Preface by Barbara Graham
Introduction by Mary Pipher, Ph.D.
My grandchildren are my antidepressants. When I am with them, I laugh and I look. When we see a hummingbird or pick raspberries, I am as happy as they are. Our mutual affection has taught me about pure and nearly perfect love.
Psychologist Mary Pipher is the author of eight books, including three New York Times best sellers: Reviving Ophelia, which has been translated into twenty-five languages; The Shelter of Each Other; and Another Country—a field guide to understanding the emotional landscape of aging parents and grandparents. Her latest book is Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. Pipher’s writing is influenced by her rural background, her training in both psychology and anthropology, and her years as a therapist. She lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her husband, Jim; her children and grandchildren live nearby.
PART ONE: Now You See Me
“Your Sixty-Year-Old: Friend or Foe?” by Molly Giles
Annika at three knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and she doesn’t like me.
Molly Giles is the author of the novel Iron Shoes, and two short-story collections: Creek Walk and Other Stories, which won the Small Press Award for Short Fiction; and Rough Translations, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Pushcart Prizes, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for book reviewing. Her short story “Two Words” was included in the 2003 O. Henry Prize Stories collection. Other stories have recently been featured on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Giles teaches creative writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
“How I Got to Be Queen of England” by Elizabeth Berg
I think I’ve been ready to be a grandmother since I knew what grandmothers were. Mostly what I liked about my grandmother was that she was revered. So far as I could tell, it was like being queen of England, minus the inconvenience of having to wear a crown.
Elizabeth Berg is an award-winning author of twenty bestselling books. Even better, she’s the grandmother of two swell kids.
“What Counts” by Beverly Lowry
The first time I saw him he was seven. Headlong was how he aimed himself toward me, as if he knew which one I was and how hard I was hoping. And headlong my heart went up to him. Not for a second did I think of him as a stepgrandson.
Beverly Lowry is the author of six novels and three nonfiction books, including Crossed Over: A Murder, A Memoir; Her Dream of Dreams: The Rise and Triumph of Madam C. J. Walker; and Harriet Tubman: Imagining a Life. She has written essays and feature articles for The New Yorker, Granta, Vanity Fair, Redbook, the New York Times, and many other periodicals. In 2007, she received the Richard Wright Literary Achievement Award from the Natchez Literary and Film Organization. She teaches at George Mason University and lives in Austin, Texas.
“Nana” by Roxana Robinson
It’s a deep connection, between mother and daughter. So when all my friends told me that being a grandmother was “the best,” I wondered. What could be better than this? I was curious, and eager to find out for myself, but this is not a job you can apply for.
Roxana Robinson is the author of eight books: four novels, most recently Cost; three story collections, and a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were named Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, the New York Times, Vogue, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.(www.roxanarobinson.com)
“Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
The love grandparents bear to grandchildren is viewed sentimentally as the most pure of passions. But all love affairs have their source in self-love, and this one is no exception.
Lynne Sharon Schwartz has published novels, short-story collections, essays, poetry, and translations from Italian. Among her novels are The Writing on the Wall; In the Family Way: An Urban Comedy; Disturbances in the Field; Leaving Brooklyn (nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award); andRough Strife (nominated for a National Book Award). She is also the author of the poetry collection In Solitary and the memoir Ruined by Reading. She recently edited The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, a collection of essays and interviews. Her work has been reprinted in The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Essays, and other anthologies, and her reviews have appeared in leading magazines and newspapers. She teaches at the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her latest book is Not Now, Voyager.
“If You Knew Harry . . .” by Susan Shreve
I had my own secret plans for Theo, and I imagine these plans were uncommon among other women my age. I simply was not done being a mother of babies, even though I was sixty-four-years old, with four grown children.
