Once upon a time grandmothers were old, wrinkly, apron clad bakers, knitting, crocheting and sewing their days away. Things have changed…or have they?
This post came about when I read a few excerpts of a newly released book about being a grandmother in the 21st century, a compilation of 24 Australian grandmothers. It got me thinking as I read and nodded along.
As I’m a relative new kid on the block, in regards to grandmothering, they obviously didn’t ask for my thoughts, and just maybe, I’m not famous enough to be invited!
So when chatting online with Denyse about these stories, we decided to do our own take on this grandmothering in the 21st century gig, and hence this short series for #lifethisweek with the prompt of Life Stories #1 came about. Part 2 will follow up with a further 10 questions looking more at our grandmothering experiences and will go live on 8 June 2020.
I wake every morning to this lightbox sitting on my dressing table, it’s one of the first things I see every day and I love it!
This is a short video about the book Grandmothers – Essays by 21st Century Grandmothers
Part 1 – The First Experience of Becoming a Grandmother
I look forward to seeing Alfie and Esther with the anticipation of a teenage girl with a crush, and I like who I am with them.Jane Caro’s story
It’s those last few words that I can relate to the most – I like who I am with them.
I am a different ‘being’ to the mother I was to my daughters, who are now mothers themselves. Being a grandmother is completely different!
I just have to say before I get into my answers, that I absolutely LOVE everything about being a grandmother!
1. What do you remember about your grandmother(s)?
I was lucky to have both my grandmothers until I was in my mid 40s and have so many wonderful memories. I was the first grandchild born to both of them, so I always felt pretty special!
Both of them were called Nan – we had Nan in Murbah (Murwillumbah) and Nan in Sydney – that’s how we differentiated them! Sometimes we would refer to them as Nan Humphries and Nan Pittaway but generally it was by where they lived. Both grandfathers were called Pop too! I don’t know why or how they became Nan and Pop, isn’t it funny how you just accept some things as a child? I loved my grandparents and have such fabulous memories of them being a part of my childhood. They filled a very different role to my parents
Memories of my grandmother in Sydney (mum’s mum) include style, grace, beauty, nail polish, toffee sweets in the car, English accents, laughs, visits to the city and loads of love. She had moved with her family, husband and three children, from England to Australia in 1955 as a 10 pound Pom. My great aunt and uncle were already living in Sydney and Nan and Pop decided they wanted a better life for their children and Australia was it. I don’t think Nan was ever really taken with the move but she bore it stoically. Mum, at 16, hated the idea but was forced to move with her family. They later moved down the coast to be nearer to our family and we relished having them close by. I wish I had talked with Nan more about how the decision was made, her earliest memories of the move and how she adapted. Nan was only in her early 40s when I was born and I love this photo of her holding a 2 week old baby me. I did say style and grace didn’t I? Nan passed away suddenly one night and I believe I was the last one to speak to her as we’d been chatting on the phone earlier that night.
Nan in Murbah, (dad’s mum) was a softly spoken, gentle, unassuming woman who hated having her photo taken but loved being surrounded by family. She also taught us to look at Mt Warning every day to ‘see what it was doing’. Something we all still do when we visit Murwillumbah. Nan was in her late 40s when I was born and she had had my uncle a few years earlier. As my dad was in the Navy mum went and lived with Nan and Pop and I was born up there. Nan was always fun, hard working, caring but oh my she loved washing and drying our hair with herculean strength! My sister and I still have memories of how hard Nan rubbed our hair after a bath. During our youth, my younger sister, brother and I would often be put on a plane in Sydney by ourselves, and flown to Coolangatta Airport for school holidays with Nan and Pop. We loved it, the freedom, the recognition of people who seemed to know we were part of the Pittaway family just by looking at us, and the comfort of being with family. Nan had her own life stories and over the years we learnt some of these. She lived to be 93 and her 90th birthday was a real family celebration! We were married on Nan’s 68th birthday and I love having that connection with her. There were never many photos of Nan but I like this one that shows some of her cheeky spirit in her smile.
2. Did you make any choices/decisions about being a grandmother when you found out this was going to happen?
I’ve only been a grandmother since 2018 so I’m still getting used to this new gig! The only thing I decided was that I would be try to be positive and supportive for my daughters in their parenting choices and a fun influence for my grandchildren. I was just so excited to finally become a granny and I must admit I’m still just as excited!
3. What struck you initially about the news you were going to be a grandmother for the first time?
You have to understand that I am normally an excitable person and had been waiting (patiently!) for years to become a grandmother, so when I finally heard it was going to happen I was like a pig in mud, in a teary, happy way! I was also happy that my daughter was pregnant and well. I was 57 at the time, so a lot older than my grandmothers had been.
My sister, who is 15 months younger than me, had millions of grandchildren by the time I got to be a grandmother and had stopped telling me when she had another one due, in case it upset me!
I had consciously refrained from asking any of my daughters when they were going to start a family, as I didn’t want to place any pressure on them. They had enough to contend with in my opinion and if they wanted to talk to me about any issues, they knew they could do so. I think they talked amongst themselves though. I had become a mother at 22 years of age, I was married at 19, but they have all left it until their early 30s to become mothers, a case of very different times. But it works well.
I loved the idea of our family carrying on and a baby being a mix of all of us.
4. Was the news from your son or daughter?
We have three daughters and three sons-in-laws, so the news was delivered from each of the couples with well planned announcements!
5. How did you find out?
1st: We were told quite early on in the pregnancy, (about 9 weeks), as we were gathered as a family for my father’s funeral. My three girls were all together, one had come all the way from the UK, and our daughter and her husband told us all just before we went out for a family breakfast. We were staying in a quirky Airbnb and loving being together. She wasn’t sure how to tell us, so sat us all down and ended up just blurting it out.
