Becoming a granny

Joan Pritchett

Joan Pritchett offers advice to new grandmothers

In the Secret Country of Your Imagination things are done differently. Your daughter has married a charming man with a Country Seat and, over afternoon tea under the cedar tree on the lawn, they tell you that if the child is a girl it will be named after you, as a token of their love and admiration. They insist. You retire, blushing, to play with the peacocks on the croquet lawn.

It won't happen. So stay detached. You can always call the offspring something different when you come face to face with it.

And coming face to face with it in the maternity ward is one of those Very Important Moments which you mustn't get wrong. I had a friend who fainted when she first saw her grandchild. At the time she said she was overcome with emotion, but she confessed to me later that the emotion was actually fear. "The baby was huge," she said. "And a funny colour." She had noticed something important there. Babies are bigger these days. Remember to expect big.

You are going to have to vocalise some emotion when you first look into the cot. I suggest mewing.

Mewing is the noise you might make when a friend tells you about something frightful that has happened to her, but you weren't really listening. It's the noise of a puppy shut out in the rain. Somehow it conveys the right message - emotional support, perhaps, or mere speechless admiration.

Actually it's difficult to see the baby because it is being loomed over by a dreadful pink rabbit. "It was a present from Granny Jenkins," the new mother says.

The Other Grandmother! What was she thinking? Fancy rushing to the hospital at the crack of dawn and filling the place up with rabbits. You offer to take a quick snapshot, but you discover that Granny Jenkins has already been at it with her digital camera and is, even now, at home e-mailing her efforts around the world. No doubt she also knits.

This is an aspect of grandmotherhood you had not foreseen. There are two of you. Damn.

You may be invited to pick up the baby and hold it. This is supposed to be an honour, so get on with it. When you find yourself holding the baby, do sit down. If you try and walk about with a large well-wrapped parcel of infant in your arms you won't be able to see where you are going. Whoops! Who left that pink rabbit on the floor?

While you hold the baby, do you notice that look in the eyes of the new parents? They don't really trust you, do they?

You are now a grandmother, and grandmothers are, by definition, not as clever as parents. Your thoughts and opinions don't matter any more, so don't try and share them - or you might be considered "interfering," which is the deadliest of sins. Interfering grandmothers are regarded in the same way as warty old women with black cats were in the olden days. Life in the olden days, by the way, is the only subject on which you are now considered an expert.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

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