4: She’ll Call Me “Ma”

4: She’ll Call Me “Ma”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

She’ll Call Me “Ma”

It is not the name that is important— it is what it represents to you that is the key to its power.

~Laura Spiess

“Guess what — I’m pregnant!” My stepdaughter phoned. Her joy was obvious. “That’s wonderful,” I said. “I’m going to be a grandmother!” We had always been close — bonded together by our mutual love for her father. I was sure that my love for this child was big enough to share with her child. What I wasn’t sure of was my grandmothering ability.

I had often witnessed these women at church fellowships — huddled in a circle like football players planning their next play. They all had sweet names like “Mimi,” “Nana,” “Grammy” and “Grandma.” Their purses bulged with photos that could be pulled out at a moment’s notice. Their conversations revolved around sippy cups, Big Bird and onesies (which I had already mispronounced at a friend’s baby shower as “o-nee-zees”).

I, on the other hand, was young (only forty) and inexperienced and the stepgrandmother. I had lots of questions and all the fated answers. Would my stepdaughter pull away from me? It would only be natural that she grow closer to her real mother in the coming months. Would I suddenly feel like an outsider when my husband stepped into his role as grandfather? Blood is thicker than water. Would I ever get to be involved in this child’s life? Never mind quality time... I would take any time. What would I be called by this child? “Stepgrandmother” would definitely not conjure up any warm, fuzzy feelings. And I knew that “Mimi,” “Nana,” “Grammy” and “Grandma” would quickly be claimed by the two grandmothers, two great-grandmothers and one great-greatgrandmother who waited in the wings.

My relationship with my stepdaughter deepened as we talked our way through the months of waiting. “I just found out I’m having a girl,” she cried. “You are coming to the baby shower, aren’t you?”

“Of course I’ll be there... if it’s okay with your mom,” I replied. Silence. Neither one of us needed to be reminded of our situation.

Two months later, it was finally time. “We’re leaving for the hospital,” her voice quivered. “We’re on our way,” I said. As my husband and I stepped off the elevator, we were greeted by our blended family. Time seemed to crawl as we all awaited the blessed arrival. Finally, she was here. “I’m a grandma!” I blurted out. All heads snapped to attention in my direction.

Had I said that out loud? I hadn’t meant to. I suddenly imagined a sign over the hospital room door: “Only blood relatives admitted.” I sheepishly smiled and stepped back as we all entered the room.

She was the most beautiful child (other than my own) that I had ever laid eyes on! I stood by as each one took his or her turn holding the tiny, red-faced stranger. Flashbulbs popped at every turn. She was so perfect. So tiny. And she possessed an unmistakable feature that drew me to her instantly... my husband’s loving eyes. I knew I was falling in love with her and longed to cradle her in my arms like the others. Instead, I moved toward the door, trying to stay out of the way. All too soon, it was time to go and let Mama and baby rest. My eyes filled with tears. I hadn’t gotten to hold her. With all the passing of the baby, I had gotten passed over. Just an oversight during all the confusion, I rationalized. Shouldn’t get too attached, anyway.

That night, my prayers overflowed with pleas for a true relationship with this child. Opportunity for motherhood well behind me, all I had were memories buried under the difficulties of a bad first marriage. There had never been time for filling in baby books with first steps or first words. My daughter had basically raised herself, while my energy was spent just getting through it all. I desperately wanted a second chance.

The next day, I woke up anxious to get to the hospital and see my stepdaughter. I secretly hoped that no other relatives would be there so I could have her and the baby all to myself. When we arrived, all was well. Mama and baby rested as my husband and I exchanged labor and delivery stories with our son-in-law.

When it came time to go, I felt a lump rise in my throat. I still hadn’t held the baby, and I felt silly being that emotional over what seemed like such a small incident. No one could have known how I longed to hold that child. I certainly didn’t feel like a stepgrandmother. As far as I was concerned, that was my child and my grandchild in that bed. As I turned to leave, my son-in-law caught my eyes. He saw my emotion and somehow he knew what I had missed the day before. He walked over to the bed, reached in and picked up the baby and handed her directly to me.

More than two years have passed since that day. I now fit in quite nicely with the other grandmothers at church. You see, we have so much in common. I, too, have earned one of these sweet names. Shortly after her first birthday, my granddaughter reached out to me as “Ma.” It stuck. Sippy cups now crowd my tea glasses and “o-nee-zees” abide in my lingerie drawer. Big Bird makes a daily appearance in my living room, and a larger-than-life version of Tinky Winky has taken up residence under my bed. And I am always armed and ready for any photo contest that might break out at one of those church fellowships.

I have cradled my granddaughter often and have stored up enough laughs for a lifetime as I have replied to questions like, “Ma, can you come over every day and just paint my fingernails?” I receive more love in a day than I could give back in a lifetime. You see, we have always been close — bonded together by our mutual love for her mother.

As I write this, I am happily awaiting the birth of my second granddaughter and am sure that my love for my first grandchild is big enough to share with her sister. Gone are the doubts. Gone are the questions — she’ll call me “Ma.”

~Jackie Davis
Chicken Soup for the Grandparent’s Soul

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