Peter Shelton

How Grandparents Get Their Names

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, More Sport, Watch columns by pshelton on June 26, 2010

“How could any woman think Tiger Woods is sexy?” Ellen barked at the television on Father’s Day, which also happened to be the day of final round play at the U.S. Open. Tiger’s chances of coming from behind to claim another major title were slipping away with each errant drive, and the sports-universe designated “bad dad” had my wife rooting hard against him.

“Maybe they thought his money was sexy,” Adam ventured while popping a piece of peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich into his son’s 21-month-old mouth.

“Buh!” Alex pointed at the TV as a little white ball bounced along a cliff-side fairway tightroping a silvery northern California sea. Alex has a huge vocabulary now, of mostly incomplete words, it’s true. But the meanings are clear, and conversations of a sort are happening all the time.

He and I played “buh” with a soft, lime-green ball about soccer size. I’d sit with my legs splayed, and Alex would kick the buh in the general direction of my groin while on the screen above us World Cup footballers from Brazil and Ivory Coast would actually kick each other in the groin, or else pretend to be kicked there and fall to the ground screaming and clutching their, uh, heads. When Alex booted it successfully up the funnel of my legs, I’d raise my arms up and yell, “Goooooal!” And he would yell “Goooa!” And then I’d bounce the ball off his head four or five times, which was his absolute favorite.

Buh can also mean bird, or bug, or bulls, which is what he calls the bellowing, stampeding tractors in his favorite movie, Cars.

Ants are not just any bug and rate their own contraction, “a’t.” A’ts also get extremely close observation from that between-the-knees squatting position toddlers have (and which old men with artificial hips can only dream about): feet firmly planted on the patio concrete, diaper nearly scraping the ground, eyes mere inches from the object of fascination.

Grasshoppers are “hop.” And when Alex spots one he punctuates the word with his best two-inch vertical leap. “Ha” is hot (often accompanied by a fierce blowing-out as if extinguishing a match) and referred on this early-summer Albuquerque afternoon to the barbecue, firing up for chicken dinner. “Key” is kitty. “Ruh” is the rough of his dad’s and his grandpa’s unshaven beards. “Dada” is Dada, Mama, this thing, that thing, and just about anything else he wants to talk to you about but doesn’t yet have the specifics. “Dede” is his word for his baby sister.

Little Lily, only five weeks old, does what babies do when they need to communicate, namely, cry, burp, coo, or get the hiccups. It’s a mystery to all of us who are no longer babies—including Alexander—how inconsolable crying one minute can lead to cooing the next, and vice versa. When she’s crying, and we know she isn’t hungry or wet or over-tired, it falls to one of us to walk her around the house, or take her outside, where it seems the passing walls, the ceiling fan, dappled window light, or a rustling night sky has the ability to soothe where all other measures fail.

Back before Alexander was born Ellen and I discussed with Cloe and Adam what we should be called. When there are two sets of grandparents, as there are in this case, which ones get to be Grandpa and Grandma? Or should there be other, unique names applied?

For as long as I can remember, my father’s parents were DD and Poppy. No one, including my father, knows where these names came from. When my parents became grandparents, their titles grew from life. Because Ellen taught French, and the girls were learning French from her, my father gradually became Grandpère Robert, or Grampa Bear in the kids’ argot. My mother was named by my sister’s daughter who couldn’t pronounce Grandma and called her Lala instead. Lala it has been ever since.

One day on an earlier visit, before this Father’s Day/World Cup/U.S. Open weekend, I was walking Lily around the living room, round and round, and it was working, and someone, Cloe or Adam, said that I had a calming influence and that we should call me the Dalai Lama. And I said that that was awkward and in any case an extreme exaggeration. But the concept stuck around and evolved into the Dalai Grandpa, which further evolved into the Dalai Gumpa.

Don’t ask me how. Words. Alex still calls me Dada, the same word he uses to mean: “Mom-and-Dad-just-took-off-in-the-car-with-Lily-for-a-doctor-appointment-but-that’s-OK-because-there-are-ants-over-here-we-need-to-check-out!” I kind of like it, the Dalai Gumpa. Only time will tell if it’ll stick.

2 Responses

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  1. cloe said, on June 26, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    yeah!!! I loved it!

  2. Jessica Loomis said, on June 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    This is a wonderful article Peter! My mom is “Idgie” which suits her personality perfectly. We also have a “Mima” but nothing unusual for Grandpa’s yet. Jon asked me the other day if he thinks the boys will always call my mom Idgie- I certainly hope so!
    My best to you and your family,
    Jessica Loomis (Quadri)

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