Thursday 16 August 2018

Bairbre Power: No Granny, No Nanny... I'm comfortable in my jumpsuit and leather jacket thanks very much

Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power. Photo: Kieran Harnett
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

Grandparents can be a pernickety bunch. A new survey has them throwing toys out of prams over the names their progeny have picked for their grandchildren. I, however, am more concerned about what the precious little bundle calls me. What's in a name, asked Shakespeare - but then he never lived to become a grandparent.

As a teenager, I returned from a summer in Brittany and announced I was changing my name. Imbued with a zeal for all things Celtic, I bid au revoir to Barbara, the name my parents gave me, in favour of Bairbre, the Irish version.

Having an unusual spelling brings its own grief. Some people think I'm called Barbie (as in the doll) and cheeky gits who call me Babs are greeted with a long frosty glare. Too presumptuous by far. One Christmas I received seven different spellings of Bairbre over various greeting cards. And Basarabra Power once got her byline on my front page story...

This year, after much soul searching, I've gone on a quest for a new name. It's not that I have opted to change it again, it's just that I've entered a new chapter. As a grandmother.

Yikes! Grandmother? How did that happen so fast? After getting married at the age of 21, and having my children soon after, I should have copped that, by now, offspring having offspring might be around the corner.

The day last November, when little Lily Galvin arrived into this world, I dashed to the Coombe hospital with the biggest smile and a heart full of memories. Congratulations poured in. The joy was contagious and then came the queries: "So Bairbre, what are you going to be called?"

Would it be Gran? Granny? Grandma? Grammy? Nana? The Italian 'Nonna' is in vogue, I was told. I haven't engaged with any of these titles. Especially not 'GranMaw', stretched out like chewing gum as its enunciated with your best John-Boy Walton accent.

When it comes to the issues affecting women today, sure, tackle the gender pay gap and banish everyday sexism, but couldn't we also figure out something better to call women whose children have babies?

I'm not the only one having issues with this. There are grandparent-naming books and websites. In her memoir, the actress Goldie Hawn wrote how, after her grandson was born, she didn't want to be called grandmother because it was a "word that had so many connotations of old age and decrepitude".

Goldie lives in youth-obsessed Hollywood and while she had settled for the moniker of 'Glam-Ma' (devised for her by her son, Oliver), it's a little too post-ironic for me.

I'm just a baby-boomer who, to be frank, is too young to be called Granny Power. Granny Power is a lady with benevolent eyes and a silver topknot - or at least, mine was. My Nanny Crowley in Cork wore lambswool cardigans with two pockets for her lace and linen hankies infused with Mäurer & Wirtz 4711.

This is what a Granny looks like, and for my generation with our capsule wardrobes and spinning classes, the title just doesn't fit.

I have no intention of being the grandmother who enters a style vortex of waterfall cardigans in shades of turquoises and silver. I'm comfortable with my draped COS jumpsuit and leather jacket, ta very much.

While in New York for Fashion Week, I met up with an old school friend and enquired about what's popular amongst American women who find themselves with-grandchild. It seems that Mimi is quite common on the other side of the pond, while Mhamó (pronounced mam-OH) rocks in the west of Ireland. Despite having Irish-ised my own name, I'm not enlisting.

This topic of conversation was continued over the Atlantic as I was winging my way home from JFK. As fate would have it, my neighbour taking up the window seat was an enthusiastic veteran of several grandchildren and, with a glass of chilled wine somewhere over Canada, she told me all about them with a great deal of affection before throwing out some suggestions to aid me in my dilemma.

Baba from the Ukraine got a firm 'no' as did Gigi, which she thought might suit me as it sounded vaguely fashion-y. I was beyond ungrateful as I batted away any suggestion of the Greek, Yaya.

And so we come back to Granny. Painless to type, but excruciating to say. Vanity doesn't disappear in midlife; in fact, it possibly becomes more distilled. So when asked about the naming, I continue to demur.

Meanwhile, I'm delighted to be on babysitting duty, I fully intend to continue the family tradition of 'the Granny' buying the first pair of shoes and I hope it's the first of lots of show-stopping shopping trips for myself and Lily.

On my last visit, I lay on the floor and tried to record a selfie video as she pulled my hair and squealed out with glee and gusto. This little lady has lots of attitude, just like me. I've no doubt she will be primed with the dreaded G-word, but for the moment, I'm settling for Bob... and Bairbre when she's bigger.

No Granny, no Nanny and definitely no Babs.

Irish Independent

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