Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How: A proper noun, not an adverb

Psalms 147:1 (NIV)

Praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
How went home today.

How and Charlie, Memorial Day weekend 2012.
And yes, in our family How is a proper noun, not an adverb. It’s the name we’ve used for Kristie’s mom since Jack more or less coined it about eight years ago. Not having a name for her other than grandma, Jack somehow turned the phrase “Grandma’s house” into simply “How,” and is often is the case with things of this nature, it quickly stuck and became permanent. I’m not sure she was wild about it at the very beginning, but there are millions of grandmas in the world and (as far as we know) only one How. Plus, when your first grandchild comes up with a name just for you, well, it’s pretty hard to say no.

One of the great upsides of this name is when Jack and Max (and inevitably, eventually Charlie) want her at the same time, they just say her name over and over again. “How?” “How?” “How?” They sound like the seagulls from “Finding Nemo” whose only word is “Mine?” It’s adorable… because they’re saying her name and not mine.

The only thing that worries me about the name is that one day one of the kids will decide they’re too old to call their grandmother by some name a baby invented. I probably made that choice myself with my mom’s mom, who wanted to be called Grammy, some time in high school. It was a name I had no problem writing, but saying it seemed weird and if I wanted to talk to her directly I probably used the same method by which I communicate with my father-in-law — I just said, “Hey,” or waited for her to look at me. She died almost 15 years ago, a few months into my freshman year of college, and now I realize I’d call her absolutely anything if it meant she could have been around to see me start my own family. Funny how the little things seem kind of inconsequential in retrospect.

We did, though, skirt that issue with my mother. I recall there was quite a long period where we didn’t know what Jack should call her. (My brother had been calling our dad Pops since before Jack was born). We didn’t sort it out until after Jack had started to speak. If I remember correctly, it was my idea to use simply the first letter of her first name, K, because Jack could pronounce it, everyone could say it without feeling babyish and it was unique.

The snag here is when we are in a place, such as church, where lots of people know my parents and us, our kids get easily confused, especially Jack. Because to him, Pops is Pops and K is K — period. If someone has seen a picture of us at a gathering with my parents and asks Jack, “Did you have a nice dinner at your grandma’s house?” he is liable to look at them as if they have 14 eyeballs. He knows K is his father’s mother, and he understands the idea of grandparents. But if you catch him off guard at all (which is beyond easy to do), he can’t collect all those thoughts at once and process the question. To him, he doesn’t have a grandmother. He has How and K. Boom.

Jack also can’t quite tell Kristie’s grandmothers apart when we’re not with either of them. One is simply Great-Grandma Workman, her title and last name. The other (to our kids only, not her two other great-grandchildren) is Great How. While Max knows by name alone who we’re discussing, Jack differentiates by which item each has in their basement (pool table and chalkboard, respectively).

How and Jack, mere hours after he arrived.
I realize I intended to reflect on what a blessing it was to have Kristie’s mom visit us for a few days, and instead spent about 600 words dissecting the etymology of various family sobriquets. Perhaps that’s because as much as I love watching her interact with the boys and seeing how much they completely adore her — Max, especially, since he never saw her almost daily the way Jack did the first three years of his life — always brings me back to thinking about my own dear grandmothers, one gone since I was still essentially a child and the other in poor and rapidly declining health.

I often find myself thing ahead three decades. When my boys are the age I am now, will they still be as close with their grandparents as they are today? And 30 years is a long time, so who knows what could happen with any of them (or us, for that matter) between now and then? My mind is such that if I start to dwell on these questions, I go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole until I’m a stammering mess of worst-case scenarios, openly weepy and putting babies to bed with a lump in my throat because, gosh, maybe neither one of us will wake up tomorrow.

A bit melodramatic, eh?

The way I usually put my mind at ease is through a simple prayer of thanks. I resolve to come to terms with that which I cannot control and instead promise to live well as long as I am able, and to try to pass the same sentiment on to my children. Perhaps they’ll not be so inclined to dwell in the dark timelines. Or maybe, because we share so much DNA, that trait is already ingrained. If so, at least I can teach them how to cope.

A prayer for July 11:

Lord, I thank you so much for all the grandparents in my life. My children are so blessed to be so loved, and I feel blessed to observe these relationships as they blossom, therefore increasing my appreciation for all of the ways I have been loved by so many special people throughout my life. Please help me commit to returning this affection, that I may never let anyone wonder if they are loved. Amen.

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