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Who you calling Grandma? Boomers set their own terms Add to ...

When my nephew called to tell me that he and his wife are expecting their first child in January, I immediately phoned his mother, my sister-in-law, to congratulate her, affectionately calling her Grandma.

Let’s just say I got major pushback. “There will be no G-word,” she said firmly.

Since then it’s been a lively guessing game – not just about the gender of the baby but also about what my sister-in-law will allow herself to be called. Like any number of baby boomer women, she is not going gentle into that grandmotherly night. Grandma, Granny, Gram, Gran; don’t go there, sister.

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Instead, in keeping with our extreme anti-aging bias, one which requires women today to be “hot” until we’re practically cold in the ground, new alternatives are springing up as women leap through linguistic hoops to not be called Grandma. They may also be adjusting more than the name – tailoring a traditional role to fit their more demanding jobs (Supreme Court Nana?), active lifestyles and even feminist beliefs, resulting in a little less babysitting on demand, a little more, “I'll see if I can fit you in.”

Some are using a variant of their names or initials. Kay Kay or Li Li. Apparently Gigi is big (although it might require a feather boa to properly pull it off). There’s even a hipster possibility: G-Ma. Do kids really want a hipster grandparent? And The New York Times reported some suggestions from the The New Grandparents Name Book: Bubbles, GoGo, Napa or Pebbles. (What are we talking here, the Flintstones?)

Baby boomers have transformed aging. They are continuing to work well past the usual retirement age. They’re staying fit – my Pilates instructor is a stunning woman in her 60s. So why wouldn’t they redefine grandparenthood, right down to the name that freshly hatched tots will call out on sleepover nights? (“Gigi! Want juice!”)

The website Today’s Moms reports that Goldie Hawn, fittingly, goes by Glam-ma, a name that could easily appear on ads for Botox. (Hmm, wonder what Angelina Jolie will opt for in 15 years or so when her time comes. Gramalina?)

It seems, as always, that the boomers might be trying too hard to be different. The role of a grandparent is one of the most beloved and rewarding ones around – you get all the fun and none of the grunt work. But you also, if you’re lucky, become a major positive influence in a child’s life. Clearly no one wants to muck with that.

One of my grandmothers – Nana – was one of my best friends. She bought me my first black patent slingbacks when I was 7 and my first pair of pantyhose at 11, and I still cherish the memory of pajama parties with her, waking up in her big bed to the sounds of streetcars rumbling by. In early adolescence, I disappointed her once, and the memory still stings. Teenagers tolerate their parents but they genuinely want to please their grandparents. I was bereft as a teenager when she suddenly died.

Today’s modern grandmothers may be struggling to define themselves by a singular title, but it’s the grandfathers who seem to have ended up with the most inventive names. A Chicago friend is, at 61, known as Pink to his grandchildren, because he has always favoured pink shirts. When his little grandson, perhaps not in the best of moods, recently put his foot down and demanded, “Pink, put me to bed!” it was a charming moment.

I don’t have any good friends who are grandmothers, except for one whom I helped name when she was pondering the G question. “Try Nana,” I suggested nostalgically. She loves it, and still looks far younger, speeding by my local café on her power walk, than any grandmother of four legitimately should.

I did an informal poll and found that most women are still okay with Grandma. “I will be thrilled to be called Grandma or any such derivative. There may only be two people in that child's life who can legitimately be called by that name,” said another of my sisters-in-law. (Okay, in these multiple-marriage times there could be a small crowd of Grandmas in each family.) She did draw the line at Granny.

But another friend is all for Granny because it reminds her of her cozy British grandmother. Not sure how it would it play on her e-dating profile, but no grandkids are in the offing anyway.

The word you choose connects you with past and present. “I will be a bubby,” says another friend. “It’s a reminder of our yiddish/shtetl roots. And no, I’m not concerned it will make me feel/look like an old lady. Who cares? It’s about passing along a family history and giving them a feeling of connection with our ancestors.”

As for my sister-in-law, she pondered Cher (a variant of her name), which prompted me to inquire if that meant my brother would have to be known as Sonny. But now she’s leaning toward GG. Her daughter-in-law likes it and it’s easy to say.

I haven’t yet pointed out to her that it’s totally a G word.

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