Over dinner recently, a friend and I shared the latest news of our grandchildren. I have four; she has two; so there's always plenty to tell. We take real interest in each other's small fry, and for a moment that gave me pause. What is this fascination with someone else's children's children? For it's not only this friend who shares the worry and wonder of grandchildren with me. As though we're all initiated into the same club, there's a common ground that enriches my relationship with many women my age—the surprising and profound complexity of being a grandmother.
No two of us have the same experience, just as no two grandchildren are the same. Some of us dote, some of us don't. Some kids have an oma who makes cocoa and sweaters. Others have a grannie who likes to hike, or an abuelita who sings karaoke with the Wii. Some women live near their grandbabies and some are a country's width away. And then there are the grandmas who fill in for absent mothers—maybe overnight, maybe forever.
"27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother," says the subhead of this collection of brief essays exploring some of those wide-ranging realities. While it's impossible to describe every woman's unique adventure in grandmothering, Barbara Graham has given us a well-crafted assortment, large enough to reveal some basic and even ordinary responses to this extraordinary experience. There's more here than just "pleasures and perils."
As Mary Pipher notes in her introduction, when we are transformed from mother to grandmother we have "different roles, different responsibilities, and a different perspective." Our very identity must grow to include these changes. Even as they force us to face the waning of our life span, death loses some of its sting when we see ourselves continued in these young ones. Sharing an ancient relationship with our grandchild, we are bound more clearly to our ancestors and to other women in this sisterhood of the grand maternal. We discover our own children and ourselves afresh when we see our parenting reflected in them and even when we don't see it. The varied writers here offer scope for just such revelation, insight, and expansion.
Molly Giles, for instance, struggling to accept a child who is making a trip meant to be a treat into something akin to torture, puts it this way, "It occurs to me that my granddaughter has a stronger sense of self than I do. It occurs to me I can learn from her." While some of the pieces here see the humor or the strangeness and others extol the "gratitude, awe, hope, protectiveness, and...dazzling awareness of continuity" that Elizabeth Berg so rightfully rhapsodizes, I especially appreciated the harder lessons that some of these authors faced.
From the helplessness of watching her child painfully labor to deliver her baby, to the despair of seeing that precious grandchild caught in repeating patterns of family dysfunction, there are all sorts of entangling difficulties that come along with grandbaby bliss, and these women write it as it is. Their honesty and bravery give comfort just as any good girlfriend does with laughter-through-tears strength. So I found myself telling my friend about this book, wanting to share these stories of grandmothering, knowing that we both recognize the power in it.
And I'm telling you too. If you're a grandmother or know one, you will find something in Eye of My Heart that connects, that speaks for a truth both ancestral and always new. Read it and pass on the wisdom.
The editor of this collection, Barbara Graham, is the author of an acclaimed satire of the self-help movement, Women Who Run with the Poodles. Her plays have been produced in New York and around the country. She has also written for O: The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, National Geographic Traveler, Redbook, Time, Vogue and more. She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C. and has one grandchild. You can learn more about her on her website.
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