My son called a few months ago.
"Hello, Nana," he said.
He didn't need to say another word. I started screaming and jumping up and down.
Some time before, I had spoken with Neil and his wife. "We're trying to get pregnant," they confided. “Start thinking about what you want to be called."
I settled on "Nana". Which prompted my partner William, who is not Neil's dad, to quip, "If you'll be Nana, what am I? Nada?"
The “children” were on vacation in New Brunswick. About to party with friends, my daughter-in-law thought she should take a pregnancy test ("You know, just in case.") before cracking open a beer. When the test showed up positive, she insisted on taking three more tests ("From different manufacturers, even.") because she didn't believe the results. ("Maybe all the tests are defective!”) No beer for Andrea for a while. She's gonna be a Momma, my son's gonna be a Daddy, and me, I'm gonna be a what-my-friend-April-calls “the G word”.
I was so excited by the kids’ news that I told everyone I saw. I e-mailed all my friends. I telephoned my relatives. I even mentioned it to the girl who works in the coffee shop in my work building. If William hadn’t taken hold of me, I believe I would have rushed out and bought yarn and knitting needles that very instant. I have to act like a Nana now. I need to knit bootees, crochet cozy blankies, think ooey-gooey thoughts.
I can’t wait. Every time I think about having a baby in the family, my eyes well up, I get this warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside, and I love the entire world. William looks as me strangely. He’s seeing a different side of me. I’ve been friend, lover, straight man to his jokes, businesswoman, cook, maid, and mother. He’s thinking, “Oh great, screaming kids!” I’m thinking, “Smiles and gurgles.” He’s thinking, “Yucky diapers.” I’m thinking, “Cuddly, sweet-smelling two-week-old.” I’m not sure William’s sure he approves of this new facet of me. He’s my “babe” and he’s wondering if he’s mature enough to share the limelight. He’s going to need to get used to it because I intend to be the world’s best Nana.
I’ve tried to analyze why I am so very excited about this impending birth of a new McTaggart. Intellectually, I understand that Andrea’s pregnancy means my genes will continue. My reptilian brain probably already anticipates the birth of Neil’s son’s son and his son after. I think it goes deeper than that. I think it’s tied up with my relationship with my own grandmother, my first love.
My Mom and Dad lived with my paternal grandparents when they first married. My Dad, a ship’s engineer at the time, was away a good portion of the year. When he was home, he worked building the house my immediate family would eventually inhabit. When the house, which sat next door to my grandparents’, was finally ready, I was already a year and a half, and my mother was pregnant with my sister June. According to family lore, when they moved lock, stock and barrel (and baby Evelyn) into the new house, I took a look around and announced, arms folded, “I don’t like it here. I’m going back HOME!” Story goes, I walked out the door and back down the path. Forever after, my grandmother’s house would be “home” and my parents’ place would be “Mom and Dad’s”.
Did my grandparents, and especially my Nannie, “spoil” me? If a child can be spoiled by love and hugs and help with science projects and long talks in front of the fire and the biggest personal library in Newfoundland and spelling matches and singing classes and love and hugs, oh, yes, I was certainly so spoiled. If a child can be spoiled by learning responsibility and the lessons of history, sure, I was spoiled rotten. I was the first granddaughter and the only grandchild living with my former teacher Nannie. Lucky me.
I read at four, started regular classes in the all-grade, one-room, schoolhouse at five—by which time, I could correctly answer grade four geography questions and grade three mathematics problems. Not because I was so innately intelligent, but because my Nannie spent hours teaching me that learning was (gasp!) fun. Reading was fun. Spelling was fun. Doing arithmetic sums was fun. My clever grandmother had not once mentioned that certain books might be “good” for me, so I read indiscriminately, worked my way through that huge library. Waited for every Book of the Month selection. Devoured every title in the government’s ever-changing portable lending library. By the time I entered Memorial University at sixteen, I had read all of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Victor Hugo, various other classic authors, and conquered a fair number of modern writers (Herman Wouk, John Steinbeck, Hemingway, John O’Hara) as well. (That pretty much took care of English 101!) And through it all, not once did I feel anything other than totally loved, even after I grew seven inches taller than my 4 foot eleven grandparent. She taught me to make seven-minute frosting, to take care of her arthritic feet, to grow plants from seeds, to attract iron filings with a magnet, to bake a jelly roll. I learned how to listen—a necessity for being a good friend—from our midnight chats waiting for the kitchen fire to burn out; I learned how to speak up for myself; I learned how to take care of my loved ones. And I learned how to love.
When I’d leave after spring break or summer vacation to return to St. John’s, far from my Nannie, I’d pull her tiny plump body into my arms and give her the biggest bear hug. She’d hug back fiercely and slide her fingers into my jacket pocket. “A little extra, for special occasions,” she’d whisper in my ear. Later I’d discover the $50 or $100. A new dress for the fall dance. A new hair style for no reason at all. No one but she and I ever knew.
I married an electrical engineer in 1968; his work took him all over Canada and eventually to Iran. Wherever I wandered, I could count on one thing: When I arrived at my destination, there would be a letter or a card waiting for me from my Nannie. A welcome piece of home no matter where I roamed. When Neil was born in 1977, I brought him home to Nannie when he was just five weeks. My father looked at Nannie, me, and baby Neil together and quietly observed, “Well, I guess my mother can die happy now she’s seen your son.” Prophetically, as it happened. When Nannie died suddenly seven months later, I was inconsolable. I can still recall the pain so many years later. I cried myself to sleep many, many weeks. I cried for her family, I cried for her, but mostly (selfishly), I cried for me without her. I cried because I’d never again bundle her in a bear hug. I cried because I’d never again arrive at a new destination to find a welcoming letter. My first love was gone.
I don’t expect to become my grandchild’s first love or even the second. Neil and Andrea should fill those roles, as they will, but I definitely want to be third in line! I want to be the same kind of grandmother as mine was. I want to “spoil” that child with love and hugs and the most important lessons of life and the idea that learning is fun and the lore of our family. Problem is, I don’t live next door. I live in Toronto, the younger McTaggarts live in Halifax. How can you spoil a kid from two provinces away? If all goes well with my daughter-in-law’s pregnancy, in late April or early May, a new McTaggart will become a spoke on the circle of life and I will become a Nana. You can bet your bippy, I’ll figure out a way!