Monday, October 14, 2013

Granny for a Day

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING:  I've talked a lot here about my kids as I've gone through the high school-into-college journey with my two oldest. This holiday weekend, I'm getting a sneak peek at something entirely unexpected: grandparenthood.

No, no one has shown up at home saying, "Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you." (Thank goodness! I've told my kids NO CHILDREN UNTIL AFTER GRAD SCHOOL.) But Youngest, who is in eighth grade, has brought Baby Think-it-Over home for the weekend. For those of you who haven't gone through this yourselves, Baby T-I-O (temporarily named Jacqueline by my daughter) is a realistic infant with a complicated set of gyros and programs stuffed into its little body. Ross calls it Robo-baby. Baby Think-it-Over wakes, cries, has to be fed with a bottle that its sensors register, changed with diapers that have a special triggering magnetic pad, burped and - very important! - must have its head properly supported.  If the parent, who is wearing a special signaling bracelet, fails to respond in time or doesn't treat the baby properly, it registers as "failure of care" and the student's Health grade is lowered accordingly. When she brought it home, Virginia told me a cautionary tale of a classmate whose mother let the baby's head flop twice. "She got an eighty-seven, mom!" To my overachieving daughter, 87 might as well be a scarlet C.

It's been surprising how easy it is to start thinking of Robo-baby as the real thing. Last night we all went to the Homecoming game at Bonny Eagle High, and Ross unearthed our old baby blankets and hats to snug around Jackie in her carrier - and no, temperature doesn't register. It just didn't seem right to let her go out in only her sleeper. When Jackie woke up at five am, fussing, I showed Youngest my guaranteed-to-soothe Oklahoma Baby Chicken Bounce (you walk up and down the room, bouncing the baby in time and clucking to the tune of "Surrey with the Fringe on Top." Works a treat.)

Jackie has already performed her primary function - after being up from 1am to 2am with a hungry, fussy infant, Youngest has announced that as much as she loves babies, she definitely doesn't want to have her own anytime soon. This has led to some good conversations - about safe sex, choosing when to become a parent, and the importance of having a lot of support when you do have a child. It's been a lot of work. But it's also been, undeniably, fun. Demonstrating ways to hold and comfort the baby has given me a startling sense of being caught between the past and the future - I so clearly recall my own mother doing the same for me when I had my first newborn, and I could see myself in years to come, helping out when Youngest has a real baby (after grad school of course.) Ross and I have had some wonderful reminiscences, telling Youngest stories about our own experiences as novice parents. And it's been a pleasure seeing my daughter as a competent, caring (albeit temporary) mother.

All in all, Reds, it's making me quite look forward to grandparenthood (if not being called Granny. I'm thinking of 'Avia,' Latin for Grandmother. Or maybe the German Oma? Less pretentious, that.) Grandmother, Great-aunt, Doggy grammy - how do you feel about the role, Reds?

RHYS BOWEN: So funny, Julia. We went through the baby thing only in my kids' day it was not high tech. It was a real egg that Jane had to carry around in a basket without breaking it for a week. It was Meg the Egg. Unfortunately after the assignment was over Jane forgot about Meg the Egg until she was discovered in her closet, months later

HALLIE EPHRON: I had the great pleasure of staying with my daughter and her husband in April when they brought their Baby-THOUGHT-It-Over, and much wanted first child named Franny. To say it was exhausting does not begin to describe... to say it was heavenly also does not do it justice. And being Grandma is the icing on the cake.  PS daughter is well into her 30s and has been in love with her wonderful husband since she was 15.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am happily happily Grammy, and it's quite wonderful to hear two little guys call me that as their only indicator of who I am. You know? It's not "Hank who is my grandmother" or "the person we call Grammy." I AM Grammy.  The fun part--and there are many! Is that I can watch from afar, and step in only when called for. Or called on.
I do think about how clueless my own young mother must have been. Wow. How do new parents do it?  Out of love, I guess, when we're lucky.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: And I am happily child-free. Two other women are duking it out over preferred grandmother status and a VERY brief stint as Tanta Rose - which conjured up visions of Russian nesting dolls -  have happily settled into Nanny Ro with second grand. The first just calls me Rosemary.

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  My daughter had a sort of real-life Baby T-I-O.  When she was fifteen, her best friend, who was two years older, got pregnant. My daughter told me several years later that for her, that was the best birth control imaginable! She saw how tough it was first-hand.

Since my daughter just got married, I'm happy to wait on the grandkids, but I hope I'll be some help when and if they do come along.  I remember how terrifying it was being a first-time mom. And what do I want these so-far-imaginary grandkids to call me?  My adored grandmother was "Nanny," so I might like Nana. But sometimes kids decide these things for themselves.  My daughter called my mom "Amama," and it stuck.

