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Confessions of a 40-Year-Old Grandma

To me, grandmas were gray-haired, knee-high-stocking-wearing women who are always saying, ‘I got candy in the bottom of my purse.’ Then my daughter announced her pregnancy.

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Dani Pendergast
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The oldest of my six kids, Chloe, now 23, made me a grandma in 2018. Before that, becoming a grandmother hadn’t even been on my radar.

In the summer of 2018, I was nearing 40 and my late-blooming career finally was heating up with reporting assignments that had me traveling about twice a month. I was finally amassing enough savings and disposable income to go on girls’ nights (with friends) and on girls’ trips (with my sister and daughters). The older women in my friend group had told me that nearing that 40 mark was when things started to come together. They were not lying.

I was feeling excited about life and my work. Becoming a grandma was the last thing on my mind. To me, grandmas were gray-haired, knee-high-stocking-wearing women who are always saying, “I got candy in the bottom of my purse.” They were older ladies, settled into later life. That was not me.

Despite my trepidation, I spent Chloe’s entire pregnancy helping her through as much as I could. She was due on March 15, 2018, and we discussed breastfeeding, postpartum depression, stretch marks and so much more. Chatting, shopping and prepping for the baby (a son who would be named Avery) helped alleviate my own blues, but it did nothing to help me feel like a grandma.

I had some anxiety along the way. In the fall of 2017, one of my editors asked me if I could cover two major film festivals: one in Utah in January and the second in Austin, Texas, on March 8, 2018. Close to my daughter’s due date. When I found out about the two trips, my emotions were high, and I considered declining. So I wrote in my journal until I felt the emotional wave subside. And thought back to when I was first pregnant.

In 1996, I was 16 years old and would sit in the bleachers during gym class. My teacher was a man who let girls sit out if we uttered the word “tampon,” so my pregnant teenaged belly scared him into a semester-long pass from all activity. I’d watch the other girls as they played basketball. Sometimes, my classmates would sit out with me. They would ask a polite question about the baby, and they sympathized with oohs or ahhs. Then those girls went back to planning for homecoming, or whatever the topic of the day was. All I could do was listen. I would not be going to homecoming; I was due to have Chloe two weeks before that day.

As a new mom at 16, I was restricted from so much. Junior prom, field trips and sleepovers also were gone. And 22 years later, I realized I was feeling like that 16-year-old girl who was having a baby and had to stay home. Because grandmas don’t jet off to film premieres and after-parties, I told myself. They don’t ski or go to cocktail hours with their writer friends.

But then I realized I was no longer that girl. I could be a jet-setting granny. I attended the film festival in Utah and brought back so many souvenirs for unborn Avery that I forgot to grab something for his mama. There were other press trips and more baby gifts, but I had to miss that second festival in Texas. Chloe went into labor the day my flight was leaving. I ended up canceling the trip and staying with her and her husband as they welcomed Avery to the world.

I still hadn’t figured out my grandma role. Buying stuff was fun. Holding his chunky little 9-pound body was emotional because I had watched my daughter generate a new human. But I still didn’t feel like a grandma. What I did feel was attached to this tiny human made by my once-tiny human. That connection was clear. I just could not muster up that special connection that grandmothers are supposed to have with their grandkids. And, actually, I couldn’t tell you what that feeling was supposed to be like.

More than once, I wondered if my need to pursue a career was getting in the way of bonding with Avery. Was I chasing a career and trying so hard to be a young reporter when I should have been home baking cookies and doing other grandmother stuff? I was not very clear on what grandmother stuff was supposed to be or how it was supposed to feel. I just knew that I was not doing it because I didn’t feel any different toward this baby than I did toward my own kids.

It would take time for that grandma feeling to come, which didn’t bother me as much after I had Avery to cuddle and spoil. When I had him and my kids around, we just felt like family. The grandma feeling didn’t really come until Avery started calling me “Nana.” Well, he started as “Nah Nah,” probably a play on my name, which he heard from his dad and grandpa, and “mama,” which he heard his mom call me. By then, he was nearly a year old. I had found my role as grandma in just bonding and spending time with him and doing our own activities, which were not always things expected of grannies.

Avery and I didn’t (and don’t) do epic things. I am often working when he comes over in the afternoon, but I stop to make time for him. My cookies come from the grocery store, but he loves them. Sometimes we color in coloring books. Other times, he “helps” me type my assignments on my computer. As a writer, I have submitted a few drafts with a random group of numbers and letters embedded in them. I call it “Avery’s signature.” (My editors probably think it’s some odd typo.) Sometimes, his tiny fingers succeed in finding the right key combination to lock my keyboard, a feature I never knew existed. I also read him comics sometimes.

During this time of bonding, I realized I was not settled into some stereotypical rut expected of this stage in life. I still travel. And I never was the baked-goods-as-a-welcome-type of person. I didn’t have to look or act like a stereotypical image in order to be a grandma who is loved. I just had to be me, the Nana who does fun things with Avery and brings back some cool stuff from my press trips. Avery’s Nana.

And, we would figure out our grandma-grandson relationship our way.