When my first daughter was born, her three grandmothers got to choose what they wanted to be called. My mother-in-law picked "Grammy," my stepmother, who loves the Italian language, chose "Nonna," and my own mother was thrilled to claim "Grandma," a title she'd dreamed of possessing for a long time.
Of course, that's not exactly how it worked out.
The thing is "Grandma" has an awful lot of consonants, making it a tricky word for toddlers. My daughter started calling my mom "Gooma," and it stuck. I thought "Gooma" was an adorable nickname. Certainly, it was specific and unique. If my kid yelled "Gooma" in a crowded store, only one person would turn around.
My mom felt otherwise.
She wanted Grandma, and no substitute, especially a made-up nickname, would do. She adored her granddaughter, but sometimes couldn't stop herself from gently correcting, "Grannnnd-maaa," which would only serve to frustrate my brand-new talker. Despite her efforts, "Gooma" was here to stay.
Flash forward four years. When my second baby was born, my mom made it clear that she was not to be introduced as "Gooma." My 5-year-old could keep using the name (she was "grandmothered in," if you will), but not the baby. You know what's even trickier than teaching a baby to pronounce "Grandma?" Trying to teach a baby NOT to copy her big sister. Just about impossible. I found myself getting tripped up all the time and saying things like, "Gooma/Grandma is on the phone!"
Maybe it's a different world today, but I know my girls would never be mocked for what they choose to call their grandparents.
Then, the new baby started talking, and guess what? She had her own ideas about what to call Gooma/Grandma. Her first attempt sounded like "Gibby." And because I never learn, I thought that too was an adorable nickname—specific and unique. I made the mistake of announcing over Skype, "Say hi to Gibby!" My mother just about lost it. "If you reinforce that name, she is NEVER going to call me Grandma!" I guess Baby No. 2 was her last hope.
I could see my mom was frustrated, but the truth is, I still couldn't understand why. After all, when I was growing up, I'd given my own grandmother—my mom's mom—an accidental nickname: Geeka. Oh, how I loved my Geeka. For me, the special name came to reflect our special bond. (I'm pretty sure I was her favorite.)
Looking back, I wondered why I had ever stopped calling her Geeka, switching to "Grandma" when I was older. My mother explained that when I started elementary school, she had encouraged me to give up the babyish nickname and adopt the more appropriate moniker. She feared that using "Geeka" with school friends would lead to embarrassment. This made me sad.
Maybe it's a different world today, but I know my girls would never be mocked for what they chose to call their grandparents. Among her friends, I have heard G-ma, Glamma, Yaya, Gram, Nana, Mimi and Gigi. I suspect this diversity of names is reflective of today's modern grandparents, who don't necessarily fit the mold of old ladies with gray hair and canes. Some of them might not even want to be called Grandma for that very reason.
And although my mom is young-looking and active, she craves the name Grandma. I don't exactly get it, but then again, maybe I don't have to. She's my mom. She's my kids' grandmother. And she's the best. If she really wants to be called Grandma, I'll keep trying to enforce it with the kids. Because one thing's for sure: She's earned it.
Photography by Amy Wruble