When paterfamilias and I bought our house--the one we're still living in--our children were five and six years old. My mother flew up from her condo in Florida to help with the dirty work of moving in. She and I hand-transferred to the new house a fragile antique wall clock and a gold-framed mirror that used to be hers but were now mine. Paterfamilias and I were taking up the carpeting the former owner had nailed down all over the house. We had the wood floors stained and burnished before we moved in. What I remember most about those first few days in the new house is my mother carrying things back and forth between kitchen and dining room, rags wrapped around her bare feet. "This is a good way to keep the floors buffed," she told me as she shuffled around. "You should do this all the time."
I'm reminded of this because Alpha Daughter just bought her first house. She closed on it on a Friday, and we flew up on Saturday to look it over. She and her husband were planning to strip out the old carpet and redo the floors before moving in. While we were poking around the front yard and inspecting its bushes, a neighbor came by--all big hellos and welcomes and wanting to know who was moving in. Then another neighbor appeared on the street. The first neighbor waved her over. "Lois," she said, "here's the new family that's moving in, and it comes with a Bubbe."
That would be me. Bubbe is Yiddish for a granny. And there certainly was a very active five-year-old clambering up and down and around the front steps. But use of the term was a bit of a shock for me--I'd always thought of a Bubbe as a person who's sidelined to the back seat of the car--a person who's no longer part of the main events of family life. Part of what happens as our children get older, something my friend Marian, the psychiatrist, calls "flattening the heirarchy." Others use the term Bubbe in a more benign way--as the neighbor did, to connote that the parents of the new owners were around.
This Bubbe, unfortunately, doesn't come with the house. Paterfamilias and I live a ten-hour drive away. I may never tie rags around my bare feet as my mother did. But like her, I hope to be there on moving day to help out with whatever needs doing. It's what we parents of grown children do, whether we think of ourselves as a Bubbe or not.