The Nana Factor
I started writing this on Mother's Day, a holiday dedicated to all the moms in the world. The way it works is that our moms give birth to us, then they do a twenty-year stretch of washing our laundry, saving us from malnutrition, and keeping us from killing or being killed by our siblings.
In return for all that, we set aside one day a year to give them a pancake breakfast, a basket of flowers, and a cheesy card. The amazing thing is, they seem to like it.
So when my son gave us a Mother's Day FaceTime call, the apparent purpose of which was to let our granddaughter, fresh from her bath, flash Nana and Papa a full holiday moon, it was all a normal part of the plan. Then I got to thinking about how all the grandmothers of the the world fit into the lives of kids.
Because of basic geography, I didn't get to see a lot of my grandmothers while I was growing up, but they did make a substantial impact on me. Of course, they were very different from each other. One was the classic grandma, the one who made us fried chicken and "sugar cream pies," and who kept her dentures every night in a water glass next to the bathroom sink. In retrospect, those full dentures may have borne some causal relationship with the whole idea of "sugar cream pies."
The other grandma gave me my first real appreciation for the concept of constructive insanity. She was very much the product of being a single mother who raised a son through the Great Depression, then packed him off to World War II. She was a tough lady who could tackle anything with an almost manic sense of humor, a gift she foolishly passed on to my dad and then to my brother and me. I never knew anyone who could take a practical joke like my grandmother could - or who had to do it so often.
Sadly, our Son grew up without much interaction with his grandparents. Both of my folks died years before he was born, while my wife's parents lived some distance from us and were sort of over the whole grandpa-grandma thing by the time he came along. He didn't suffer from a lot of serious hardships growing up - his biggest complaint in middle school what that we had had boats instead of dirt bikes - but looking back, I can see that in terms of grandparents, he missed a lot.
So it has been a very cool thing to watch my wife and our granddaughter whenever they get together. Since the day little Caelyn was born, those two have been basically joined at the hip. One of her earliest favorite words was "Nana," and she always, without fail, bursts into a form of pure radiant happiness at the sight of my wife.
She likes per Papa well enough, because I sing to her, tickle her when she's in the mood to be tickled, and I can always tell when she's in the mood to be tickled. But her reaction to my wife is a wonderfully different thing. And I have to ask, what is the source of that incredible bond?
It's not that we spoil her, not really. My wife doesn't lavish her with gifts, or with fried chicken and sugar cream pies. Besides, the Nana fetish goes back to before favorite dolls and princess gowns, when Caelyn's idea of the best gift ever was a perfectly-timed poke in the belly.
No, I think I can sum the situation up in three words - The Nana Factor.
I believe that there is a sort of mom energy in the relationship between a mother and her child that is like no other, a power that steers kids through the rockiest rapids of confidence and fear, of abundance and hardship, of desolation and sheer joy. Once a mother graduates from mother-ness and sends her child out into the world, I think she just sort of stores up that energy, until the day her child becomes a parent.
Then, the instant she lays eyes on her grandchild, all that stored up mom energy bursts out and transforms into the magic of The Nana Factor. And as everybody knows, kids dig magic.
I admit that I am just a little bit jealous of Caelyn's devotion to my wife, but I guess in the long run I don't much mind having her call me the guy who, "...plays the guitar and sings to me when I'm at Nana's house." After all, at least I get to enjoy the glow.