When a child is born so is a grandmother, writes Eileen Casey

I am the very proud grandmother of three children under six; two little girls, Saoirse and Aoife, and a little boy, Callum. As a grandmother, I take my responsibilities very seriously and if there’s a traditional Irish Mammy then I’m a typical Irish Granny (an Irish Mammy who has been given a second chance!)

Because my parents were not in the first flush of youth when I was born, a consequence was that I grew up not knowing my grandparents on either side. While I certainly didn’t lack for nurturing, I always felt there was indeed something missing because it is such a privilege to grow up in the proximity of grandparents.  

Grandfathers are pretty special too of course and have a very important role to play (especially where football and those ‘sneaky’ treats are concerned) but grandmothers have that something extra. So, as an Irish Granny, I’m very aware of all the blessings I can bring to the lives of my three precious grandchildren.

There is a Chinese proverb which extols the ‘old ones’ as precious gems in the centre of the household. I like to think that, some of the time at any rate, I can sparkle with good humour and a willingness to give hands-on help. I also have the inside track on my grandchildren’s fathers (being blessed as a grandmother comes to me via my two sons).
At this stage, it’s hard for them to grasp the notion that father was ever a child and capable of being naughty (I called it ‘bold’ back then in prehistoric times) or that when my sons were small, the ‘naughty step,’ had not been invented!

When my first grandchild (Saoirse) was born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, I couldn’t wait to see her. She was so perfect and tiny, with a cloud of dark hair. I wanted to hug her and hold her as if she were my own first born.  

I immediately saw a family likeness in her little face. It was an overwhelming feeling, to see the map of the next generation carry through some of the physical characteristics of the one gone before. And it’s really special when recognisable character traits begin to emerge.

Aoife, granddaughter number two and sister to Saoirse, is already showing signs of independence exactly like her maternal great, grandmother, a lady who she will never meet but will hear lots about from me.

Because of the pressures of modern living, the necessity exists nowadays for both parents to go out to work. In my case, I try and help out with the practicalities of child minding. There’s an old saying that goes: “A cat purrs, the wind blows, the river flows and a grandmother babysits.”  

Apart from the practicalities of helping out with the rearing, a grandmother can add enormously to the learning abilities of her grandchildren.

V.S. Naipaul, a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is quoted as saying he knew almost nothing as a child “beyond what I had picked up in my grandmother’s house.” The main reason for this is that grandmothers are more relaxed, time is not our enemy. In the words of that great Irish writer and grandmother, Iris Murdoch, “The secret of all learning is patience.”

When I was a young mother, I seemed to be always rushing and racing against the clock. Now, in my senior years, I’ve slowed down physically for sure, but also I have the luxury of slowing down when it comes to giving my full attention span to my precious little ones.
Grandmothers love their grandchildren unconditionally, regardless of their achievements; they give us some of our proudest moments (school concerts, prize-giving, First Holy Communions and all the memorable milestones of life).

In return, my grandchildren make me laugh. Grandchildren tell it like it is, without guile or hidden agendas. If I want an honest opinion I’ll ask little Saoirse my five year old going on thirtysomething. She’s sure to give me one hundred per cent honesty. And when I’m asked about my wrinkles or “creases in my face” I say that I got them from laughter.

And nothing compares with a spontaneous hug of genuine affection from a grandchild happy to be in my company. I especially like how my grandson (now three) finds his way towards sleep, humming a song until the last note takes him to the land of nod.  One of the truly great things about being a grandmother, however, is that my grandchildren keep me young.

 The best evidence of this can be gleaned from the life of a very famous American grandmother, Grandma Moses (Anna May Robertson Moses who lived to be over a hundred years old). Grandma Moses had eleven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. At the age of 88, Mademoiselle magazine named her ‘Young Woman of the Year.’ I’d like to think that I will always be young at heart, thanks to my grandchildren, no matter how old I live to be. ■