Nanny Backpack


It was late summer in 2007 when the entire family was gathered for a Saturday brunch under the grape arbor.

Somewhere in the middle of blueberry pancakes and sausage, our son-in-law produced a bottle of champagne and set it in the middle of the picnic table. Well, naturally, there is always good excuse for a glass of bubbly in this house, but this time it was different. This was a late breakfast, after all, and early even for this lot.

Our son-in-law looked first at his parents and then at us and smiled broadly. “We have an announcement to make,” he said, and silence descended upon our happy party. Darling daughter gave him a little nudge in the ribs, and he took a deep breath and proudly declared, “We have decided to start our family.”

I looked saucer-eyed to his mother, my best friend, and saw my expression mirrored. “You mean…?”

“Are you…?”

“Yes,” he said with a smile. “We are.”

“You’re joking!”


“Is it true??”

My daughter nodded shyly, a blush staining her cheeks. “We are expecting in February,” she said.


“The Beckhams” last year, en route to a wedding in London.

Well, I don’t need to tell you how exciting this all was to us. My best mate and I had been debating this very subject ad nauseum ever since the wedding day: The day we would become grandmothers and shareThe Most Beautiful Grandchildren In The World.” Because, there could be no question that two young people like this, beautiful as they were, could produce anything less. Their ridiculous good looks had become something of a subject of family comedy, actually. We referred to them as “The Beckhams.” Fortunately, they both have lovely personalities to match, so it was all in good fun, really.

After the floods of happy tears and glasses of bubbly were distributed, a serious debate ensued about what each grandparent would be called. Like all grandparents to be, this discussion was embarked on with laughter and a good degree of seriousness, each of us longing to feel a part of the life of this infant. It did not matter he was at that stage roughly the size of a jellybean. He was our jellybean, mutually loved and adored already.

We decided that our SIL’s dad would be called “Granddad,” since that is what his own father had been to his children, SIL’s mum would be called “Nanny,” to be shortened to “Nan” once the kids reached their teens. (It goes without saying that we grandparents had already slated another 2 or 3 kids in our imaginations, unbeknownst to the happy couple!) We jokingly labelled HH “Grandpa Wallet,” on account of his notoriously generous spirit with his own children, but for some reason he was not keen on that monicker. Darling Daughter came up with “Papa.” I would be “Nanna.” Close to Nanny, but still different. My own grandmother was a Grammie, but this is not a name I ever felt I could gel with, and Grandma just does not fit. Nanna it was.

Until our baby boy came along, that is. Ash entered our lives, a pair of crystal blue eyes beneath a halo of white curls, adorable sticky-outy ears and the sweetest imagespersonality known to all baby-dom. (It’s a grandma thing: We brag.) When he got to be 13 or 14 months old, I would look after him a couple afternoons a week and as often as possible, if I’m honest. There is no love like that for one’s grandchild! Oh, how our hearts would leap when we would hear the uneven rap of our door knocker, knowing in whose chubby paw it was weilded… He was just learning to talk, so instead of “knock, knocking” on our door, he would rap loudly and say “duck, duck, duck!” Close enough… To this day, I tear up at the thought of Ashton “duck-duck-ducking” on my door.

My husband answered the door one day, and Ash, still fresh to talking, burst out with, “POP! POP!” And so HH remains to this day. He is the most awesome of PopPops, and still, as it happens, ridiculously generous to his offspring.

My dignified grandmotherly name also took a nosedive soon thereafter. One of the perks to staying at Nanna’s house was the presence of satellite TV, more specifically, TV that featured Dora the Explorer. Ash would sway along to the backpack song, and hold up his chubby hand to halt Swiper the fox from swiping things, chanting “No, No, No!” As babies do.

We were reading a storybook one day, and on the cover there were all sorts of different pictures… candles, cakes, books, trees and so forth. I identified a satchel and said, “Oh, what is this, Ashton?”

At thirteen months, he came out with his first 2-syllable word: “Backpack!” As clear as a bell, all consonants accounted for. It was his new favourite word, and he spent days chanting, “Backpack, backpack, backpack…” driving his mother up the wall, of course, but even she would admit it was pretty cute. If a trifle repetitive. Thereafter, I became “Nanny Backpack” to my grandson. Me. The least back-packingest of all grandmothers. Honestly, I am more likely to be found in sparkly shoes than hiking boots, and a pretty handbag is much preferrable to outdoor gear. Nevertheless, both of my grandsons now refer to me as Nanny Backpack.

One of my sisters was meant to be called Nanny, but her first grandson insisted on calling her Nina, and thus she remains to this day. My other sister was meant to be called Grammie, but she was dubbed Mimi by her own first grandson. I suppose the moral of the story is that kids will decide what they are going to call you, despite all your best laid plans. But then, being a grandparent has little to do with dignity anyway. It is to do with love, and that, I believe, we have in spades.

Mother Hen

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