PS Rhys, love your "Meg the Egg" story:-)

LUCY BURDETTE: Wow, Julia, sounds like that school exercise  definitely did what it was supposed to do! I am looking forward to becoming a grandmother. My kids came as part of a package when I married John--they were 4 and 7 when I met them so I missed the baby stage. Somehow I was dubbed Bert and that has stuck. John thinks Grandma Bert would be cute, but I agree that often the kids end up naming the grandparents and that's fine too. My mother's mother (Lucille Burdette) was called Nana and my father's mother, grandma. She was kind of a tough little Germanic woman, not at all the prototypical soft granny. Nana on the other hand was very sweet and warm. But she died in her fifties of a heart attack so I never really got to know her. From watching my friends with grandchildren, I can see that this relationship can be very special for everyone involved. (In fact I've probably said this before, but when I was a therapist in training and we'd discuss a patient who by all rights should be much more screwed up than she was, everyone looked for the presence of a beneficent grandmother!)

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? Any grandkids? In your future? And have you ever found yourself grandparenting a Robo-baby...or Meg the Egg? Let us know, and one lucky commentor will get and advance reader copy or Net Galley of THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS!


  1. Somehow or other we managed to miss the whole Robo-baby/Meg the Egg thing, but I am happily Nana to my youngest daughter’s children, Grammie to my oldest daughter’s children. It’s a wonderful place to be [except, of course, that none of them live close enough to suit me] . . . .

  2. Our grandchildren call me Reine. i don't know why. It's probably because my mother-in-law was called by her first name by her children and wanted her grandchildren to call her by her first name. I can't say I like it but to insist on anything else invited a discussion on equality, women's rights, education, freedom of religion, the Federalist Papers, Civil Rights, the Chicago Seven, women in the sciences, Joe McCarthy, and why children should go to boarding school. So—you know—it's not a bad alternative to be called Reine.

  3. I unfortunately Am not a grandmother but two wonderful young women have let me be a stand in for their children. These five beautiful handsome warm funny well-behaved ugly miserable bratty human little people have given me some wonderful moments and pulled me through some very dark days. So I suggest reaching out to be a foster Grammy if necessary.

  4. Love this topic! I am not yet a grandma, as my sons are so far wisely waiting until after grad school (one is about to finish his master's, though...) but can't wait. In the meantime, Hugh and I have a special relationship with two little friends who live nearby whose parents (also friends of ours, conveniently) are happy to let us have play dates with them. Glad I hung onto my Mickey Mouse waffle iron! Also nice that, as my mom used to say, 'You get to give them back to their parents." Exhausting, certainly, but also so much fun.

    My main wish is that my kids don't end up living across the country from me when they have kids (like I did from my parents), but if they do, then I'll be traveling a lot.

  5. When I was in high school they used eggs, but I didn't take that class. No kids, no chance (okay, incredibly slim) chance of ever being a grandma. Not going to think about that. I called both of my grandmothers "Grandma", and one great-grandmother was "Great-Grandma." The other great did NOT like to be reminded that she was old enough to have great-grandchildren, so we called her Grandma Clio.

  6. I have two teens, and things are right on track for them not making me a grandmother anytime soon. I never had any great urge for carrying on the family genes, even though I have to say my husband and I did excellent work. So, I've always done the "if you get married, if you have kids" kind of talking with our two. I absolutely love my kids, and they have made being a parent a pretty easy job on the whole, but I know that having kids isn't for everyone, and it isn't always possible either. So, while I never dream of being nana or grammy or granny or grandmama or gigi or one of the hundreds of other variations, it would be just as much of a joy as being a mom has been all these years. I would love to be a foster parent after mine are grown, since we had our two young, but again, like anything, we never know what happens down the road.

    Fun post, Julia. I have loved hearing the tales of your kids through the years, and when it comes to pass, I will enjoy tales of more realistic grandparenting stories. The fakes ones are already so good.


  7. No kids, but seven nephews--some just beginning to start a family. I'm Auntie to the babies. Adore seeing the photos, tickling toes, and stroking baby cheeks. But I don't have to be up for the 2 a.m. feedings! Yay!

    As for Robo-baby--some of the younger nephews have teenage friends/schoolmates who have become parents. Interesting to note how all the initial excitement and glorification of the event fades as the reality of caring for an infant sinks in. Really wish Robo-babies were mandatory and definitely by middle school. You go, Youngest! You'll make a great Mom when you are grown up!

