Big brother Luca reads to his little sister Nova. Photo: Celia Marszal-Iannelli

What makes a grandmother’s love so special? According to a study by Dr. James Rilling of Emory University, grandmothers may hold a deeper bond with their grandchildren than with their own children. Although it’s an interesting study, like most grandmothers, I knew that. 

I entered the hallowed grandma society a tad later than my peers. While my friends were waving goodbye to their college-bound grandchildren, I was cradling my grandbabies in my arms. I went from the “merry widow” to the flying grandma. 

Until recently, my grandbabies lived in Northern California—and not in easily accessible places. Luca was born in Happy Camp (yup, that’s a place) and Nova in Crescent City. I’m a glass half full gal and regard the 13 hours of travel as a memorable adventure. 

When my son Jeffrey’s job relocated him to Washington state, I was over-the-moon with joy. A “quick” five-hour plane ride trumps a 13-hour travel day. Same adventure, shorter travel time. 

 My visits over the last two years have been fraught with COVID concerns. Vaccinated and boosted, I felt protected until the Omicron variant took center stage. 

Upon landing in Seattle, I made my way,  masked, tired and dragging my carry-on. Over the din of the terminal, I heard a voice calling  out to me, “Ammie! Ammie!”   I followed the voice. I spotted Luca jumping up and down excitedly pointing in my direction. He ran to me, wrapping his arms around my legs. 

On the drive to his new home, Luca chatted about his life— all four years! I was in Ammie heaven. Despite the distance, I didn’t relish being a “guest” Ammie. I want my grandbabies to know me and not have to get used to me.

Nova was asleep when I peeked into her room. I was taken aback. Was baby Nova swapped for this angelic toddler? She was laying with her blanket, legs splayed with a mass of curly hair. With a jolt I realized she had her daddy and grandaddy’s hair. Her granddaddy George has resided with all the company of heaven for some 20 years. Tears stung my eyes. I realized his name and genes were  passed to another generation. 

Early the next morning and the mornings that followed, Luca bounded onto my bed ready to play. Jet lagged, I was slowly emerging from dreamland. But wait, wasn’t this dreamland? I longed for these grandbabies of my heart for some time and here they are.

 My daughter-in-law Cassandra brought Nova into my bed. She was chatting away in “Nova” speak. I hadn’t a clue of what she was saying, but it was of grave importance. She used hand gestures and emphasized a few unintelligible sentences. 

Luca looked bemused and said: “This is how baby sister talks.”

With Luca and Nova in hand, we joined Jeff and Cassandra around the breakfast table. 

 Luca announced: “I want Ammie to make me pancakes.”

Jeff laughed: “Ammie doesn’t do pancakes.”

Me: “What are you talking about, I’ll make Luca pancakes.”

Jeff: “Mom you never made me pancakes,  and as Greg (his brother) tells it you haven’t cooked breakfast since 1988. You served us soggy cornflakes.” 

Me:  “Geez! I was working during the day and attending college at night.”

Jeff: “Just having some fun with you.” 

 I was not amused! 

Cassandra: “Ignore Jeff, he’s trying to get a rise out of you.”

He did. I rose to the occasion and as Luca specified made him one “giant” pancake. I was on a roll and made another for Nova.

 Jeff seemed suitably impressed but had to get the last word: “You never made pancakes for me.”

 Luca looked thoughtful. He asked: “Daddy, you know Ammie for a long, long time?”

Jeff: “Luca we talked about this; Ammie is daddy’s mommy.”

A light bulb went off in Luca’s head. 

Sheepishly he said: “Ammie! Daddy stays up a long-long time way-way past his bedtime.” 

After Luca ratted out his daddy he asked: “Daddy who is your daddy?”

Jeff relieved  to change the subject answered:  “Grandpa George. He’s in heaven.”

Luca: “Is he with kitty Wibeley? 

Jeff: “That’s right, grandpa is with your kitty in heaven.”

Luca nodded gravely and became incredibly quiet. Nova chatted away, oblivious that 23 and Me Ancestry was being discussed, Marszal style.

Luca: “Ammie where is your daddy and mommy.”

Me:  “They are in heaven with Grandpa George and kitty Wibeley.”

With tears welling up in his eyes, Luca put his arms around my neck. 

He whispered: “Ammie I’m sad for you.”   “Don’t worry you have me forever and Nova too.” 

There it was:  A magical moment of deep connection and mutual adoration that often springs up between grandparents and grandchildren. 

Studies reveal that all children benefit from a strong presence of their grandparents. Grandparents offer support and stability. No longer concerned with parental responsibilities, grandparents can enjoy, and spoil their grandchildren —yes, spoil them. We have earned the right.

 We are creating a chain of love linking the past to the future. I am confident that the memories I make with Luca and Nova now will live long after I’ve met up with Grandpa George.

 Speaking of the future, I’ve already booked my next trip—that is, to visit Luca and Nova. Grandpa George has a long wait. 

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Celia Iannelli is a native New Yorker enjoying a second career — in 'retirement' — as a freelance writer. She lives in Jamesport.