This granny-nanny kept her mouth shut about the incident, but never again did she resist her rightful role. Maternal instincts, my need to nurture, came as naturally to me as breathing—and indeed they were fresh breath itself. Yet until that moment I couldn’t go farther. Although I bragged like a grandmother, cared like a grandmother, took care of the children like a grandmother, I had not claimed the title. For the first time, I basked in it. I finally and officially had branded myself.
When Jamie had Ian—a home birth this time—I proudly assumed my role.
Several years later, my daughter Amanda and her husband, Lew, presented us with Malcolm, then James, then Olivia. My response remained the same—each birth was a miracle, each child a treasure. And each time, I get that stomach-flipping feeling, that glorious elixir of giddiness and promise—without worrying about my age.
When I began my journey with this younger generation, I told myself I had no role models, but that wasn’t so. I had my own mother. Why couldn’t I have seen that sooner? Although we grappled with mother/daughter problems, she made a splendid grandmother. She disciplined the children, scolded them, expected a high standard of behavior, and when necessary backed off. She also spoiled them, enjoyed them, relaxed the rules she’d applied to me, and believed in her grandchildren with all her heart. And they loved her! A career woman not given to handwringing, my mother certainly didn’t agonize over this role, nor did she fit any grandmotherly image I’d conjured in my mind—most assuredly not that of a granny.
I dream myself into a new way of being a grandmother. Age stays on the periphery, having less to do with years than with my sense of self as a regenerative spirit in my grandchildren’s lives, as they are in mine. Instead of limiting my discovery of a newfound sense of freedom from the everyday emotional and physical responsibility for my family, I have forged a shared purpose with my daughters, including my daughter Lucy, who does not have children but is deeply involved with her nieces and nephews. What’s more, as a grandmother I find that my life has expanded exponentially, exposing me to younger voices and younger ways of thinking, often far removed from my own.
I have much to share with my grandchildren, too, for they have access to my acquired, often hard-earned experience as well as the pleasure, passions, and pain that accrue over many years. At one step removed, the force of this repository of lessons isn’t as overwhelming to them as the experience of their parents. I don’t mean I lecture or even try to set a good example, but I do show them a life lived in abundance with its losses, mistakes, timid falterings, blatant excesses, and modest triumphs.
I am still KK to my grandchildren, and on awfully good hair days when I’m shopping with Kate and a salesperson compliments me on my beautiful young daughter, Kate and I exchange smiles and I say, “Thank you.” After all, a little vanity has its place.
It’s too bad that when Jamie announced her first pregnancy, I hadn’t recalled another scene from Terms of Endearment, the one where Jack Nicholson, as the playboy astronaut who is Shirley MacLaine’s next-door neighbor, starts to put the moves on her and she suddenly throws her arms around his neck. He looks startled. She reminds him she’s a grandmother. She knows what she’s doing.