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What’s In A Name?

“Nonie” is the name that Ella calls her grandmother Joan, my friend and co-conspirator in our desire to regain our youth by immersing ourselves into the magically creative world of our grandchildren. Joan is a cross between Auntie Mame and Mary Poppins with a dash of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle thrown in for good measure. . Her charismatic manner changes in a flash; she is like a burst of spring on a winter’s day. There seems to be no end to Joan’s creativity when it comes to entertaining her granddaughter Ella, and when we are all together, I am fortunate to be included in the fun.

Joan is Nonie to four beautiful grandchildren. When her eldest granddaughter was little, she couldn’t say “Joanie” thus the name “Nonie” came to be. Whatever she may be called, Joan epitomizes the image of a grandmother who breathes fresh air and life into the care of her grandchildren.

When her daughter returned to work after Ella was born, Joan was all too willing to adjust her schedule to meet the need for a caregiver. Joan was not being magnanimous with her offer, rather she viewed it as her opportunity to get to enjoy those developmental years that are but a blink in the eyes of time.  Ella and she formed a symbiotic relationship, each deriving equal pleasure from sharing time together.

On one of my recent forays to Joan’s house, I was invited to join in the parade that was taking place in the living room. Holding items that would never be mistaken for musical instruments, Joan, Ella and I paraded around the coffee table marching and making loud “music” while chanting some made-up song. Our husbands sat shaking their heads at the scene before them, but the smiles on their faces conveyed the joy in their hearts. And Ella? Well, Ella couldn’t get enough of Nonie’s parade. She kept saying “Again” as Joan and I were gasping for air. The entire parade lasted for about ten minutes, but the moment is etched in all of our memories forever.

On another occasion, Joan and I took Ella for a walk. When it was time to head back to Joan’s house, Ella had another thought in mind and proceeded to run in the opposite direction. As young as Ella was at the time (just over two and a half years old) she demonstrated how children like to feel in control. It gives them a sense of power in their little world. Each time we attempted to steer her in the desired direction, Ella would dig in and run the other way. Time was of the essence since her mother, who had a pressing appointment, was waiting at Joan’s house.

Joan and I looked at each other and, as if on cue, we played the “let’s find Nonie game” where Joan would run ahead and be half hidden in some semi-obscured space leading towards home. In our attempt to find Nonie, Ella never realized that we were directing her towards our desired destination. Ella felt in control due to the game that was played and we succeeded in getting her to her mom on time.

Joan’s little parade and the game of finding Nonie demonstrate how grandparents need not go through elaborate preparations to entertain their grandchildren. They need not spend money on store-bought instruments and yard toys. Spontaneity and creativity are keys to being the grandparent that grandchildren will look forward to seeing and savoring the times shared.

“Mimi” is grandma to my friend Margie’s six lovely grandchildren, ranging in ages from 3-13 years. Margie, an accomplished quilter and gardener, takes great pride in her work and is teaching her skills to her grandchildren. When she is not  sewing or gardening with them, Margie is their captive audience as they perform magic tricks, try their hand at joke-telling or tell school-related tales over her homemade cookies and cupcakes, left to be iced by them.

Whenever I visit Margie, her house is alive with children. It’s as though she has her own magnetic field. Her inviting nature and generous laughter serve to draw children to her back yard where they climb on the jungle gym that she purchased at a yard sale (great place to buy recycled toys and games for the grandchildren) and play all sorts of imaginative games. Mimi’s yard is a carousal of children’s laughter, recalling to mind days of innocence when we, the adult observers, watched our children engage in unstructured fun.

Margie, who is competitive by nature, loves to play Monopoly and Scrabble with her older grandchildren and there are no holds barred when she plays. Margie plays to win, but offers encouragement and good humor as she teaches the art of game playing to her grandchildren. They in turn, relish these “game fests,” and view them as opportunities to try to beat their “Mimi.” Win, lose, or draw, the grandchildren of Mimi  are learning that enjoyment of the game lies in the process. There is no doubt that the grandchildren take center stage when they visit Mimi. Knowing full well that these early developmental years pass all too quickly, Mimi makes full use of the precious time spent with her grandkids.

When my daughter asked me what May should call me, I said “grandma. “ It was a name that had endured the test of time and brought to my mind images of that special bond that exists between grandmother and grandchild. As May grew and changed, so did my chosen name. “Grandma” gave way to “grammy,” a name that May could easily say, and one that I hold dear because it came from her.

Whatever the title, Nonie, Grammy, Nona, Mimi, Nana, Bubbie, Oma, or any name chosen from The Ultimate Guide to Grandparent Names, the joy doesn’t stem from the name. It stems from the time a grandmother takes to show that she cares.

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