Yam, I Am: a grandmother's tale

February 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

I fought it at first. In fact, the afternoon my daughter called (but before her announcement,) our conversation turned to having children.

“Don’t do it. It’s too soon,” I blurted. She’d been married a few years, but I advised her to wait. To take time for herself and to be a couple. Enjoy the freedom. Travel!

After an awkward silence, the crying commenced.

“What? What’s wrong?” I naively inquired.

Then jumbled into my ear the unexpected: she was expecting.

“I’m pregnant, mom,” she said, her long-distance tears super-soaking the telephone lines so much that birds on the wires between us slipped off and hit the ground, hard.

Mortified (for my misguided attempt to dissuade procreation), at age 44, I aged 40 years.

“I’m going to be a grandmother,” I thought, selfishly horrified, conjuring up the ghost of my cranky, late grandma Hazel. Her white hair, her faded cotton apron, and the threat of her wooden spoon on my underserving behind. Then it got worse, when all things old rushed to mind: elderly me behind a walker. Trudging slowly along a bland, urine and bleach-scented nursing home hallway. In my saggy Depends. Lonely, with wrinkled skin and disturbing white mole hairs prickling from my chin. Death stood beside me, nodding with a crazy grin.

Inappropriate Response Revoked

I snapped back to the moment, full of congratulations and apologies. (Wow, was that an untimely impassioned pep-talk for birth control.)

As her belly grew, the idea of “grandma” didn’t. Grow on me, that is. Deep denial. “I’m still peppy. Spry, even! No need for lady diapers, a wheelchair, Milk of Magnesia, dentures, or any other stereotypically ageist stuff yet,” became my stream of consciousness norm.

At the grocery store I notice the elderly trying to steer shopping cart scooters. I return the bag boy’s “Have a nice day, ma’am,” with a snarky, “Keep it real, sonny: I ain’t nobody’s old biddy yet.”  

Far into the future (or about seven months,) I envisioned myself in amazing grandmapalooza form. Youthfully running and laughing in my raggedy Levi’s and stylish sunglasses at the playground—the cool and hip grandma. (Not the HIP REPLACEMENT grandma.) Driving a convertible with hair full-on flying in the wind (but staying attached to my head. I won’t be the wig-wearing/losing grandma.) An old saw who still rides the see-saw. A prettier Mrs. Doubtfire, who’s also not a man. Can I get a hells yes?! I will be the mother of all grandladies.

Not the spoil-‘em-beyond-rotten-grand, but one who gets a second chance to spend the time I didn’t as a career-minded single, mom. I imagined this as another chance to influence some lucky child’s life. Imparting my quirky wisdom and liberal views. Teaching this new kid what I didn’t know as a shy and gangly, red-haired imp.

Then Comes Baby in the Baby Carriage

The months had mellowed me on the idea of grandmotherhood. I asked this new girl to call me Graham. Baby Girl Young, meet Graham (like the cracker). (Say: GRAHyam. Two syllables. Not Gram. Not Gran. Too ordinary. I needed a unique moniker to match my youthful, en-fleek, on-trend, adventurous style.)

And so, in 2007, I became known to the entire world, well, the family, as Graham (like the cracker). Always repeating the cracker addendum to reinforce my originality and reject being an ordinary, old-school Gram. (The struggle was real.) Stay back, white hair. Don’t even think about it creaking joints. Definitely no traipsing about in graying, elastic-stretched granny panties.  

It was love at first sight. At that point, this young thing could’ve called me anything and I would’ve melted with ooey schmooey gooey love.

Fast forward to talking time for the girl. An exuberant chicklet ready to speak her mind. Letters formed amid kiddly gurgles and smiles. Graham (like the cracker) is a mouthful—and hers could barely fit a spoonful. Nevertheless, from perfect pink lips came the most beautiful sound: “Yam.”

As in, “I want my YAAAAM,” she announced and sometimes screamed, reach arms up for a cuddle in the cradle of my still pert Grahamly bosom. She knew by then that a yam was a tall, ginger, messy-haired lady who made the silliest faces, sang the craziest songs, and spun the most outrageous fairy yarns with big words she’d yet to know. Not a sweet potato this yam.

The girl grew up smart and she grew up right. In an Arkansas town—laughing and crying day and night. And though at age four she ruled the roost with an iron toddler fist, (I think even Elmo feared her); she graciously welcomed a little sister. In fact, she introduced us: Sis, meet Graham, (like the cracker). (“I’ll explain the cracker part when you’re bigger,” she told the slippery, wailing, disinterested newborn.)

She's a Grand Old Hag

It’s early days (the girls are under 11), but this new persona is grand for the soul. Both girls are curious and full of personality. Creative and independent, they are, of brilliant mind and heart. With a knack for quick wit and (dare I say) an inherited, wicked-good, sense of humor. (Humble, self-pat pat pat on the Graham back.)

Although I’d like to, I can’t take credit. Their parents set and enforce a balanced sense of individual and family ground rules steeped in fairness and morality. (Note: parental influence may contributed to the last sentence.) With much love and laughter, they’re raising up this pair of gals to be strong, independent and full of character. With reading. Piano lessons. Soccer championships. Talent shows. Themed birthday parties. Friendships, and of course, learning at school and globetrotting family treks.

As for Graham (like the cracker), I’ve turned into a more-opinionated, old(er-ish) person, still dancing and singing with the girls at the sound of their favorite song. (Katy Perry should here ME ROAR.)  Sharing sleepovers, vacations, and silliness. A devotee who BOUGHT A HOUSE just across their town so as to spend time with these also-ginger, whippersnappers (while my real home was a sailboat in the Bahamas).

And currently, even though I’m in Italy and they’re not, when we chat and giggle on FaceTime, and when I rub the belly of my beloved Buddha statue—my only and everytime wish is that they live long, healthy and happy—and that maybe the best parts of me rubbed off on them.

Goodbye to Yam of Yore

Alas, as it happens, enunciation eventually ensued. A little sad that I am Yam no more, it’s now Graham with a G. Still wanting to be the creative, not crotchety, adventurous role model I envisioned that strange and wonderful day way back before they arrived. That moment when the word “grandmother” stuck first in my craw, then became part of my lexicon, fulfilling me with the (bitter)sweetness of Graham (like the cracker-y) goodness.             


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