I am a new grandmother. I am also currently visiting a coastal beach on Hornby Island in BC. Just don’t call me coastal grandma.
If you’re not one of 26-year-old Lex Nicoleta’s 183 million viewers coastal grandmother TikTok videolet me prime you.
Grandma on the coast is an attractively viable way of life, and if you have time to read a newspaper, you’re probably halfway there already. You have a pair of button-up cotton shirts that you button up. You are not ashamed of a bucket hat, preferably in white, or a bottle of wine, which you open at 4 pm and eat that evening – not even on a Tuesday, because there are no days in this world of timeless ease. You are allowed to garden or walk on a beach if you happen to live nearby (no requirement for the CG); maybe there’s a dog and a fast car. Extra points if you own and to use an extremely heavy orange Le Creuset casserole (check!).
Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give” and Meryl Streep in “It’s Complicated” are the oft-quoted original models for the grandmother on the coast, and like them, you wear your privilege on your loose linen sleeve. But you don’t have to be a grandmother to be a seaside grandmother, any more than you have to be at the beach: Anne Hathaway, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift have all posted their CG looks, and a big and merry band under 25 joined in. As Nicoleta says, Coastal grandmother “is for everyone and for everyone.”
Why the media has lost their collective mind about this trend I am not going to analyze here. It’s probably a way for the Wall Street Journal to let its audience know it stays with with TikTok, and the show “Today”, “Good Morning America”, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Zoomer, Vogue, Elle, Glamor and The Cut have weighed in as well. It seems no one can deny the excitement that over-50s declared chill by a 26-year-old. Because that’s something to trumpet.
This was a trend that I effortlessly led and I was not alone. I was invited to a party in July, where I arrived five minutes early because I just did, okay? I considered walking to a nearby park to cover up my social faux pas, but my uncomfortably high shoes weren’t Nicoleta’s recommended calfskin Hermes flats named “Oran.” (Sandals should have names, I agree.) When I opened the door, I discovered a party in full swing. It was 6:25 PM. The New York Times has since declared it “fashionably late,” a correction of the COVID times etiquette that the elderly excel at.
Not only were my fellow guests totally trendy, punctually, but the overcrowded kitchen and backyard was a bobbing sea – the metaphor seems apt – of women in billowing blue and white linen. “Grandmother on the coast!” I said a few times, to blank stares. And no wonder: this crowd of mostly 70’s hadn’t climbed aboard the CG car. She goods the CG train, years before TikTok mentioned it. Or so I thought.
“Stop Appropriating Our Culture”‘ read the headline of a piece about the Atlantic by Caitlin Flanagan. At the time, I agreed with her that “grandmother at the seaside isn’t the thing, it’s the reward for the thing,” but now I’m not so sure either of us had that right.
It’s true that a long life of hard work pays off for Grandma’s seaside lounge aesthetic and what makes her who she is. Nancy Meyers, creator of “Gotta Give” and “It’s Complicated,” has been working for more than 50 years and has written and produced 10 films and directed six to date, at the age of 72. It’s the work that ultimately liberates you (Karl Marx was right), not the outfit. Where I look bad by the way. I’m not tall and ten white people make me look like a bouquet of chrysanthemums.
However, it turns out that it’s not just the look that doesn’t suit me. After 45 years in my own career, I’m also not sure if I’m a natural who is comfortable being a grandmother on the coast. My sisters pointed this out when I tossed the complex mini recliner – it wouldn’t open – over the sand during our Hornby Island idyll.
Trying, an Apple TV parenting show that keeps getting better, is closer to the asceticism of my grandparenthood. “Don’t mess with grandparents,” one of the maniacally energetic grandfathers said. “We have no jobs and we sleep three hours a night.”
That evening, back from the beach (my younger sister opened my chair after an appropriate period of ridicule), we made a CG-worthy dinner of fresh fish and local vegetables for my niece and her two friends, who were camping in a tiny cabin in the neighbourhood. They flew like swallows through our spacious wooden house, shouting across the floor, the old upright piano, the local island art on the walls.
They were 19 and 20, afraid of turning 21, and I tried to remember what that worry felt like. It was a passage, I vaguely remembered it. No different from mine now, on the other side of things. I was so absorbed by their energy and joy, by the way everything in the humble beach house took on a glow when they looked off, that I didn’t immediately notice what my niece was wearing. Light blue cotton top, baggy, over a white T, wide jeans, barefoot.
“Grandmother on the coast!” I said, making another attempt to name the trend.
“Right?” she said. She insisted on a photo over the bedspread we had put up, holding up a glass of cold white wine to complete the look. Admittedly, she had a few tattoos and had recently bleached her eyebrows white (it’s a thing, speaking of being trendy) as opposed to her dark brown hair, which gave her face a slightly invisible quality.
“I’m not sure about the tattoo,” I said, as she had lowered her loose blue shirt to reveal the circle on her upper arm.
“It adds to the look,” she said confidently as her friend snapped photos. And it did. Then I realized: My niece and her friends didn’t just look pretty and easy. They were free and easy. Free to be themselves as they are now and to become whoever they may be in their long life ahead. Suddenly it made sense that it was a 26-year-old who mentioned the trend and that most of Nicoleta’s followers were younger than her. They’ve always been the real coastal grandmothers.
It may be time to channel my 20-year-old self. I know she had her own fears and worries, as did my niece and her friends, but she was also brave and stepped into her life no matter what. It is the carelessness that the young people admire in the CG that I now want to emulate. Being a real grandmother on the coast is not so much a right as it is a necessity for everything that comes after.
So, yeah, don’t call me coastal grandma. Not yet. I’ve worked for the right to have fun, that’s true. I also tend to button up my button-downs. But the freedom part, to be who I am and could become? I need a little more courage to get there.