Mar 8, 2007

A Grandmother's Tale: From There and Back Again

by Valerie J. Steimle

I was happy when my first born told me she was pregnant. Posterity! That was what I really wanted. But after a couple of hours of celebrating, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was to be a “grandmother”. A grandmother? I’m 46 years old and I looked 35. I am definitely too young to be called “Grandma”. So I went about asking my friends what name for Grandma they used or what their grandchildren called them. The results were interesting.

MeeMa was the southern version and that is pretty popular where we are living in Alabama but I didn’t like it. Oma was the German form but that didn’t sound like a young grandma either. Iidee is Finnish for Grandma as YaYa was Greek. But those didn’t seem to fit either. I kept thinking there must be some name I can be happy with. Nona is Italian and Bunica, Romanian. It sounded exotic but not quite right. Nadie is Hungarian and Bubby is Yiddish. Still not right. There were also other suggestions: Mimi, Vivi, Gram, and Granny. None of those seemed to work for me so I kept searching. I asked the mail ladies at the post office. I asked strangers in line at the grocery story. I asked women at the auto center at Walmart and the Pharmacist down the street. Everywhere I went I asked, but nothing struck my fancy.

Then one of my daughters rented the movie “Rumor Has It”. This was a real eye opener for me. In the movie, the Grandmother (played by Shirley McClain) refused to be called Grandma. She didn’t like it at all and told her granddaughter to stop calling her that even though she looked old enough to be a grandma. This really frustrated her granddaughter (Jennifer Aniston) in the movie and that gave me more food for thought.

Soon after that I took a trip to Phoenix for the annual ANWA writer’s retreat and decided to drive to Los Angeles afterward to see my daughter, her husband and the newest member of the family. So there I was driving across the desert to LA from Phoenix. It’s a 4 hour drive and I put a CD in the player and started driving. I had lots of time to think. I had to make a decision. Was it really that important to find a name that didn’t sound too old or was that just my pride getting in the way? The drive went really fast and before I knew it I was driving down the freeways of Los Angeles on my way to my daughter’s house. During that time I realized something: It doesn’t really matter what you call yourself. You are your children’s grandparent.

Flying back to Alabama I made my decision. Being called Grandma was much more important for my grandchildren than for me feeling old or young. It really doesn’t matter. I can still feel young after spending time with them; it’s all a state of mind. After all, they just want a grandma and that is what counts the most.


  1. You remind me of my mother, Valerie. She wanted to be called by some exotic name, but it wasn't important to me, and she lived on the other side of the world, so she stayed Grandma for fifteen years. My youngest girl Ruth, for some inexplicable reason began calling her Dodie, and that's what she became to all the grandchildren, even the teenagers. By that time, my mother lived on the hill behind us, and she loved it.

  2. Yes Liz that's been my family's experience. Usually the firstborn gets to make the choice. My cousin loved her (our) grandmother so she called her good mama. Yep that name stuck. And was perfect for her. Need I say bad mama was her "private" name for her mom, ha.

  3. One of our daughters added r's to the end of words and my mom came to be known as "Grammers." It's funny how those things come about. Our oldest duaghter's children call me Abuelah because they have so many living grandparents, they started coming up with ways to differentiate between us in a conversation. My grankids now call my Mom "Gigi"...for the double "g" in great-grandma. That was much preferable to one of the kids saying there's our "big" Grandma...because he could't remember the word "great!"
    Great blog, Valerie!

  4. I think of all the names, I do like GiGi the best. I remember hearing that from "I Robot" when Will Smith called his Grandmother in the movie, GiGi. I guess I'll wait to see when my first granddaughter speaks--she is only 8 months old-- and see what she comes up with.

  5. I liked the name quest. My mom didn't want to be grandma, so she ended up being granny toots.

    Heather Horrocks


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