The Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother

Within minutes of becoming a grandmother at 58, I realized that my take on my new role in no way resembled a Hallmark greeting card. I didn't know exactly what sort of grandmother I would be, but I was fairly certain that I would not turn into some sweet, silly, sexless, cookie-baking, compulsively knitting stereotype.

Because I'm a writer and and writing is how I make sense of my life, I started taking notes. There was plenty to write about. For one thing, I had no idea how I fit into the new order. It seemed as if my newborn granddaughter, Isabelle Eva, was mine but not mine--emphasis on the not. I knew her parents loved me, but how much did they want me around? How much did I want to be around? And how best to cope with the five other grandparents, all vying for the attention of one small infant?

I decided that the best way to deal with my feelings of crazy love and confusion was to write a memoir about my first year as a grandmother. By the time Isabelle was one month old, I'd filled an entire journal.

When I wasn't writing or going gaga over the baby, I looked to see who among our wonderful female authors--so many of whom had written eloquently and humorously about motherhood--had tackled the move up the food chain to grandmotherhood. I was shocked to find nothing literary, nothing narrative that told the real stories.

Were women writers too shamed by our youth culture to own up to their age? Didn't they find the subject as juicy as I did? Were they afraid their adult children would ban them from seeing the kids if they told the truth? I didn't know the answers, but I sensed that the field was wide open and a memoir on the subject was just waiting to happen.

That is, until the day my son, who was living in my neighborhood in Washington, announced that his work was taking him and his family to Paris. With Isabelle strapped to his chest in a baby carrier, they left town when she was just two and a half months old.

I was devasted--and furious. Not only did they break my heart by moving, they completely screwed up my book idea. How could I write a memoir of my first year as a grandmother if Isabelle was living an ocean away?

I knew I had a story, but I didn't have a book. Not yet, anyway. I also realized from talking to other grandmothers that in our very complicated global world, everyone has a story--some hilarious, some touching and tender, some excruciating. Our lives could not be more different than those of our role models, our own nanas. Many of us are still juggling--careers, domestic life, taking care of elderly parents--often while living at great distances from our adult children and grandchildren. Factor in divorce and blended families, the multitude of grandparents now raising grandchildren, the rise in adoption, especially foreign adoption, and the picture gets even more complicated.

Eye of My HeartI decided that if the time wasn't right to do my own memoir, the next best thing would be to edit a collection of original essays that would bust the myths and stereotypes, and tell the real stories. So I turned to writers whose work I love--some of whom helped to reconfigure the landscape of motherhood, marriage and career--to see if they were ready to spill the beans on grandmotherhood. Many, including Elizabeth Berg, Beverly Donofrio, Ellen Gilchrist, Judith Guest, Bharati Mukherjee, Mary Pipher, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Roxana Robinson, Anne Roiphe, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Abigail Thomas and Judith Viorst, were game. And so Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother was born.

--- Barbara Graham


In addition to editing Eye of My Heart, a New York Times bestseller now in paperback with a new epilogue, Barbara Graham is the author of Women Who Run with the Poodles, an acclaimed satire of the self-help movement. Her essays and articles have appeared in many magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine (where she's been a contributing writer), Food & Wine, Glamour, More, National Geographic Traveler, Time, Utne Reader and Vogue. Barbara's plays have been produced Off Broadway in New York and at theatres around the country. You can find her columns at Grandparents.com, and she can be reached at her web site, barbaragrahamonline.com.

What an elegant solution to your situation! I am a grandmother of three and all the way across the country from them. I send each of them a book each month and call it "Grandma Judy's Book of the Month Club." They have learned to anticipate and request books, which is so exciting.

I will be reading Eye of My Heart and will review it on my blog.
# Posted By Judy Krueger | 4/9/10 1:16 PM
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