Susan Shreve is the author of thirteen novels, most recently A Student of Living Things; a memoir, Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR’s Polio Haven; and thirty books for children. She has edited five anthologies, including Dream Me Home Safely, and Outside the Law and Tales Out of School, with Porter Shreve. She is a professor of English and founder of the master of fine arts degree program at George Mason University, and a former president and cochairman of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Shreve has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment Award for Fiction.
“What I Want to Be When I Grow Up by” Virginia Ironside
The day my grandson was born I was alarmed to find that far from falling for the baby straight away, I found him an incomprehensible little red, wriggling thing who looked, to my eyes, like a cross between a very small alcoholic and a rat.
Virginia Ironside started her career as a rock journalist but has spent the last thirty years writing an advice column for The Independent and other publications. She is the author of fifteen books, including the recent No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club, the fictional diary of a sixty-year-old woman besotted with her grandson. She lives in London. (www.virginiaironside.org)
PART TWO: Through the Woods
“Facebook Grandma” by Rona Maynard
To be honest, I like my grandmothering in brief waves of powerful connection, separated by islands of calm.
Rona Maynard is an award-winning journalist and the former editor-in-chief of Chatelaine, Canada’s leading women’s magazine. She is the author of a recently published memoir, My Mother’s Daughter, and hosts an online community for women. Maynard lives in Toronto. (www.ronamaynard.com)
“Sitting Here in Limbo” by Jill Nelson
Whatever the reasons, my daughter and I are stuck re-fighting tired battles. As much as I would like what binds me to my grandson to be simple and clear, the connection between us gets tangled up between my daughter and me.
Jill Nelson is a journalist and author of the memoir Volunteer Slavery: My Authentic Negro Experience; Sexual Healing, a novel; and Finding Martha’s Vineyard: African Americans at Home on an Island. An avid gardener and budding sailor, she divides her time between New York City and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. (www.jillnelson.com)
“La-Z-Nana” by Abigail Thomas
When the twins came at Christmastime, Nana baked cookies and roasted sweet potatoes and chickens and simmered stews. She loved it when the babies climbed into her lap. After a week of two sets of two-year-old twins having a really good time, Nana decided it was time to leave the house. “Time to flee,” were her exact words to herself.
Abigail Thomas is the author of one novel, two short-story collections, and two memoirs: Safekeeping and A Three Dog Life. Her most recent book isThinking About Memoir. She teaches private writing workshops and lives in Woodstock, New York. (www.abigailthomas.net)
“Ten Straight Days” by Beverly Donofrio
There are times when I’m sure I’m as inept as a grandmother as I was when I became a mother at seventeen. I am not careful, cautious, or always law-abiding.
Beverly Donofrio’s memoir Riding in Cars with Boys was translated into fifteen languages and made into a movie. Her second memoir, Looking for Mary, originated as a commentary on NPR. Her work is collected in several anthologies, and her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, O The Oprah Magazine, Elle, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She has written for network television and PBS, and is a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered. Donofrio’s first children’s books were published in 2007: Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, a picture book illustrated by Barbara McClintock; andThank You, Lucky Stars, a young adult novel. Donofrio lives at Nada Carmelite Hermitage in the mountains of Colorado.
“Angel Baby” by Marita Golden
I was the wicked stepmother. I had little clout, less influence. Though most biological grandmothers discover that they have no real power, stepgrandmothers are even more disenfranchised.
Marita Golden is the author of the memoirs Migrations of the Heart, Saving Our Sons, and Don’t Play in the Sun: One Woman’s Journey Through the Color Complex, as well as the novels Long Distance Life, The Edge of Heaven, and most recently After, which won both the NAACP Image Award and the Black Caucus Award of the American Library Association. She cofounded the African American Writers Guild and the Hurston/Wright Foundation, and is currently writer in residence at the University of the District of Columbia. Her awards include the 2002 Distinguished Service Award from the Authors Guild and the 2001 Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award. Golden lives in Maryland with her husband. (www.maritagolden.com)
“When Things Go Tilt” by Claire Roberts
My grandkids have great affection for me, but to my son’s wife I am the dreaded abominable mother-in-law.
