On the eve of my first birthday as a grandmother, which happened to be the day of the eclipse, I wrote this manifesto down. It took courage, this but here I am. Like Thoreau before me, I headed out to reflect upon the waters of a beloved lake and declared this:
I am a grandma, not a Bubbe.
It didn’t really take the momentous act of the world going dark for not quite three minutes, or this Jewish woman celebrating her birthday, to realize that my existence is light years away from that of my own Bubbe Ida’s.
Besides our DNA, so little of our experience is the same.
I was born into an Orthodox Jewish family. My husband grew up in a “modern” Conservative household. Both of my children were bar/bat mitzvah and continued their religious studies beyond. Their education and travel landed them in different locales, both with non-Jewish partners and their own way of living Jewishly.
Of course, traditions, love, and blood still bind us all.
So I could theoretically assert that I am a Bubbe in the Land of Nanas and Omas, I could redefine the label of Bubbe and modernize it, in keeping with our family, a patchwork of cultures and traditions.
But I am sorry, Bubbe. I just cannot.
At my daughter’s engagement party—she was marrying a man from Montreal—my aunt who is called Bubbe by her grandkids pressed me: “I can’t wait to hear your grandchildren call you Bubbe with a French accent.” In response I whisper seethed, “I will not be called Bubbe.”
It just didn’t feel right: My son-in-law is an atheist. My daughter, wishing to embrace her religion in her new Canadian residence has become part of the fabric of a vibrant, Reform-Jewish community. She has taught her life partner that to her, God is “your invisible best friend.” He attends services with her and lovingly wears her hand-crocheted kippah (head covering). As an avid foodie/chef he enjoys cooking brisket for Rosh Hashanah, latkes at Hanukkah and celebrating the holidays through food.
They’re making it work.
And when it comes to the other side of my family, my daughter-in-law is a practicing Catholic. A Reform Rabbi and an Episcopal Priest intricately wove together their wedding ceremony. Less than six months later, my mother passed away.
On the way to the funeral we were discussing our dinner plans for later that evening. I remembered that it was Lent. I asked her if there was anything we should avoid to make things easier for her. Quickly, she told me not to worry about her at all.
I feel awed by the way my family is marching into modernity, with such thoughtfulness. So do you see my confusion when it comes to what I’ll be called—new traditions, new family permutations, new ways—old names?
I mean, it is 2017 and I didn’t just step out of the shtetl. I would love to add a unique cultural spin on my new name. If I really go back to my Belorussian roots, my little grandbabies would call me “Babka.” Nope. I can’t do it. I have thought about it, but I am not a cushiony soft savta, nor any type of baked goods.
So I have devised the perfect solution. For now, Grandma it is. Ultimately, of course, the baby will decide.
Read more: Jewish Grandparent Names.