Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nana and Papa

“The value in a man resides in what he gives and not what in he’s capable of receiving.”

- Albert Einstein

Right now, I’m watching giant snowflakes rapidly falling to the ground – so fast that I cannot follow any particular flake’s journey. It’s winter break. My husband had off for President’s Day and now he’s back to work. Since I have my critique group tomorrow and two more manuscript parts to read and a cold, along with a persistent cough, I’ve decided to spend the day indoors.

I asked my daughter if she’d like to visit her babysitter-friend, which is how I always refer to her, to people who don’t know her first name or I call her, Nana. I’m not really sure how to define the relationship this woman has to our family and especially, to my daughter. My daughter perked up at the mention of her nana, so she called and made plans.

When I dropped off my daughter, she kicked off her boots and made herself right at home, as she’s been doing since she was thirteen-months old. This place is as familiar as the home of her grandparents in New York or her grandfather in Maine, if not more so. And Nana makes sure she’s treated like a princess – she watches TV, plays, or eats as she pleases, while Nana dotes on her. And my daughter adores her nana.

It all began when I sent my son to nursery school. Nana had two grandchildren who she watched during the day while their parents worked, and then she brought them to and from nursery school. The grandson was good friends with my son. The woman was friendly, and I talked to her often, and she was always sweet to my baby daughter. Just before my son went to kindergarten, Nana lamented that she had no more grandchildren to watch.

Soon after, I got a job as a teaching assistant, but had nobody lined up to watch my baby girl. When we lived in New York, my mother-in-law and husband had watched my son the two long days I worked. In Massachusetts, I had no family. I asked Nana, and was pleasantly surprised over her enthusiasm. Five mornings a week, she and her husband, Papa, watched my daughter.

My daughter took a particular liking to Papa. When she began talking their influence was profound because she wound up having a Cambridge accent*. At first, they had my daughter call them by their first names, but they were used to being Nana and Papa for so many years, so when they kept slipping up, I told them it was fine. What kid wouldn’t want three sets of grandparents?

The first winter, Papa got sick, with fluid filling his lungs. Then Nana had heart issues in the spring. Luckily, they both pulled through and the next couple of years were without any more big health scares.

When Papa turned eighty the winter Mia was four, his family had a surprise birthday party for him, and we were invited. They have a huge, tight-knit family, the likes of which I’ve never seen. It certainly isn’t like my family**. Nana and Papa had nine children, and for awhile they all lived in a two-bedroom apartment before they could finally afford a house. I can’t remember the exact number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but there are A LOT of them. And my daughter seemed to fit right in, sitting on Papa’s lap for a good chunk of time.

The spring before my daughter would begin kindergarten, I was an extended term substitute for three months, and they had her for more hours. My daughter was thrilled. Many days she was unhappy to see me when I picked her up.

Papa didn’t make it to his eight-first birthday. He got a cough in the late spring. When he went to the doctor, he found out it was lung cancer. He spent the summer getting sicker and weaker. Just before my husband and I left for a wedding in Serbia, Nana and Papa celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, and he made an effort to accompany her to church, knowing how much it meant to her. Soon after, he was admitted to the hospital. I brought my daughter, who gave him a get-well card. It was the last time we saw Papa. I had a sinking feeling he’d die while we were gone.

On the day of the wedding, my sister called and told me the news. I mournfully realized that by the time my husband and I returned, we’d miss the wake. It made the rest of the trip bittersweet.

When I returned, our children were overjoyed to see us. But after catching up, I had to tell them because I wanted my daughter to see her nana as soon as possible. My daughter sobbed, my son cried as they gripped one another and I embraced them. Nana and Papa always made sure to make my son feel special too, so as a result, he cared for them as well. When it was time for bed, my son stayed in my daughter’s bed until she fell asleep. Then I spent time with him when he burrowed under his covers.

My daughter had just started kindergarten and I worried that Nana lost her husband and the little girl she was used to seeing at the same time. So I made an effort to keep the relationship going since then. My daughter visits about once a week. I don’t know if that’s too much or too little, but they enjoy their time together. And Nana has helped me out in jams when I’ve needed a sitter. When we have a holiday at our house, we invite Nana and she comes for the occasional dinner. I should probably have her over more often. Even though she has plenty of family, I want to do my part to include her in our small one.

Nana’s children have gotten her a puppy and now a kitten, so she has companionship. She has yet another grandson whom she watches once a week. The little animals and the occasional day with the grandson make it even more exciting when my daughter visits.

I’ve told Nana before, and I’ll tell her again, thanks to her and her husband, I never had to worry about my daughter. Even better, she’s loved. When Nana agreed to watch my child, I didn’t know just how much more we were receiving.

“Grace isn’t a little chant before receiving a meal. It’s a way to live.”

- Jackie Windspear

*See previous post on my daughter’s accent:


** To learn a little more about my family:



  1. Hi

    This is so lovely -thank you for sharing! I love the relationship your children had with Nana and Papa and now Nana. I love this beautiful couple! I'm so glad that Nana is not alone in her time of life and that she has a big family and furry friends and continues her unique relationship with you and your children.

    It's great to know that you have one holiday - i.e. Thanksgiving to have all your family around! I'm very sorry but I laughed out loud with your "alcoholic aunt". Oh dear. There's always one in the family!! And I like that your daughter says "cah"! I only know my New York accents from TV shows and films and think it's a dawg gawn shame that you drop your "aw"'s! LOL! I hope you've managed to find your New York Pizza in between the blog posts...!

    Take care


  2. Old Kitty, the good thing about having a big family is she has a lot of people around.

    As for my aunt, that may become a post in the future. I have a few good wake stories.

    If you want to hear the Boston accent done pretty authentically (maybe not Robin Williams), watch "Good Will Hunting". Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are local boys, who went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, where I sub.

  3. This is a very moving story. Reminds me of my relationship with my own biological "Nana and Pop Pop", both of whom I love very dearly. Thanks for posting.

  4. I loved this story. It makes me remember back, when visiting my Nana and Pop. I need to go see them.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love this story. My daughters had a Nana and Papa (husband's grandparents.) Sadly, Nana wasn't very warm or welcoming. After she died Papa became the babysitter for my girls. Oh how they loved him and he doted on them. He died two years ago and we still miss him terribly. But I am so glad that my girls got to have several years of that wonderful, sweet relationship.

  6. Thanks, Joan. I don't think my grandmothers were as warm and fuzzy as Nana and Papa. A grandchild-grandparent relationship should be special.

  7. I love this! Thank you for sharing your moving story of nana and papa with us. What a great reminder of the myriad ways we can define "family".

  8. Thanks, Kathleen. I agree, there are plenty of different types of families.

  9. Theresa, this is the first time for me to read this. Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing this with us. While Nana is a blessing to you, you and your family have also been a blessing to her. It's so nice to read a heart-warming story like this. :)

  10. Len, thank you for reading my old post. We're very lucky to have Nana and spend time with her wonderful family.