  8. Great story about the robo-baby! We never tried "Surrey," but I had good success with a similar technique of gentle bouncing while walking back and forth with either "Whistling Gypsy" or "Sweet Baby James." My grandmothers were Nana and Grandma, but in my wife's family they were Grandma followed by their first names. We used that approach with our kids and all the grandparents were delighted.

    Having finished gradual school, older son and his wonderful wife have given us our first granddaughter. For some reason, he decided that "Grandpa Jim" was kinda boring, so I am "Papa Jim," which is great fun.

  9. My now 4-year-old granddaughter gave me the name "Mimi" and her new sister will call me that also, I imagine. Feel so fortunate that they live 25 min. away so I see them often. I remember my mom helping when my two were born by pitching in with housework and meals, leaving me free to take care of baby. While caring for baby is fun, she felt that baby-mommy bonding is most important. I have been trying to have "dates" with my older granddaughter, making her feel special while giving her Mom & Dad some alone time with the new baby.

  10. Thank heaven the schools didn't have eggs or robo babies when my son went. His charge probably would have been left out in the yard with the dogs. He's grown now, divorced, but made me a grandma 13 years ago. I get a kick out of my granddaughter; her nickname is Nana. A playmate couldn't manage Julianna years ago, hence Nana. Fortunately my family has always used Grandma for a name and that suits me fine. My granddaughter used to call me Pat sometimes when she heard her mom do so. I always answered her, That's Grandma to you! When she visits us twice a year we try to plan cool things to do that she wouldn't do at home up north.

  11. I adore being Nana. It's such a special moment when a grandchild snuggles against me and whispers "I do love you, Nana."

    Although two grandkids are now taller than me!

  12. I got to choose my Grandmother name and went with Grammy. Luckily, it stuck, as children often have a way of calling you whatever they decide. I have to say that being a Grammy is the best role I've had yet in life. I know it's a common refrain, but it's so true. When I look at my two granddaughters, I am confident that whatever has happened in my life has brought me to this wonderful moment with them. Whenever I start to question what I have or haven't done in life, the existence of these two beautiful girls stops all doubts. I also get the opportunity to be the crazy grandmother who wears Halloween earrings (not that I didn't do that before) and the chance to read all the great children's books, old and new. I'm currently in the middle of a week long stay with my grands while my daughter and her husband are in Key West.

    Sorry, when the word grandmother is mentioned, I go off in the clouds. We didn't have the eggs or any such simulation, but I think they are a good idea. My daughter did wait until after college and some travel, then marriage, then a baby. My son and his girlfriend are waiting until they are more settled and have worked for a while longer. I'm glad that both kids have waited.

  13. I missed this project while in high school, but my younger brother had a five pound sack of flour to care for. He immediately covered the entire thing in duck tape for stability, drew on a face and gave it hair (I don't remember what he used). He then unearthed my old doll carrier and wore the "flour baby" everywhere for a week.
    My mother thought that Grandma and Nana sounded too old, so she is called Mimi. It is a common alternative here in the South. My French Canadian father insists on being called Grandpere (French for grandfather). However, my niece couldn't pronounce it as a toddler so he was called Pompear until she was older. The children really are in charge when it comes to names!

    Melodie T.

  14. Oh! That was me replying as Johnny Drazzle. I didn't realize my son was logged into Blogger on my downstairs computer. Funny!

  15. We were older when we married, and our sons followed suit, so we doubted that we would ever be grandparents. When contemporaries quizzed us, we just said "We'll be happy to grandparents when our children are ready to be parents!" But, now we DO have three wonderful grands, ages 1, 3, and 5. Other than being older and not as quick as we could be, it's been a delight.

  16. Melodie T, I love "Pompear!"

    My parents never pushed me to get married or to have kids, and I haven't pressured my daughter, either. Whatever she wants is fine with me.

    I never felt the least bit maternal into my biological clock kicked in not long before I turned thirty. I had no idea what to do with babies, but you learn soon enough!

    Now my big treat is spending time with a good friend's little girls--two-and-a-half and six months old. I just don't get to do it often enough.

    PS I LOVE my fictional kids!

  17. More and more, I'm wishing I was a grandmother. Strange, that. I never thought I'd want to be.

    However, the older son and his wife show no signs of wanting kids and I have to respect that. And if the younger one produces now, when he's still living at home,, I don't want that at all!

    So I'll be Auntie to the nieces and be content.

  18. I took a Humor Writing class Summer 2012 at Cape Cod Writers'Conference with Gina Barreca -- one woman wrote a piece based on a website called funnygrandmanames (or some such). Her story was about how her daughter asked for "Lolly and Pop" (except that Lolly and Pop were divorced!!).

