Zibby Mag

The Webby Award-winning literary lifestyle destination.

When Granny Was My Kids’ Nanny

Friday, July 23, 2021

By Lorraine Duffy Merkl

In early 2020, my family dynamic shifted as New York City became the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic.

My ninety-eight-year-old mother, Angelina, could no longer live alone so she moved in with me, my husband, Neil, and our twenty-three-year-old daughter, Meg. Our twenty-six-year-old son, Luke, happened to be transferred back to the East Coast from Silicon Valley and moved into his grandmother’s suddenly empty apartment nearby.

As a freelancer, I had always worked from home. Now Neil, Luke, and Meg were officially entering the fray. These working conditions may have been forced by the pandemic, but, generally speaking, our closeness as a family was nothing out of the ordinary.

Intergenerational living is a rather old-fashioned trend, but it has been on the rise since 2016, with 64 million Americans living in this family dynamic. Having a grandmother as part of the nuclear family was not the norm back in the mid-90s when my children were born.


My mother stopped commuting to my Manhattan apartment from my childhood home in the Bronx and instead moved across the street when Meg was an infant and Luke was almost three. The single mother who raised me (when being a solo parent also wasn’t the norm) was seamlessly transferring her caregiver skills to her grandchildren.

I counted my blessings. There would be no gossip from strangers at the park about my negligence as a mother. I inhabited a deeper gratitude whenever there was an unfortunate news story about a babysitter or I heard another mother at the playgroup share her caregiver woes. There was the nanny who left her charge in Central Park and went home to her apartment in Brooklyn; the one whose idea of a timeout was locking the kids in the closet; another who, despite many years of service, simply ghosted the family. Of course, these didn’t hold a candle to the ones where the children, under a caregiver’s supervision, were met with irreparable harm.

That’s not to say that every caregiver I heard about was irresponsible, cruel, or criminal. There were moms so enthralled with their nanny that they couldn’t wait to boast about the quality of care. They’d often brag: “She’s more like a grandma.”

I’d smile and say I was glad they had peace of mind, knowing that our situation was the best of all. Luke and Meg didn’t have grandma-adjacent — they had the real thing.

From the beginning, Luke and Meg saw my mother as the fifth Musketeer, sharing meals with us (sometimes cooking them so her grandchildren would know what really good food tastes like), and occasionally joining us on vacation. She picked one up from school while I tended to the other, accompanied us to pediatrician visits, and cheered at little league games and ice-skating competitions.


Asher ninety-ninth birthday approaches, my mother’s memory is on the way out.

I’ve been reminding her about moments of her life that I think will make her happy, like the time we went to see The Devil Wears Prada and made it to our respective school pickups by the skin of our teeth; when we made lasagna for an international night at Luke’s school, enough to feed a small army; when we drove to Connecticut for one of Luke’s ball games, got lost, and still made it on time; when she came with me to watch Meg try on Communion dresses and it was grandmother and granddaughter against me (as usual) in the final selection.

Sometimes she can’t believe how many stories there are. But I can.

I have just as many childhood anecdotes about my maternal grandmother whom Angelina and I lived with. The familial bond of intergenerational living seems to have gotten lost with the abundance of retirement communities and nursing homes, or people moving away from their families for jobs or a change of scenery.

I wanted Luke and Meg to live with their family history every day, as I had. Now they have a chance to give back to the person who cared for them by helping to care for her. They already had plenty of stories prior to the pandemic but since we’re all together again, they will have time to develop even more.


Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s third novel The Last Single Woman in New York will be published by Heliotrope Books.