Saturday, October 07, 2006

What's in a name

I seem to be the community grandmom up here. I noticed that the children of Jenn’s friends are starting to call me “Babci”. I can’t help but smile. Music to my ears. To think that I fought against the title.

I remember my two kids requesting that I use the Polish form of grandmother as my calling card for the next generation when both were expecting their first babies. At first, I felt uncomfortable with the idea. My image of a “babci” was a peasant woman in a head scarf representing the older women of my heritage, the illiterate babushkas who came from the “old country”. I couldn’t see myself being a babci. Yet my kids wisely reminded me that they had no history with my experience and thought it would be neat to have their kids call me babci. Reluctantly, I agreed.

It had its selling points. “Babci” (bob-chee) seemed to be an easy first word to master once the babies were learning to talk so I usually was the first of the grandparents to hear my name spoken aloud. It also had a lovely alliterative ring to it. When little Ben first exclaimed “Babci, you’re the best!”, it clinched the deal.

Ben’s hero worship made me realize that I had the same strong feelings for my own babci. I loved this hard-working woman with calloused hands who could only sign her name with an “x”. I became her companion in her final years when she lived with us as an amputee. We would watch Hopalong Cassidy together and I would try to make her understand that the characters who died onscreen were just acting. She was often amazed when they would appear again on other shows, hale and hearty. She was a very simple woman, almost childlike in her beliefs and expectations, but her arrival as an immigrant took courage and strength. It was she and countless other women like her who braved the journey to a new land and gave their children and grandchildren the opportunities to learn and grow beyond what their generation was given. I feel guilty and sad that I first wanted to distance myself from these babushkas … that I deemed myself above and apart from their humble history. I was uncomfortable in accepting the old-world name of babci, yet I am standing on my babci’s shoulders.

Just about anyone can be a grandma or granny, but not everyone can be a babci.

I hope I live up to the name.


Contrary said...

I'm such a mutt that I have no cultural backdrop from which to cull an awesome name when I become a granny, so I think I'm gonna go with Grandmommy, which is what everyone calls my mother-in-law. If I can be as good a Grandmommy as she is, I'll be doing ok.

kirsty said...

Mater, I read this post at a time when I only had time to scan it quickly. Just re-read it. WONDERFUL!! No wonder you are wise, coming from such magnificent stock!