    Anyway, we are Papi and Grammie. Friday was Grandparents Day at 5 year old Lucy's school, and we had a ball. It has been great fun -- oldest grandchild will be 9 in a couple of weeks.

    One interesting dynamic for us is that Papi has been MUCH MORE into grandparenting than I have -- the bonus is that I get time with my daughters.

    One of the kids had an egg project (middle school?) but I didn't participate.

  19. I am the oldest of 6 siblings and my 2 kids are the oldest of a 22- year string of cousins. We never had a robo-baby, but much hands-on with the real thing. My four grandsons all call me Gramma. I never hear a "nd". That is perfect to me. They have never tried to call me by my first name, but if they did, I would correct them. Gramma expresses a relationship between us that is special. And they all live close to Grampa and I, which is wonderful! I love home and would hate to have to move to be near them.

  20. Jim, I think "Papa Jim" sounds very Hemmingway-esque!

    My parents are Grammy and Grampy to my kids, and my husband's late father was "Zha-Zha" (yes, like Gabor) which was pinned on him by 1 1/2 year-old Smithie and stuck. In Maine, with our large Franco-American population, you hear a lot of "Meme and Pepe" (sorry, I can't figure out how to make the Blogger comment box do an accent aigu.)

    Last night, the baby woke us all up at 11:30, 1, 3 and 6. Right now, I am so tired I can barely type. I have a new appreciation of my mother showing up and helping out when I brought home my newborns. Thanks, Mom!

  21. So far I am 0 for 2-no Robobaby or grandkids- However I am "Tante" for 3 great nieces/nephew and am enjoying spoiling the next generation. great practice for when my kids start to shower me with babies.
    I hope to be Yaya and my husband YiYi (not really Greek but my dad, who is gone now, used to tell the babies yiyiyi as they came in the door-I guess you had to be there). Thanks for sharing Julia- your youngest was a treat at Bouchercon.

  22. Julia, your comment reminded me I'd left out what I called my own grandparents. Salem, Massachusetts has a large number of French Canadian descendants, too. I called mine Mémère and Pépère. My Irish grandparents in Boston were Nana Claire and Grampy. My living great-grandparents were Nana Troy and Mémère and Pépère.

  23. I'm trying to imagine whether I could have taken care of an egg. I truly doubt it.

  24. I am Gramsey. For a short time my first gson called me Mimi. My dau had diff names for everyone. She called my parents Mam & Papa (which evolved to Poppy). All the other kids did too & after they got older, all their friends & their parents did too. I had a Granny & Grandma. Our kids used Granny & for our grandfather they said grandpa great. :) I see the two oldest of mine everyday. The youngest is in CA. I'm in Indiana. I've seen him twice. It's hard. I had a friend who never wanted gkids. She said she had a hard time bonding with her own kids and felt generally in competent (I know there is no space there but it won't let me change it. Ack.) Whdn they were on the way, she said I won't baby sit etc. but when they came she changed her mind. :)

  25. Edith, how disappointing... I love the name Johnny Drazzle!

  26. My husband and I never had children. My three sisters all have daughters and those daughters now have daughters. Notice the trend? So I am Aunt Marianne to a bunch of lovely girls. (That's Aunt not Ant.)

    I have never heard of school kids having to care for a "baby." Wow! That would certainly make one think about the possibilities of an unplanned pregnancy. Or a planned one, for that matter.

    One of my brothers-in-law decided he wanted to be Grand Dude. (He's in Florida; I think the sun gets to them after a while.) That didn't last long and he's Granddad.

  27. I remember kids using 5 pound sacks of flour as babies. Some would personalize them with faces and clothing. Now with robo-baby, there's no chance of cheating by leaving the precious one under the bed for a week.

    I'm lucky to have my grandchildren living in the next town and it's a joy to be part of their everyday lives. Being Grandma Ryan rocks!

  28. I asked my son if he ever had to take care of an egg in school. Turns out he did and I never heard about it! Named his egg Egbert Einstein then ate him. I assume he flunked that unit.

  29. Marianna in Maine, "Grand Dude" is hilarious. I'm thinking what kind of character in a book would pull off that name. Yes, he'd probably have to live in Florida.

  30. My grandson is 18 months old and currently living with me (along with my son). He's the light of my life, that little man. :) If only I had a fraction of his energy! He's not talking yet, but says "Amma" on rare occasions. :)

  31. Great story about the robo-baby! We never tried "Surrey," but I had good success with a similar technique of gentle bouncing while walking back and forth with either "Whistling Gypsy" or "Sweet Baby James." My grandmothers were Nana and Grandma, but in my wife's family they were Grandma followed by their first names. We used that approach with our kids and all the grandparents were delighted.
    A. Cotton - @ thinkbaby