Did anyone ask your permission? Did anyone pause to inquire how you might feel about this? Probably not. It's one of those events in life (like being born) where there is no right of refusal.
There are mountains of cooingly sympathetic books and articles giving advice to the new or expectant mother, but granny is somehow expected to muddle through on her own. So here are some tips.
First, you have to get through the business of the breaking of the news. Your daughter (or daughter-in-law) has Something to Tell You, and your reaction is going to be important.
Dozens of questions hurl themselves round your brain and the chief one is: How much of a nuisance is this going to be? Say as little as possible. The best tactic in this situation is a hug. It allows time for some mental arithmetic.
What can you expect in the next months? Prepare for too much information. You will be shown dark swirly pictures which look less like a future grandchild and more like the satellite picture of a nasty storm building up over the Gulf of Mexico.
Try not to laugh when the expectant couple come back from their latest ante-natal class and tell you how beautiful natural childbirth is. Don't remind them that you have had a little experience yourself of giving birth; they're not going to believe you.
Soon you will have to worry about the important matter of Choosing the Name. Not the baby's. Yours.
Remember that what you are called in your role as a grandmother will stay with you for ever. Imagine it, written in flowers and paraded through the streets at your funeral. "There goes Noony," people will say. "It's a merciful release, really."
NEVER leave it until the baby is old enough to make silly noises and come up with a name for you itself.
You will find you are introducing yourself at family gatherings with the words: "Hello, I'm Ga-Ga." In later years, that young person shouting "Grungie" across a crowded shop could be addressing you.
As for the naming of the baby, just stay out of it. As PG Wodehouse observed: "There is raw work pulled at the font from time to time, is there not?"
You will be bombarded regularly with new names as they are chosen and then fall out of favour. "We're thinking of Xerxes," the expectant parents will announce one day. Try not to reply: "I'm thinking of a large gin and tonic."
Read Mick Brown on the shock and excitement of becoming a grandfather
At the hospital
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.
After the birth of your grandchild
In the shaky time that follows the birth, you have no allies. It's every doting relative for her- or himself. Only you can imprint yourself on that child's mind as the bringer of mirth and chocolate.
By the way, keep out of those cot-side debates about whose nose the baby has or where the eyes come from. Let the parents lay claim as they wish to the glory of passing on the finest features and neatest ears. It's obvious whose side of the family those delicate slender, violin player's fingers come from, so just don't bother to mention it.
When you have recovered a little from the birth, it's time to celebrate the good things that having a grandchild will mean. Having someone to go to the pantomime with is good. You may find you have more in common with the grandchild than with your own children. You may have exactly the same sense of humour - or at least someone to share you passion for bees or Shakespeare or rock climbing.
Get a scrapbook for all those shaky messages and bright, urgent drawings which will soon be arriving. Prepare yourself for all the questions from these tireless seekers after truth - like "What are you drinking?" and "Are you going bald?" and "What does 'bastard' mean?" Look forward to the surprise telephone calls - "Hello, I've just been sick in a bucket."
You will learn to admire (and perhaps try to copy) your grandchild's talent for selective hearing. He or she can pick out the rattle of a Smartie tube from several gardens away, but if a parent bangs on about something boring, not a word gets through.
Then there are the delights and dangers of Christmases; but they are going to need a whole chapter of their own.
- Try not to knit
- Don't keep photographs of your grandchildren in your wallet. Young sales assistants will spot them and patronise you.
- Don't boast about the number of grandchildren you have; just try to remember their names.
- Never criticise any member of the family (especially Granny Jenkins) in the child's hearing. Remember what a lovely person you decided to pretend to be. Stick to it.
- Above all, remember these new members of your family can transform your life if you let them. Just enjoy it.
These chattering bright creatures will blow away the cobwebs and leave you refreshed.
Cherish them while you can.
Not All Grannies Knit: How To Be A Bad Grandmother, by Joan Pritchett, is published by Michael O'Mara in October, priced £9.99
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