her immediately but in a slightly impersonal way—I like babies and she was a cute one. It took longer for me to start to get to know her—really for us to start to get to know each other.
I find it annoying that people gush about grand-motherhood, giving me credit for something I didn’t actually “do.” I’m uneasy in societally determined feminine roles. I do feel unconditional love for G., in part because I’m really not responsible for her. What I decide to give her can be personal, optional.
And I do enjoy reading “Yiddish for Babies” with her. She can find her pupik. I’ve always thought babies were particularly drawn to bellybuttons because of an atavistic memory of the womb and mom’s sources of nourishment.
“Bubbe is FUN,” says my daughter. That is a mission statement I can get behind.