When mothers turn grand


‘What to call that lady who happens to be your mom’s mom’

I have several friends who are grandmothers now, and they all pretty much agree that it’s a pretty sweet gig. They get to read stories, sing silly songs, play ‘Sorry’ and ‘Go Fish’ — all with cute little kids that they then get to give back to their parents who just ten minutes ago were little kids themselves.

My Gramma with my Mom — before she turned into a Gramma herself

The one thing they can’t agree on, though, is what to be called. I know a Nonna, a Nanna, a Nanny, a Mimi and a Gigi. And I’ve heard tell of MomMom and G-Ma. (Hmmm, that last one sounds a tad X-rated, if you ask me. But maybe that’s why it’s popular.)

Now, perhaps there were let’s-call-ourselves-something-else trailblazers back then, but when I was a kid, grammas were mostly called “Gramma”. It was actually spelled “Grandma” if it was written down, like when we wrote letters to them. But when we said it, it came out “Gramma.” (Yes, we wrote letters. When my Gramma Peterson died, I got a big envelope in the mail; it was every single letter I’d ever written to her — she had saved them all, including the first when I was about six and a multi-page tome I’d written her from my honeymoon.)

My two Grammas, inhabiting the same space at the same time, flanked by some daughters (my aunts). The Gramma on the right is the one who saved my letters

And, again like most kids, I had two grandmothers — just two. Come to think of it, maybe the reason grandmothers today search for unique Gramma Names is because their grandkids would have a hard time calling them anything what with multiple marriages — and multiple grandmas — being so common and all. I personally know a “Gramma Carol”, who is The Dude’s Older Brother’s Wife’s moniker because the grandkids already have another “Gramma” on his side of the family. Who is his ex-first-wife and the mother of the kid’s dad. Whew! (But at least she’s “Gramma-Plus-First-Name”; I don’t think I could look her in the eye and call her, say, “MeeMaw”.)

Don’t call her “MeeMaw.” My Gramma before she was a Gramma. Which was way before I knew her, natch

Anyway. My mom’s mother was simply called “Gramma”, while my dad’s was called “Gramma Henry”. I honestly don’t know the reason the Peterson side got dibs on just plain unadorned “Gramma”. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the Henry side had so many grandkids (my dad was the fourth of eight fairly prolific children) already calling her “Gramma” that we thought it wouldn’t be that important to her to not be The Un-Further-Defined Gramma.

A Horde of Henrys. Featuring only about half of a possible eight kids-plus-progeny, this is just the tip of the family iceberg

Or maybe it was because, on the Peterson side, my mom had kids before any of her siblings did so we got a lot of attention. When I was little, my mom and I even lived with my Peterson grandparents (see ‘Kissing Daddy Good-night’ for poignant details) when my dad was away doing his bit in the Korean Conflict.

Me, hanging out with Gigi and G-Pa (well, actually ‘Gramma’ and ‘Grampa’) at our (actually ‘their’) house. Note storybook in Grampa’s hands

All I know is that the naming choices boiled down to “Gramma” or “Gramma Plus Last Name.” Oh. I must point out at this juncture that while I like the idea of (eventually) being called “Gramma”, I’m not so into dressing like the way they did then. My two grammas were always dressed in dresses. Usually accessorized with an apron. I heard from a cousin that my Gramma Henry sometimes wore pants, though I don’t recall witnessing this myself. Actually, I suppose dressing the way they did made it easier to tell who was the “Gramma” and who was not.

Which one is the Gramma? If you guessed “both”, you’d be right, since I think my Mom was one at this point, tho just barely

Which one is the Gramma? You certainly can’t tell by our clothes. Or even our glasses. And, to complicate things, I am older in this photo than my mom was in that picture where she’s sitting at the picnic table

But these days I can’t think of anyone in my generation who gets called “Gramma”, at least by choice. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a peek at this video I found on YouTube.

As for me, if I ever get to be a grandmother, I’ll no doubt be happy to be called just about anything as long as I get called. And visited. A lot. 

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

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8 thoughts on “When mothers turn grand

  1. Sharon McGavin

    Alice! I LOVE this. I’ve been writing ‘Grandma’ to my 7-year-old. But recently I decided to just write Gramma. For your reason — that’s how they say it.
    Until recently the 2-year-old called both Tom and me “Bea (pronounced bee-ahh) for a long time. I took that as the best he could do for a two-syllable world like ‘grandma’ or ‘grandpa.’ Now “Bea” has gone to live with Puff the Magic Dragon… For now, Tom is ‘papa,’ I am ‘am-ma.’
    We’ll see what sticks.

    • First, I love that you are writing — and not just to me (!) Your grandchildren will treasure your notes and cards. Secondly, I’m betting they treasure you and Tom no matter how they mangle ‘Gramma’ and ‘Grampa’. Also, I’m jealous, dear ‘Am-Ma’ xoxo

  2. Gramma (Last Name) was always good enough for us. Then again, like you, we only had two to remember. I’m partial to Grammy, myself, but your last paragraph says it all!

    • Glad to hear from another Two-Gramma Gal! These days, since I’ve got nobody to call me Gramma or Grammy or even G-Ma, it’s more about getting people to call me for cocktails (!)

  3. Deborah

    My husband’s granddaughter calls him Grandad and she calls me GrandDeb because she’s got two other Grandmas. I honestly don’t know if she adds a name after their title.

    I have a friend who’s step grandkids call her GramelaPamela. Kind of a mouthful but cute.

  4. Jennifer Henry

    I didn’t care what Madeleine called me, but they decided Nonna was best, because it would be easier for her to say than Grandma, and guess what, it is, and she says it every time we facetime now! I love being Nonna!

    • Aw, that Precious Madeleine! Yes, I completely get that Gramma can be hard to say. And if I had a grandaughter like her, she could call me Any Old Thing and I’d be happy. Thank you for reading and commenting, dear Nonna!

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