MOTHER’S DAY, INDEED. It’s way overhyped, and most working moms (who are most moms these days) don’t get the day off no matter how many kisses are exchanged. What’s the use of a bottle of bubbly or a bouquet when the rent is due? I vote instead for National Grandmom (maybe even Grandparents) Day, which—surprise—has existed in this country since 1978, though Poland seems to have had one since 1965.
This nearly non-existent homage to the grandly titled among us is pegged for the first Sunday after Labor Day, if you care to know. Even better, in my mind, is the (yes!) National Gorgeous Grandma Day, happening each year for some reason on July 23. A white-haired lady on a motorcycle is the featured icon in one online tribute. Goodbye rocking chair, if it ever truly existed. Let’s hear it for the cared-for or the caregiver, whatever form she takes.
The demographics are a-changin’. Do I exaggerate? Society may be growing more grandmas than moms these days, as the population ages and the child-per-family numbers drop. I’m in this category, having been a late-age first-time mother at 40 (a single child) and only now in my 80s have become a first-time grandma of two. Takes the breath away sometimes thinking ahead, but it helps to plan soundly (futilely?) in the hope of seeing at least one of them finish college. To that end, I am a diligent exerciser and diet fiend. I do whatever might extend my life span and trust my genes will obey. Sorry to say I have not owned up to having white hair.
There is a lot of talk these days about the so-called New Grandparenting, part of the title of Lesley Stahl’s 2016 extolling the “Joys and Science” of her happy state. To her credit, she did not entirely gush her way through the experience, although she writes early on about being jolted, blindsided, “loving more intense than anything I could remember or had ever imagined.” That happened to her in January 2011 and a second time in 2013. Fortunately, she didn’t neglect the downside—grandparents raising children left to them through parental neglect or death, grandparents needing care themselves while having to care for little ones. Tough choices in many cases, now becoming a serious field of study.
Witness a note in the April Smithsonian magazine that caught my eye: that Robin Marantz Henig, science writer and former Guggenheim Fellow, plans her next book to be “a science-based look at grandmotherhood.” She isn’t the first to plum these depths, by any means. Studies have been done of what are called “grandparent genes”—how grandparents (face it, usually the grandmother) are genetically programmed to look after children in later life. Go Googling and check the history of such work.
Forget science for a minute. Fellow grandparents I know, who are happily in good shape and spirit, like talking about having a meaningful role in these young lives. They find meaning in the word “legacy.” One hopes to be remembered for being able to add “something only I can give,” experience and perspective the parents don’t have yet at this point in their lives. Being available to focus on the grandkids’ developing lives. One grandmom I know purposefully expands her grandchildren’s horizons by taking them places—trips abroad—they would not otherwise get to go.
That raises the question of what gets transferred from one generation to the next. The only grandmother I ever knew was the silent type; I don’t recall anything she ever said, to me or anyone else, though she was a figure in our household during my adolescence. (One remark she reportedly made to a relative was that she wished never to be buried next to her husband. If true, that would at least make her an interesting person to have known.)
My second grandchild was given my real first name, one I never have used, though it also belonged to my mother and grandmother. I trust and pray that any other legacy to her from me will go beyond that single flattering fact.