Explaining you were a mommy before you were a grandma to a young grandchild quickly becomes a who’s who of considerable complexity.
“Grandma, Mommy said that you were her mommy.”
“Yes, and I still am,” I say. “I could ask her to unload the dishwasher right now and she’d probably do it.”
“Really?” the child exclaims, wide-eyed.
“Yes. Before I was a grandma, I was a mommy, and your mommy was my little girl and now my little girl is grown up and is your mommy.”
This is the strangest thing the kid has ever heard. Naturally, I try to help by putting it in context.
“Your mommy was a little girl and I was her mommy a long time ago before you were born.”
Turns out, this is a horrible follow-up. There is no more disturbing statement for young children than to hear there was a time when they didn’t exist.
In an attempt to clarify, I muddle things even more. “Yes, I was your mommy’s mommy and Grandpa was her daddy.”
This is too much. Not only is the child to believe that Grandma was once a mommy, but that grandpa was once a daddy. Hey, the kid has eyes and she’s thinking there’s no way the two of them were ever that young!
The child gives me the once over and slowly says, “So you were a mommy … Grandpa was a daddy … and Mommy was one of your kids?”
“Exactly!” I shout.
Silence. The wheels are turning.
“Then, before you were a mom … were you a kid, too?”
“Yes!” Wisely, I keep my mouth closed about being a kid so long ago it is what we now call the “last century.” There’s only so much backward time travel small children can comprehend.
“So, Grandma, when you were a kid, did you have other kids in your family?”
“Yes. John was my brother.”
“You mean Big John?”
“Yes, Big John was my little brother.”
“How could he be your little brother when he’s bigger than you and we call him Big John?”
“He wasn’t always bigger. As a matter of fact, I am three years older and for a long time I was bigger than he was and I would boss — oh, it doesn’t matter what Grandma used to do to her little brother, because he grew way bigger and he’s still making me pay for teasing him years ago. The main thing is to be kind to your brothers and sisters no matter who is older or younger or bigger or smaller.”
Satisfied, smiling and with a twinkle in her eye, she dashes off to the front room where her cousins are playing and shouts, “Guess what? Grandma used to be a kid!”
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.