Gaga and Uma: Boomer Grandparents


We are so happy to contribute to the BurlingtonVT Moms Blog.  We have been avid followers of it as our daughter Heather and her colleagues have found their voices here.  Heather sometimes mentions us in her entries.  Let us introduce ourselves…

We are Bob and Donna Rivas, Baby Boomers, married 46 years and recently retired.  We are “Boomer Grandparents” of Henry and Ruby and we live in Northern New Mexico, some two thousand miles away from our children and grandchildren in Vermont. We are Gaga and Uma.  Our grandchildren named us based on their early abilities to pronounce our chosen grandparent names.  Thus, Grand Bob morphed into Gaga and Grandma drifted off into Uma. We love it!

In addition to the name thing, we have experienced so many of the wonderful benefits of being grandparents.  Our grandchildren are sweet, precious beings and we love to spend time with them, follow their progress, care for them, play with them and share their family life.  We see Heather and Karl reflected in Henry’s facial expressions and Ruby’s little smile.  We talk of them often, they make us smile. We adore them!

man, woman, little boy, little girl, grandparents, grandchildren, family photo

As “Boomer Grandparents,” I suspect we face some of the same grandparent issues that others of our age and stage face.

For us, it is difficult to balance our need to be with the kids with our need to see to our own developmental needs.  Frankly, we wish we lived closer and had the ability to see the kids and grandkids more often.  Nurturing the “long distance relationship” with Heather and Karl and with Henry and Ruby requires that we actively work at closing the personal gap that distance sometimes imposes.  We have always had physical distance between us, but when Heather and Karl lived in New York City, later in Chicago and then in Vermont, we lived in Albany NY.  We could be with them in a couple of hours.  It was very convenient.  But that changed.

By some quirk of fate or Karma, we decided to move to Northern New Mexico. This made some sense for us.  We met during college in New Mexico and lived and worked there for a while. We recently retired, and were exploring our post-retirement plans.  We wanted to become involved in a small community, do volunteer work and pursue our individual interests. We owned Donna’s family home there.  Our hearts were in New Mexico.  But our hearts were also in Vermont.

So, we became travelers.

I suspect this is true for lots of other “Boomer Grandparents,” we have seen them at airports, talked to them and learned that they too have become travelers to be with their grandchildren.  For now, we travel to stay with the kids and grandkids as often as we can. We are not rich but have resources.  We are mobile, energetic, healthy (we work at it) and we see travel as an adventure.  Admittedly, it doesn’t always satisfy our needs to be together.  We worry that our grandchildren won’t know us at the airport and that we will need to wear name tags that say in big letters, “Hello…my name is Gaga” or “Hello…my name is Uma.”  OK, we are exaggerating, but we still worry.

Technology helps.  We are technology smart and I suspect other “Boomer Grandparents” are too.  We know computers and smart phones, we use social media, we text and we use the latest technology.  To a degree, using technology helps to close the gap of distance.  Frankly, we love morning conversations with the kids using Face Time on our I Pad.  We are not sure if Ruby (age 2) quite understands it all, but we love it when she smiles, gets excited and says “Hi Gaga” over and over.  We also have a passing knowledge of computer games thanks to Henry loading them on our I Pad.  Technology really helps to close the distance gap.  One wonders how past generations of grandparents coped with distance before technology.

Living away from the kids has evoked ambivalent feelings for all concerned.  We recognize the need to explore our own lives, yet we recognize that the kids are an important part of our lives.  We know Heather recognizes our need to explore our new lives in New Mexico.  Yet we all feel an intense need to be connected, especially during these formative years for the grandkids.  We have managed to be with Heather, Karl and the kids during many of their landmark events, birthdays, holidays and a host of other celebrations.

I guess it depends on age, experience and circumstances, but grandparents struggle with a dual responsibility.  We hope to strike a balance between our needs as persons in this life stage and our needs to “be with” our children and grandchildren in their life stages.  As grandparents, we see this “struggle” as good.  We work at this every day.

Written By:  Bob and Donna Rivas

man, woman, gaga, uma, grandparents, name tags


  1. Hello Donna! This is Leslie…my maiden name is Peterson but now Holman. I don’t know what made me look you up! It’s been years since we worked together at Camary Statewide Services and late Clearview Center in Albany, NY. I am thrilled to see you happy and back in New Mexico where I knew you and your husband had lived prior to meeting you. I am also thrilled that you have a granddaughter named Ruby! This is my paternal grandmother’name who recently passed away not 8 months ago and was an integral part of my life! My hero and definitely the backbone of our family. I know she will live up to the name. Please take good care in this trying time
    I would love to connect with you some day. I have chosen to not be on Facebook for a variety of reasons, but you can email me anytime at brat. [email protected]🙂

  2. I am very fortunate to have known Heather and her family for many years. I know moving to NM was a big decision for them, but the ties that hold a close family like they are, are not always counted by miles. Being able to communicate through technology is a wonderful thing that we, as grandparents of distant children and grandkids are so happy to have.

    I am so happy to see the post and know, although they are many miles away, are loved for the care that they’ve given to Heather when growing up and the love they now have for her family.

    As I’m touched by the post. I’m sure other grandparents, and parents will be also.


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