I cried (with joy) and jumped up and down apparently, although I don’t remember that. Having just buried my dad the day before, it made me very emotional, as you can imagine. I was just so happy to have something so exciting to look forward to and I was more than ready! I then had to keep it a secret until they felt the time was right to announce it publicly – you don’t know how hard that was! They named the bump Spud that weekend and didn’t find out what they were having until she was born.
They later informed me that they had told my dad the happy news, days before he died, as they wanted him to know he was going to become a great grandfather again. How sweet! (2018)
2nd: My eldest daughter who lives in the UK, Facetimed us early one morning saying she had just taken a great photograph. As she’s a blogger and photographer I didn’t think anything of it until she started waving around an ultrasound photo and I twigged that she was showing us that she was expecting a baby!! So exciting and I think I screamed again! She was named Wombat and they didn’t find out what they were having until she was born.(2019)
3rd: My youngest daughter had told her sisters the news and setup a call with us when we were with the other sister, we were hard to pin down apparently! It was at about 9 weeks into the pregnancy when she told us as I was just about to set off to see daughter #1 in UK (and her new baby born early at 25 weeks). She asked us if we would come to visit them in March next year for a few weeks. I said, yes of course, without knowing that she was asking us to be there when her baby was due! She then told us her due date and we were so thrilled to know another little one was on the way. I cried again! They called him Gundoo (little child in Aboriginal) and found out they were having a girl which was later changed to a boy! (2020)
My three daughters have always had a great way of surprising me and these are perfect examples aren’t they?
6. Were there any conditions/limitations set by the parents-to-be for you, the new grandmother in the making?
Yes and fair enough too. I have learnt to ask before sharing any photos or information especially on social media. As my grandchildren are still young I’m sure there will be more conditions in the future. We live a long way away from each of them so we are more ‘fly in, fly out’ grandparents and have learnt to use technology to stay in touch, especially during this time of isolation. I’ve been dubbed a Globetrotting Granny for a reason.
7. Does the role work its way out for all?
Yes, it’s hard enough being a parent, so my aim is to help and support my daughters and their decisions in any way I can. They know they can ask me to do anything for them and if I can, I will do it. It’s fitted in beautifully, in the fact that we are both retired, and can travel at a moment’s notice if necessary. I worry for them but try to relieve their anxiety and concerns. I love the way things have worked out and the three girls are all close to each other (not geographically) but know they can call on their sisters, and me, for any advice and support.
8. Are there any hiccups?
No, except the tyranny of distance. Thank goodness for technology is all I can say!
9. Share the highlights of the birth and after of your first grandchild.
I remember clearly being informed that Sarah had gone to hospital earlier in the day and I was happy to wait at home, but then it was found that Emilia was in a breech position and an emergency C-section would be required. It was at that point that my patience ran out and I just had to go. I had a real urge!
Canberra was a 3 hour drive away for me, so I packed a bag and left late in the afternoon. I was excited and yet apprehensive at the same time. I had a message on my phone about 2 hours into the drive and pulled over to read the news of the safe arrival of Emilia and my daughter was doing well after the trauma of an unexpected surgical birth. I cried happy tears. Then I started driving again. I was pulled over in a random breath test shorlty afterwards and I’m sure the policeman didn’t believe that I hadn’t been drinking as I was bubbling away with excitement! I made it to the hospital without any further drama and was able to hold my new granddaughter within hours of her birth. It was the most amazing feeling!
I was required to stay around to help out, on and off, for the following six weeks and appreciated this special time, being a support, and getting to know my new granddaughter. It was an amazing introduction to being a grandmother. Once again, I thanked my lucky stars that I was retired and able to be there to help out.
I wrote a post when I became a grandmother for the first time, and after each subsequent grandchild, but my overarching feeling was one of love, for my daughter, her husband and for this new bundle of life that had joined our family. It’s fair to say I was over the moon with happiness.
10. Any lowlights?
I have been surprised with the amount of anxiety and worry that has consumed me with each of my daughters’ births. I had 3 traumatic births and thought nothing of it at the time, but when each of my daughters have had their own traumatic time giving birth and afterwards, I haven’t coped with it as well as I thought I would. I try to hide my concern but I feel it so much. I don’t think I expected it to be all sunshine and roses but I’ve been surprised at how I no longer take childbirth for granted as much as I did before.
I’ve tried to stay positive throughout it all and be a support for my girls.
I have thoroughly enjoyed answering these questions and if you too are a grandmother, I would invite you to look at how you would respond. Maybe jot down some notes and share your stories too.
I’ll leave you with these words of wisdom and advice:
We grandmothers make history, repeat history, carry history and pass on history. We pass on stories, nursery rhymes, family sayings and the unspoken, unacknowledged ripples of longforgotten events, traumas, twists and turns in our complex lives. Our face, our touch, the sound of our voice, the smell of our skin may be forgotten, but we are there, inside our grandchildren. Pass it on.Jane Caro
Stay tuned for Part 2 – More about Grandmothering as life moves on in families due out on on 8 June 2020.
Thanks for joining in and I’d love to hear your thoughts – are they different to mine?
Granny Debs xx
Debbie is an award winning blogger and lives in the small town of Tumbarumba in NSW Australia. Married for 40 years, with three grown up daughters, Debbie and the Mathematician are avid travellers, cyclists and adventurers. Described by others as a ‘hummingbird on speed’ this active mother and grandmother has also received a bravery award from the Queen.
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