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Grandma by any other name ...

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Friday, October 31st, 2008 — Much of the world is riveted to the daily progress of our presidential election.

Late-night pundits are having a field day. No one I know is lukewarm in their opinions and, indeed, the outcome of this race will be critical.

And yet, in the midst of this potentially world-altering, end-of-life-as-we-know-it election, I have a personal question: Will Sarah Palin be called Grandma after the birth of her daughter's baby? She is young and glamorous. She wields more power than the average woman. She is a self-proclaimed maverick.

So I ask you, Sarah, should any of us settle for being called Grandma? Does it affect how our grandkids and others see us? Does it affect the way we see ourselves?

Like some kids, do we end up either growing into our monikers or feeling limited by them?

There is a 9-year-old girl in New Zealand whose given name was "Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii." Seriously. A judge found this name to be a "social disability" and allowed her to choose another.

Not that Grandma is any match for Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii. But grandparents' names are also a touchy matter. They are a hot topic on Internet forums and a growing problem for greeting-card companies.

Not long ago I had a conversation with my daughter-in-law, Amy, and her friend Suzy.

Amy's mother wants the grandkids to call her "Granny," and so they do. In Suzy's case, both grandmothers wanted to be called "Nana." Neither of these otherwise-accommodating women was willing to yield. Now, they are both Nana to the grandkids and adults in both families. And everyone is confused.

Some grandmothers have strong preferences. They identify with certain names and think those are worth lobbying for.

I suspect most women are happy to answer to whatever name the grandkids use. This has been my approach. But as I stood in my daughter-in-law's kitchen listening to these stories, I began to feel like the odd grandmother out a little bit rusty and old. I'd rather feel like a glamorous maverick.

I needed help. Surely a perkier name would be the equivalent of a Botox injection and spiritual enlightenment all at once. Hallmark could reinvent me.

If I were Mamere, I would be elegant and sophisticated. A name like Grammy or G'ma (it's on the lists!) would make me feel young, hip and foolishly good-natured. And if the grandkids called me Bonnemama at the playground I would hold in my stomach and make sure my hair was combed.

I don't believe this, of course. Besides, it doesn't matter.

For one thing, the grandkids might be the only audience we have that does not see the extra pounds. They might even prefer a little padding. They don't care one whit if we are elegant or sophisticated. My young granddaughter passes judgment on her mother's clothes as daughters are wont to do. But so far she doesn't notice mine.

Grandkids care about our genuine affection, not how clever we are.

It is ironic that all of this self-doubt came when it did. It was our grandson Aengus's 4th birthday. We had no responsibility for anything but to show up and enjoy, a prime-time grandparenting moment.

Star Wars raged all around us but these were eventually settled by plates full of birthday cake and ice cream. Gus's older sister and her friends were orchestrating a ceremonial march for the birthday boy as only an older sister can do.

He donned his "knight guy" costume as instructed. With admirable pomp, Gus and his buddy strutted down the path to a waiting teepee. They turned around and stood there assuming a royal gaze. Then the girls held balloons up high and let the air out. As the balloons fizzled, the girls giggled. We all applauded. Cameras flashed and the whole thing was over.

There is no way to feel old in the midst of this. The grandkids' willingness to share their silliness and abandon make me feel young. I guess they can call me anything they want.

On the East Coast, another of our grandsons would celebrate a birthday a few days later and we would have to miss it. If I could have one wish, it wouldn't be for a new name.

But if a name makes you happy, go for it. A happy grandmother is a good grandmother.

And, who knows? My kids used to call me Nance-from-France. There might be a time in the future to resurrect that. I wonder what Sarah would say?