Grilled Grandma: Melinda

How many children do you have? 2, a son and a daughter

How many grandchildren? What are their ages? 3 boys, aged 2, 6, and 8½

Any great grandchildren?

What do your grandchildren call you? “Minna” I didn’t want to be called “Grandma.”

Other than the initial elation, what was your first concern upon hearing you would be a grandmother? That I was “too young” to be a grandmother! I didn’t like the traditional connotation of the role and didn’t see myself. I also wondered how I’d fit it into an already busy life.

How often do you get to see your grandchildren? On average, once a month, because I live in four different places, only one of which is less than an hour away.

What is the best thing about being a grandma?
Grandchildren give you a chance to re-view the world from a younger perspective–you hear music, visit places, and have experiences through their eyes. Also, it’s a special kind of unconditional love that goes both ways. The connection I have with them is different from what I have with my children or any other kind of relationship for that matter. But the best part is that the relationship is both very close and yet brings with it the element of constant surprise. I wrote a book about “consequential strangers”–people outside your intimate circle who are neither family nor close friends. Your loved ones are reliable and comforting–but they don’t usually bring novelty and excitement into your life. Only grandchildren do both!

What is the most challenging part of being a grandma? Not spending as much time as I’d like.

Describe a recent time that one (or more) of your grandchildren made you laugh out loud.
I can’t think of only one time. It happens all the time when I’m with them, when we Skype, in pictures my daughter sends when I’m not around. All three always astound me with their comments. They all have a very good sense of humor, even the two year old. What I love most are the moments that tell me how they’re thinking. Recently, for example, I told the oldest a story, and he said, “That’s pretty good, but it needs more detail.” At eight, he’s already my editor!

What is your favorite thing to do with grandchildren who visit your house? Cuddle! I love having them to myself without their parents around. What we do depends on which house we’re in! In my home in Massachusetts, I live on a river, and I love to take walks with them in the wooded area. In Florida, we swim and go to the beach.  

What is your favorite thing to do when visiting grandchildren at their house? Cuddle! I like them to show me what they’ve been doing, working on. I love building Lego creations with the two older ones, and Play-Doh is fun with the younger one. I like to cook with and for them.

How do you maintain the bond between yourself and your grandchildren between visits?
We talk on the phone, Skype, and sometimes email (but they’re on the young side for that, and I don’t encourage too much computer time, nor do their parents). In between visits, my daughter, with whom I have a very close relationship, keeps me up to date on their progress.

What do you most want to pass along to your grandchildren? My love of words. The oldest is already playing Scrabble and loves to read. All three like me to tell them stories. I have a “series” of stories that I’m thinking of turning into a children’s book, but I want them to write it with me.

What is one word you hope your grandkids think of when they think of you?
Creative, fun, and always there for them, even when we’re apart. I know, that’s more than one!

What is one thing you wish you had learned earlier as a grandparent?
Nothing, really. The joy is in the constant surprise.

What one bit of advice would you give a new grandma?
Get ready for the best ride of your life. But remember that he or she is not yours to mold, discipline, or make plans for. That’s the mother’s and father’s job–and the surprisingly good news. Although you can’t “parent” them, you can love them to pieces and share everything you’ve ever learned with them. You can just be with them in a new and life-enhancing way.

Do you have a website or blog? MotherU is the website/blog I co-founded with my daughter eight years ago. It’s a place for contemporary grandmothers and mothers–members of what my daughter and I think of as “the Motherhood Union.” I write a blog, and we also have a guest feature, “The Buzz,” where other mothers and grandmothers explore the complexities of their respective roles and their issues with one another. It’s a growing community of voices.

Journalist Melinda Blau, the voice of the Consequential Strangers blog, as well as the author of the book, has been researching and reporting about relationships and social trends since the seventies. She has written more than ninety magazine pieces and a dozen other books, including the best-selling Baby Whisperer series.  She also blogs for Psychology Today and More magazines and writes a bi-monthly column for Shareable.   Melinda is a mother and grandmother–and co-founder of Mother U, a website for contemporary women of both generations.  She is also a very good cook (if she says so herself).  She has consequential strangers in New York City, Fire Island, Northampton, Massachusetts, Sunny Isles Beach, Florida, and Paris, France.