Claire Roberts is the pseudonym of an author and essayist who lives in the Midwest.
“The Road to Imperfection” by Judith Guest
I had sworn to be flawless as a grandmother, and flawless I was—until the summer I decided to take my three pre-pubescent granddaughters to a dude ranch. After five hours together I turned into a person I no longer recognized. I was a banshee. I was Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
Judith Guest is the author of five novels. Her first, Ordinary People, won the Janet Heidegger Kafka Prize for best first novel in 1976. It was made into a movie that won six Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. Guest’s novel Second Heaven was selected as one of School Library Journal’s Best Books for Young Adults. She has written several screenplays and is currently at work on a suspense novel, White in the Moon. Guest divides her time between Minnesota and Michigan.
“The Age Thing” by Kate Lehrer
“Why should I be happy about being a grandmother!” screams Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. Her rant echoed in my head when my daughter announced that she was going to have a baby. No, I didn’t utter the words out loud; I chanted cries of delight. I regret to confess that I did not mean a word of them.
Kate Lehrer’s novels include Confessions of a Bigamist, Best Intentions, and Out of Eden, winner of the Western Heritage Award. In addition to her novels, she writes essays, short stories, and book reviews, and she is a frequent guest on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR. She lives in Washington, D.C.
“How Things Happen” by Sallie Tisdale
I am not happy. It has nothing to do with becoming a grandmother, and everything to do with timing. They are so young. They will need a lot of help. I have been rearing children for more than twenty-five years, and I am ready to be done with it.
Sallie Tisdale is the author of several books, including The Best Thing I Ever Tasted, Talk Dirty to Me, and Women of the Way. She is a consulting editor at Tricycle. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Harper’s, The New Yorker, New Republic, Vogue, Tin House, Antioch Review, and Creative Nonfiction. Tisdale is a teacher at Dharma Rain Zen Center in Portland, Oregon. An earlier version of her essay, How It Happens, appeared on Salon.com.
“The Rivals” by Judith Viorst
Competition for Most Adored Grandmother seriously heats up when grandmothers are competing for the same grandchildren. Yes, fond though we may be of the other granny, and glad though we may be that she loves our grandchildren, we are hoping that they love us more. A whole lot more.
Judith Viorst is the author of many books for children and adults, including the recentAlexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days: An Almost Completely Honest Account of What Happened to Our Family When Our Youngest Son, His Wife, Their Baby, Their Toddler, and Their Five-Year-Old Came to Live with Us for Three Months. (For adults, especially grandmothers and, just in case, their adult children.)
PART THREE: What Counts
“Eye of My Heart” by Barbara Graham
For me, stepping into the shoes of a grandmother was sobering and thrilling, scary yet comforting. Although the coming of Isabelle Eva secured the continuity of some fragment of the ancestral essence I carry from my own Russian-Polish-German-Jewish stew—sparking in me an unexpected but palpable sense of relief—I was also acutely aware that her arrival moved me up a notch in the life cycle.
Barbara Graham is an essayist, author, playwright, and editor. Her essays and articles have appeared in many magazines—including O, the Oprah Magazine, where she has been a contributing writer, Glamour, National Geographic Traveler, Redbook, Tricycle, Time, Vogue, and Utne Reader—and have been collected in many anthologies. Graham is the author ofWomen Who Run with the Poodles, a satirical take on the dark side of the self-help movement. Her plays have been published by Dramatists Play Service and produced off-Broadway in New York and at theaters around the country. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, Hugh Delehanty.
“Gained in Translation” by Bharati Mukherjee
We gathered to hold a naming ceremony for a fourteen-month-old girl born in China and adopted by a father who is half-Bengali, a quarter Anglo-Dutch, a quarter French-Canadian; and a mother who is part German and Irish. There was no direction from priests, pastors, swamis, or monks. We were celebrating mixture, not purity; improvisation, not uncompromised ritual.
