What’s in a Name?

Lo’s vocabulary is growing daily and each day says something cute and funny. My daughter-in-law already laments that she will not remember all Lo’s gems and wishes that she had written them down. I accept this responsibility and agree that Lo’s growing vocabulary is certainly worth remembering.

She adds new words daily and can now express her observations and desires. She can reinforce the house rules “Shoes off, Papa.” She can relay an experience such as a recent visit to the park where she was quite disturbed that a “baby” (age 3) did not observe the appropriate park dress code. To whomever will listen, she will explain. “Park. Baby no shoes! No hat! Teeth.” No sure about the teeth part, but the child in question did indeed remove his hat and shoes. Lo has also chosen new names for common items. Although she can say the word dog, she prefers “ha ha” – which is the sound a panting dog makes. TV is TT. She may be bilingual as she refers to water as agua. Surprisingly, she has begun to rename some of us. My daughter Sally, Lo’s beloved auntie had previously been known as Sa-yee is suddenly “Sassy.” Which actually fits, if you know Aunt Sassy.

Lo, wearing proper park attire, on the lookout for infractions

Lo appears to have renamed me “Nanny.”

Lo was calling me Nana, the name I eagerly chose to honor and channel my own wonderful Nana. I was happy to become Nana and feel my Nana’s influence. She understood unconditional love and grandmother silliness, but also taught us important things. What I know about nature, my love of cooking, my thriftiness are all direct gifts from my Nana. I did not want to be called Nanny. “Nanny” is the grandmother name of my mother. What’s the big deal, you ask? Such a minor difference.

Anyone who knows me I real life, knows that the last dozen years have been marked by an escalating painful relationship with Nanny. Her longstanding addiction is awful enough, but combined with increasing dementia and my resulting increased responsibility for her household and her resultant resistance makes for some powerful resentment. I struggle with empathy and am saddened that the recent accumulation of bad memories has restricted my ability to conjure good ones.

Thus, when I first heard Lo call me Nanny, I corrected her. She persisted. “Hi, Nanny.” “Nanny, sit.” “My Nanny.” So, perhaps it is to be.

And I have to admit, despite a current situation that can seem dark and hopeless, my mother was an outstanding Nanny. She loved her grandchildren unconditionally. Her house was a theme park – pool, hot tub, multi-level decks, woods, trails, occasional farm animals, dress up box, tractors, you name it. Christmases at Nanny’s were chaotic, messy, excessive marathons, but thrilling to the 9 grandchildren she loved. She was short on rules, but long on generosity. Her culinary specialities were “Nanny Toast” (lightly toasted wonder bread with a high butter to bread ratio) and deep-fried tater tots. She drove a sports car. She would listen and give advice to the grandkids as they grew into adolescence. She wrote stories for them. She encouraged them to create and perform plays. She allowed skinny dipping.

Cousins having fun at the pool.

How could a grandchild not feel fortunate among these riches? And, I believe I am speaking for my siblings when I suggest we could not have survived our own adventures in child-rearing without Nanny’s support. While she might not have done some things you wanted her to and surely did other things you wished she didn’t , she would drop anything in an emergency. She was the de facto babysitter and never declined a request, regardless of the length or convenience. For a brief period for my daughter, Nanny was a true nanny, showing up everyday so I could return to work. She helped us move. She made curtains and curtains and more curtains. She traveled solo to New York to care for my nephew after a serious surgery so my sister could return to work. She gave my son his first bath when I was too nervous to get him wet. She was there for weddings and divorces and births.

Nanny and Sassy take a break during the Christmas extravaganza.

If my new name sticks, I will wear it proudly. I will continue to revere my Nana. But, while I am channeling grandmother techniques, I will remember another role model too. I will try hard not to forget what I should remember.

And while cataloguing Lo’s new vocabulary, I will acknowledge that along with being cute and funny, she is also wise.


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