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A Bubby by any other name… by Cantor Marcey Wagner


After the initial exhilaration fades just a bit when one becomes a grandparent, the dreaded decision arises.  What shall I be called by this precious bundle?  Everyone asks you this question.  You look back at them, dumbfounded.  I personally mulled over the answer prior to the birth, but then set it aside, figuring that when the baby arrived, I would look at her face and immediately know the answer.  Alas, this did not happen. 

You would be surprised at the angst this question causes.  There are multiple websites suggesting modern, cool names for grandparents (mostly for grandmothers- we women seem to have the most difficulty- but there are some men who grapple with this as well). You no doubt have come across a Meema, or Gigi, or OG, or Mimi.  I think that much of this reluctance to use traditional names- Grandma or Nana- is because these names conjure up images of gray-haired, fragile old ladies who spend much of their time knitting and cooking.  This is diametrically opposite to the reality of today’s grandmother.  Most grandmothers I know are still working or actively retired, they rarely have gray hair, go to multiple exercise classes, and travel extensively.  If they cook or knit, it is with recipes from exotic websites with interesting and often artisanal ingredients.

I hate to stereotype, and I think that is exactly the point.  There is no one image of today’s grandparent.  We come in many different sizes and shapes, are mulit-faceted and can’t be placed into a single box or conceptualization.  So, we look for a name that can match our still vibrant personalities and burning interest in the world around us.  Not easy to do for a grandparent.
So why, you may ask, did I choose to be called Bubby, the old Yiddish term for grandmother?  It is certainly the most traditional and “old-fashioned” of all the names I could have chosen.  I have decided to reclaim Bubbie-ness!  I actually had a Bubby, my father’s mother.  She came to this country as a teenager, not speaking the language, alone, on an arduous ship voyage. She married, had 3 children, learned to read and write perfect English, built up a successful business, and had 3 husbands.  She was not a good cook but loved tradition and made sure to observe all of the holidays to the best of her ability.  With her wit and determination, I can only imagine what she could have become if she had the opportunities afforded to women of today.

So, in honor of my grandmother, I am taking back the term Bubby.  I will be a bad-*ss Bubby, fight for justice, human dignity and equality for all.  I will teach this to my granddaughter and pass down the values and traditions of our heritage.  I only hope I can live up to the title Bubby as have generations of women have before me.

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