3 min

Grandma deserves to have her buttons pushed

Don't give up on elders before they're actually gone

My partner’s family is two for two in the marriage department since her sister married a woman last weekend.

I was given the job of designing invitations, placing floating candles in the backyard pool (and fishing out the plastic filter when it started to smoulder), carrying cases of Evian and watching out for Nana. At 80-something, I don’t have to worry about losing track of my partner’s grandma, but she needs help sitting down and standing up, rehashing the order of events and scrutinizing the contents of finger foods. I know she enjoys my company because she picks on me less than she picks on most people.

I can’t describe the strangeness of standing in the backyard of my partner’s childhood home, watching her sister reciting vows to her girlfriend in a long white dress surrounded by friends, coworkers, both sets of separated parents, all of their new respective partners and Nana. It’s as if this is all perfectly normal.

Their wedding is nothing like ours was; all candles and flowers, drunk friends, paternal speeches and a car that says “Just Married.” All the planning behind this wedding makes it look like we eloped, and we’re relieved to have avoided the drama even as we admire all the things that went right. We were way too stubborn to fulfill the word “wedding” in so many ways.

“I don’t like your hair,” Nana says when she sees us, and it’s no surprise. She rarely likes the way these queer girls look — she hates our underwear bands, drooping jeans and piercings. She hates the bride’s hair, too, because she looks different from the little girl Nana knew, and she says so for everyone around her to hear. She pretty much says anything she wants to these days and everyone is much too polite to correct her. Their silence makes me think of my grandpa, who also gets away with so much behind a screen of generational “respect” that hurts all of us. We are failing our grandparents by giving up on their growth long before they’ve stopped growing.

Nana was married to a famous figure in TV production, and they say she’s become more feisty since his death. She can be sometimes like a five-year-old child who peers too closely at your face, asks embarrassing questions and passes judgment like she passes gas. Being around her is a bit like holding a stranger’s baby — it could cry and you lose, or it could laugh and you win. Either way the situation is out of your control and there is no chance in hell that your fate will be dolled out gently, or in private.

Nana confesses that she doesn’t know most of the guests at this wedding. Nor, I should add, is she eager to make friends. She frowns upon divorcées, girls in short dresses, interracial couples, every person of colour. But the queers, for some reason, the queers are alright. Nana never speaks ill of the queers.

We didn’t invite her to city hall when we got married. We decided to do it five days before it happened. We didn’t want a crowd, since it wasn’t a big deal at all, for us. But Nana turns to my partner right after her sister’s ceremony and says, accusingly, bony finger on target, “You didn’t invite me to your wedding.” Andrea tries to explain but Nana has already decided to hold a grudge.

“I want to be alone,” she says after, and she means it, straining her stroke-affected voice so we all get the message. I watch her slyly from afar as she teeters around the pool with her cane. She is wearing a turquoise jacket with a giant broach that will surely sink her like a stone if she falls in.

Nana devours books, at least a novel a week. She wears hearing aids and shows frustration at not being able to hear us, but she picks up gossip from across the room, the back of the car, the other side of the moon. She e-mails Andrea instead of calling, but she has a 40-year-old knife sharpener that she insists on maintaining. She won’t drink decaf because she can’t be sure the baristas aren’t lying and giving her caffeine. She thinks I’m from mixed-race Mars. When I met her she called my bandana a turban. She insists that I named our dog something in “my language” (her name is Skyla) and she was floored that my grand-father spoke English.

Oh, Nana. What determines which prejudices get dropped and which ones persist? She has never said anything about my relationship with her granddaughter. She asks questions about how we’re going to have a baby and is offended when someone asks if she knows about sperm banks. She displays all the typical isms of her history, except the one that condemns our sexuality.

We are so obviously underestimating Nana’s ability to progress, her receptiveness to challenge. Nana is ready for more. After all, if we deny our grandparents the gift of our awareness we are condoning the oppression of our children, our sisters and ourselves.