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No Ordinary Grandma

In the battle for my grandkids' affections, I play to win

Girl embraces grandfather outside.

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So I'm at this New Year's Day party listening to my friend Ellen, who is telling me about her art-museum excursions with her seven-year-old granddaughter, Carol. I am already feeling inadequate because none of my grandchildren has expressed much (actually, any) interest in going to an art museum, while Carol actively wants to. Furthermore, she walks into The Phillips Collection and asks where the Rothkos are, because, as she explains to her grandmother, she likes Rothko's colors.

I am astonished. Maybe even enchanted. But what I'm mostly feeling is … competitive.

No Ordinary Grandma

Grandchildren bring out the "best" in grandparents. — Photo by Christian Batig/Getty Images

This is not a nice emotion to experience. A better person than I would surely eschew such competitive feelings. But I haven't. Nor have most of the grandmothers I know.

Even if we are known to be basically modest, even if, as mothers, we refrained from shamelessly bragging about our kids, we grandmothers feel entitled to inform the world that our grandchildren are not merely extraordinary but … the most extraordinary. And if another grandmother is one-upping us in the extraordinary contest, we one-up right back.

I, for instance, wasn't able to counter Ellen's report with my own Smartest in Art grandchild story, but with a deft segue I shifted the category to Most Profound, recalling the morning that my Olivia and her cousin Nathaniel were playing word games. Nathaniel had proudly printed his version of the short form of telephone FONE — on a piece of paper, and when Olivia crossed it out and wrote PHONE, he was cranky, insisting that her weird spelling was wrong. Olivia, four months older than Nathaniel, listened to him holler for a while and then declaimed, from her vastly superior fund of life experience, "Nathaniel, in this world, things aren't always what they seem." I rest my case.

I'm also hoping to win in the Most Adored Grandmother category, though I'm finding it hard to one-up my friend Irene, who tells me that her grandkids stand sobbing by the door at the end of her visits, pleading with her as she heads for the airport, "Don't go. Don't go."

(I, too, could claim that tears have been shed when I've said goodbye to my Colorado grandchildren, Bryce and Miranda. But then I'd have to acknowledge that the tears being shed aren't theirs — they're mine.)

Competition for Most Adored Grandmother seriously heats up when grandmothers compete for the affections of the same grandchildren. Yes, fond though we may be of the other granny, and glad though we may be that she loves our grandchildren, and resigned though we may be that they love her back, we are hoping they love us more. A whole lot more.

Now, it's embarrassing to admit to such ungenerous feelings. It's embarrassing to be secretly assessing the assets of our competition. And yet … we're assessing.

This granny always buys them lavish presents. That granny lives near Disney World. This granny has purple-streaked hair and is really cool. That granny takes them ice-skating. "So how was your weekend with your [glamorous, cool, ice-skating] grandma?" I asked Olivia. "Awesome!" was her exuberant reply. "Except when it was Sunday and she had to go back to Michigan." I decided not to ask if that made her cry.

I'm giving some thought, however, to taking up ice-skating.

Judith Viorst is the author of many books for adults and children.

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