Bharati Mukherjee, an American citizen born and raised in Kolkata, India, is the author of seven novels and two short story collections, including The Middleman and Other Stories, which won the National Book Award. She has also cowritten two books of nonfiction with her husband, Clark Blaise. Mukherjee is a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.
“Déjà Vu” by Marcie Fitzgerald
I worry about our son’s future. He’ll be orphaned earlier than many children. That’s because in addition to being his adoptive parents, we’re also his grandparents.
Marcie Fitzgerald is the pseudonym of a writer who lives in the Midwest.
“The Owie Tree” by Sandra Benitez
Cutting my granddaughter’s cord somehow freed me from lifelong guilt and shame, from my history of brokenness. With a firm snip I was finally forgiven by the one who had never been capable of granting me forgiveness. I forgave myself.
Sandra Benitez is Puerto Rican and Midwestern by heritage. She is the author of four novels, including A Place Where the Sea Remembers andBitter Grounds. Her most recent book, Bag Lady: A Memoir, is her first work of nonfiction. She is the recipient of a 2004 award from the National Hispanic Heritage Foundation for Literature, a Gund Fellowship, and a winner of the United States Artists Award. She resides in Minnesota.
“Grandmothers Should Be Seen and Not Heard” by Anne Roiphe
Not speaking your mind is the number one commandment for grandparents.
Anne Roiphe is a journalist and the author of fourteen books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels Up the Sandbox and Lovingkindness, and 1185: A Memoir. She was a National Book Award finalist for her bookFruitful: A Real Mother in a Modern World, and has recently published a memoir: Epilogue. She has written essays and reviews for many publications and is currently a contributing editor of the Jerusalem Report.
“Making Memories” by Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Only by growing old can we witness our grandchildren growing older. It’s an existential trade-off. We lose years, they gain them.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin is a founding editor of Ms. magazine, a past president of the Authors Guild, and the author of nine books, most recently Three Daughters, a novel. She edited the anthology Stories for Free Children and was the editorial consultant on Marlo Thomas’s anthology Free to Be . . . You and Me; for her work on the television special based on the latter book, she won an Emmy Award. She is a columnist for Momentmagazine and her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, The Nation, and numerous other publications. She lives in New York City.
“On Becoming an Ancestor” by Ellen Gilchrist
The day my first grandchild was born I looked at him and knew I would never die.
Ellen Gilchrist, winner of the National Book Award for her collectionVictory Over Japan, is the author of more than twenty books, including novels, short stories, poetry, and a memoir. Her most recent book is A Dangerous Age, a novel. She lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“Everything That Goes Up Must Come Down” by Susan Griffin
In the eyes of our grandchildren, we are the past come to meet them, a living link ready to connect them to a larger lineage—their own history, ours, the history of the planet. We are the doorway to the vast continents of time that existed before they were born, and that will exist after they too die.
Susan Griffin is an award-winning poet, writer, essayist, playwright, and filmmaker. Her books include A Chorus of Stones—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award—as well as The Book of Courtesans, What Her Body Thought, Woman and Nature, and her latest book Wrestling with the Angel of Democracy. She is the recipient of an Emmy Award, a MacArthur Grant for Peace and International Cooperation, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Griffin’s essays and articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and Ms., among many other publications.
“Highway Helen” by Lynn Lauber
I had been encouraged to view my pregnancy as a detour in what might otherwise be an unblemished teenage life. In order to do this, certain inner rooms needed to be walled off. When I reunited with my daughter when she was twenty-five and I was forty-two, something long nonaligned in me began to shift. But it wasn’t until I saw my daughter nurse my granddaughter that I finally believed the facts of my own labor. Then my daughter handed her over to my clumsy arms and gave me a second chance.
Lynn Lauber’s essays and short stories have appeared in the New York Times and have been collected in several anthologies. Her books include White Girls, 21 Sugar Street, and Listen to Me: Writing Life into Meaning. She lives in Nyack, New York.