Uma is the Tongan word for kiss. It’s the Hindi name for the goddess Parvati. In Sanskrit it means tranquility, splendour and fame. In the Idoma language of Nigeria it means to shine. It’s a horse in Japanese rice fields in Balinese.
So why on earth did I chose it as my title for grandmother? Uma Jill.
Was I trying to channel the fame of the splendid Uma Thurman? Was I trying to shine, drum up the speed of a horse or the abundance of a Balinese rice field? Did I get the spelling wrong for the German word for grandmother which is Oma?
The truth lies a little bit in each of these beautiful meanings of the simple three-letter word Uma.
Given that it took me months to choose the right name you might wonder why I chose a name that left any room for confusion?
Fact is, I was confused by the very concept of being a grandmother, let alone what name I’d take. These babies were not related to me by blood, they ‘belonged’ to my partner’s son. My own daughter was still a baby (ahem, she was 19!) so I was far too young to be a grandmother (ahem again, I was 56).
There were other challenges.
Did I really feel close enough to these babies and their parents to stake a claim as grandmother? What if the children didn’t like me? I look nothing like them, how will they connect with me? What if I disappoint them? What if the novelty of babies wears off for me? Is there room in my life for new children? How do you develop a meaningful familial bond with children who are not connected through a bloodline? What if my relationship with their paternal grandfather broke down? What then?
Turns out lots of first-time grandmothers face similar crises, especially when the children are not biologically theirs.
I love babies but was ridiculously reticent to commit to a name.
I wanted something easy for everyone to pronounce and for the kids to learn. ‘Nona’ leapt out, but as much as I love all things Italian, I don’t have an Italian bone in my body.
I do have a few Tongan bones so when I learnt that the correct pronunciation of Oma, the German word for grandmother, is closer to O for “oops” than “O” for “over”, I thought I was on to something.
Three years and three babies born to two Lambert wives and I have fully embraced the name ‘Uma Jill’.
Grandchildren Declan in Brisbane and Liora and Amadee in Newcastle are now readily responsive to the word Uma.
Come over to my place any Thursday afternoon and you will see Liora and Amadee tearing up the stairs shouting “Uuuuuma” “Uuuuuma”. I hide upstairs, they search, we fall about laughing when, once again, I’m hiding under my bed covers.
I feel so lucky and enriched by the relationships with these tiny people and their parents that I feel silly for dilly dallying with the name.
Why was I ever even a tiny bit reticent to step into the centre of their lives?
It’s not like we have limits on the love we have to give. Isn’t it an endless supply just waiting to be tapped by those in need, or those who ask?
And when you turn on the love-tap, with children, in particular, it keeps giving. That’s my experience.
The Lambert babies now share a bond of love with both the Emberson ladies – my daughter as well as me.
A day in the kitchen making chocolate brownies with liberal taste testings was all it took to break down any barriers between the girls and Malia.
Now the very first question I get after they find me under the bed covers is “Is Malia here?”