What’s in a name?
Grandmother, grandma, granny, nana, nan, mama – what do these words conjure up for you? If you put grandmother into the emoji search on your phone, what do you get? An old woman with white or greying hair.
That’s not how I see myself. Yes, I am a grandmother, and yes, I’m starting to see a few grey hairs. I actually found a long one last week, and I was delighted to see it. You might think I’m quite mad, but I see it as a rite of passage. Having had many friends who passed away, some without seeing their grey hairs and grandchildren, I decided to celebrate.
In the olden days, she may have been my age (cough) or younger, but she may have stopped working from when she’d had her own children. The younger me would most likely conjure up an image of an older woman sitting by the fire doing her knitting. Again, I’m not the stereotypical image of what that looks like as a grandmother. You won’t catch me sitting by the fire, I haven’t stopped working, but I do knit. However, it’s something that I’ve done since my early 20s when I was taught by an older woman, whom I worked with. Back then, Grandmother may have still been married and most likely to spend her time looking after her own parents and grandchildren. Yet, she may have been without the financial pressures of today, but some may not have had independence. I know that this image wouldn’t be the same for everyone because there would have been single mothers/grandmothers who had to struggle independently.
If it wasn’t for the 1995 Pensions Act, I would be nearing my time to full retirement, would have been looking forward to collecting my state pension and my free bus pass. But it has changed, we have to wait a bit longer for them. Although I was relatively young, I remember when I heard the news, I didn’t like the thought of it. Sadly, it was too late for me to make any changes as I had stopped working when I had my first child in my early twenties. Although I had jobs to help with the finances, I didn’t go back to fulltime employment until after completing my degree and then later only able to work part-time. Although I felt that the changes were unfair, stop working is not something I regret doing even though it was hard.
We did what we felt was best for our family at the time, so please don’t ask me to debate whether a mother should work or not. Each family have to decide what is best for them. I was asked this question while doing a radio interview a year ago, and I haven’t changed my view.
What does the word grandmother convey?
I think to most people, the word grandmother makes you think of an old/older woman. As a result, some women refuse to be called grandmother – they will choose to be known by any other name. That’s their choice- I, on the other hand, see it as a privilege. My view is, there are only three people in the entire world that can legitimately call me their mother. Consequently, there are only four (at the moment) children that can call me grandma. It doesn’t make me a better person or those that choose not to be called grandma any less, as we all have to do what we’re all comfortable with.
The image of an older/aged woman with white or grey hair is not aided by the countless comedy films and series I’ve seen. It’s not unusual to have the grandmother refusing to have her grandchildren call her that forbidden word but call her anything other, including her first name. In a typical Caribbean household, that is something that you would rarely see, if at all. Although I love the grandmother in Moana (I know that it’s a cartoon), she is overweight and has grey hair. Her only saving grace for me is how she cares for her granddaughter, share stories, sings to her, inspires her to be herself, but again this is not always atypical.
Unfortunately, two of my grandparents died before I was born. However, on my first visit to Jamaica when I was eleven, I met one of my grandmothers. Even though it was our first meeting, I knew that I would not have been able to call her by any other name other than grandma. She was very old at the time, but I do remember her showing us the surrounding area where my father grew up and the river he would have crossed many times. Sadly, I don’t recollect the stories she shared, and she passed away a few years later. Due to the cost of flying to and from Jamaica, I didn’t get to see her again.
For my own children, when entering their grandparents’ home, the first thing they had to do was greet them even if all they wanted to do was watch TV, see other family members or see what goodies they had. The only words used would be grandma, grandmother or granddad. At home, each grandmother would be demarcated with Grandma Thompson or Grandma Stevens. There would be no use of the first name here – that would be a no, no!
To see if it was only my younger self that had these pictures in my head, I decided to do an online search for images of a grandmother, and it was hard to find photos of a person who looked like me. This led me to question why that was. Why, as a society, when we think of the word grandmother, it is someone who has white/grey hair with wrinkles and sits in a rocking chair? Confession, I have one of those too – a rocking chair that is. However, (in my mind) I’m still not a stereotypical image of how the world may view me, a grandmother.
It makes me wonder why the representation hasn’t changed because we all accept that 60 is the new 50. You’d think it would have, by now.
©2021 Sharon RM Stevens