My Brand-New First Step-Grandbaby– in Krakow
Dear Nicholas, We went to visit the wee lass, my newborn step-grandbaby, in her hometown of Krakow, Poland. Now I have a very extended family and a faraway baby to visit on Skype. The arrival of Annabella has widened the reach of my roots in the world in a way I hadn’t expected. We don’t all speak the same language in this new clan, but as a friend said to me, “Who needs English when there’s a wee babe in arms?”
Annabella at seven weeks when we met turned out to be a delightful baby, with lovely dark eyes that are clearly keeping close watch on everything that’s happening.
I’d show you pictures here but her parents are understandably jumpy about that, so I’m reduced to showing Krakow and our new collection of refrigerator magnets. Oops! One’s upside down. Need to brush up on Cyrillic script.
Annabella’s own roots reach far and wide. On her father Chuck’s side, Anglo and Italian. On her mother Karolina’s, Russian: from Siberia to the south and over to the Chinese border. All of which turns out to be a beautiful combo.
The Language Adventure
I asked her mom what her first language would be and she said, Well, English at home, and Russian from her maternal side and Polish from other kids and school. Karolina does happen to speak five languages herself, including perfect Polish and English, with some facility in several others.
During our visit, she worked as translator in addition to baby-tending. Turns out her Russian-speaking mother, also visiting, is in the same profession as my English-speaking husband. He’s a psychologist; she’s a psychiatrist and Jungian analyst. The conversation ranged from thoughts on psychotherapy from Irvin Yalom and Donald Winnicott to dealing with patients who miss appointments. That was probably easier than translating me, since some of my anecdotes tend to run on pretty long.
My entire hard-won grasp of Russian on arrival amounted to one sentence: I am happy to meet you. I remembered it long enough to haltingly say it. All of that has now two weeks later slid out of my mind except for one word, тебя, which means “you.”
Never Could I Have Guessed…
I was in Krakow once before in about 1980 in my travel-writing days; wrote a piece for The Washington Post about how much Poland felt to me like home in the American South. I never would have imagined I’d be coming back about forty years later as a step-babcia, Polish for grandmother, to meet my step-grandbaby.
The city appeals to me a lot. It’s a college town. Jagiellonian University, with 42,000 students, is where Copernicus went to school. The old city center is large and busy and festive, not just a historic site. And, at least in the warm months, the Krakovians share my enthusiasm for ice cream. Never saw so many ice cream parlors. Good place to raise a child.
None of the grandparents crashed on the new parents. We all stayed elsewhere, Bob and I, at the near 200 year-old Hotel Pollera, a bargain by American standards, where the breakfast spread was served in an old ballroom with stage and balcony.
A Panel of Grands
And there are more grandparents still to come. I googled step-grandparent and got a warning that I haven’t needed, which was: expect to be in the position of “extra,” not having full standing. I felt completely welcome and comfortable. Our situation is a little unusual, though; with so much distance involved, we’re never likely to gather around the crib at the same time. And I do make a point of saying “step” so as not to claim undue credit.
Annabella is the first for every single one of her “grands.” I once knew a man who was the only child and only grandchild for his family. He said he carried the happiness of six people in his childhood. Imagine Annabella’s responsibility! Well, she seems to be doing fine so far. Smiles, turns over, enjoys her meals, etc. She’s also taking notes; I can tell. I’m betting this girl is going to have good stories to tell.
Will keep you posted.
Tags: babcia, babe in arms, Cyrillic script, Donald Winnicott, first language, Hotel Pollera, Irvin Yalom, Jagiellonian University, Jungian analyst, language adventure, only grandchild, Polish for grandmother, step-grandparent, stories to tell, taking notes, travel-writing days, worked as translator
Grab a copy of Nanaville next time you’re at a bookstore, So much humor and poignancy re: being grand. ❤️ So exciting.
Thanks, Mamie. I’m glad to know about it. Y’all seem to be enjoying yours.
There is nothing better than holding the child of your child!
I believe it, kenju! I’m a step or two removed from what you’re describing, but my grandparent friends are all more besotted than teenagers in love.
Congratulations, Peggy. Having a new baby in the family is such a joy. And getting to take a trip to a beautiful city like Krakow is an added bonus.
I’m guessing you’ve enjoyed both experiences, Sally. Thanks.
Good pictures and a very good visit to get to see my new grand daughter and her beautiful city. She did often seem quite alert and tracking what’s going on around her. I wish we lived closer cz I miss ’em already. She’ll be walking by the next time I see her – I’m lookin’ forward to learning who she becomes. And I’d be real surprised if you were ever treated as a second class grannie.
I never even thought about the 2nd class granny thing until I read it online and the piece was advising the step to be careful not to crowd the grandparents. I probably wouldn’t have done that anyway.Nice to see her/them on Skype this morning. Skype has risen in my estimation.
How delightful!. Not only a beautiful grandchild in the family, but the distance and infrequency with which you’ll be able to get together will make every time an adventure and quite special. And being an additional grandparent doesn’t mean 2nd class. I could imagine there would be an awkwardness if all the grandparents were close together and competing for Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc, but this won’t be the case for you guys given the distance. A kid can never hadve too many grandparents! I had a couple of extra ones. My older half-sister’s father had been killed in WWII before my mom married my dad. Her father’s parents and siblings all lived in town and maintained a relationship not only with my older half sister, but very kindly included me and my younger sister. I wasn’t too concerned about who was what. There were just three sets of grandparents and -multiple aunts and uncles in the family. No one who loves a child is ever 2nc class to them! Sounds like it was a great trip! Travel to a great city and a baby! A baby you don’t have to care for 24 hour a day! Doesn’t get better than that!
Lee, your family sounds wonderful. Not every family includes the steps and halves as yours did. And I’m also thinking there won’t be any jump ball over Christmas. The trick is going to be learning a little Polish and a little Russian and not mixing them up. People who are truly fluent in a number of languages never seem to scramble them. The rest of us — it’s a different deal.
What a heartwarming and thoughtful post. Thanks Peggy.
And thank you, Jim!
Love this! You are right about grandparents being more besotted than teenagers in love. I plan out my weekly dates with my two youngest grands like I was going to be with my lover: soup to nuts. Except that I don’t put as much time into my clothes or hair or make-up as I might have then, because my grands don’t care. They love me as I am. Wonderful!
And I hope yours are living close by, Marion. Sounds like you have a wonderful thing going with them!