Think ‘granny’ and you’ll no doubt imagine your own, or the stereotypical white-haired old dear. But times they are a-changing, says young grandma Sarah Hendrickx.
“Please, just don’t make me a grandmother before I’m 40,” I implored my daughter some time during my late 30s. Bless her cotton socks, a week before my 40th, she broke the news that she was expecting twins. I could hardly complain; she did what I asked – even if I didn’t expect her to take it quite so literally.
When I tell people I am a grandmother, they are generally thinking one of two things:
1. Blimey, she looks well for her age, or
2. Blimey, she started young (or a less polite version).
I gave birth to my daughter at the age of 19 and she had her children when she was 21, so neither of us is quite as Take a Break as you may suspect.
The stereotypical image of a granny is a cake-baking knitter with a bun and a penchant for talking over the telly. She smells of wee and lavender and keeps tissues up her sleeve – a Google search for ‘grandmother’ will verify this – but she is not based in truth. The current average age for a woman to become a grandparent for the first time is 47, which is far too young to stash your teeth in a glass.
But how is this the case when women are having children older? In the 1960s and 1970s it was considered usual for women to have children in their early 20s, and it is these women whose offspring are now bearing fruit. At the same time, the average age of becoming a first-time parent is rising; it currently stands at 29 years old, while many women are older.
I have a friend who, at 50, is two years older than me, whose son is younger than my grandchildren. I have another friend who became a grandmother and a mother within a two-week period as she and her late-20s daughter both had a child at the same time. When my partner and I take the twins out, we are automatically assumed to be their parents, because that wouldn’t be unusual these days.
“When my grandsons shout for me across a football field, the sound of my title – which I wear with pride – fills me with deep emotion. It’s an odd feeling and one I didn’t expect to cherish so greatly.”
We’ve ended up with a very mixed generational bag of parents and grandparents who may have been born around the same time. When I became a grandmother at 40, I was still parenting my son and working full time. I warned my daughter that if she wanted the sacrificial type of Nana who was on call for childcare and sleepovers, then she needed to wait another 30 years for me to become a stereotype and start munching Werther’s Originals.
Having grandchildren, for me, is quite a different experience than having children. The old adage about the bonus of being able to give them back is so true. That awareness of the finite nature of time and responsibility allows me to have all the selfish pleasure of enjoying their company knowing that I don’t have to do the monotonous stuff like cutting their toenails or washing a billion socks.
We get to eat out, stay up late and do what we like because we don’t get to see each other every day and we don’t care. And, awful though this may sound, when they are not with me, I don’t have to worry about them – because that is someone else’s job.
The art of being a good grandparent depends on what kind of grandchildren you end up with. For my seven-year-old twin grandsons, this currently involves playing football, despite apparently being ‘the worst footballer in the world’, finding the repeated use of the phrase ‘bananas in the house’ as hysterically funny as their twin brother does and never, ever getting bored of playing noughts and crosses. Piece of cake, really.
When they shout for me across a football field, the sound of my title – which I wear with pride – fills me with deep emotion. It’s an odd feeling and one I didn’t expect to cherish so greatly.
They are a breath of silly air in a now childless world. In essence, they are really just an excuse to behave like a child for an extra 12 years or so, before they too start rolling their eyes at me like their mother and her brother did before them.
It’s been mighty lonely around here since then, with no Top Trumps, farts or Rice Krispie cakes (because making those without a child on the premises would be downright weird). I even had to stop putting pants on my head and hiding under tables before they came along because nobody laughed and nobody looked for me. But now they do, for a while at least, before they go back to playing Minecraft and thinking about rolling their eyes at the strange ‘old’ lady playing with Lego on the floor, whose name is Grandma.
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Sarah Hendrickx is a writer, author, autism specialist and occasional standup comedian. She lives part-time in rural Portugal where she tries to make friends with geckos and grows broad beans. Her book about moving overseas, How to Leave the Country is available on Kindle/e-book. She blogs at www.bicyclesandbiscuits.com.