“Finally, a look at grandmothering that is decidedly unsentimental. These clear-eyed essays offer humor and insight as they take on the multigenerational lives many of us now lead.” –Cokie Roberts, author of We Are Our Mothers' Daughters
In this groundbreaking collection, twenty-seven smart, gutsy writers explode the clichés and tell the real stories about what it's like to be a grandmother in today's world. Among the contributors:
- Judith Viorst exposes the high-stakes competition for Most Adored Nana
- Anne Roiphe learns to keep her mouth shut and her opinions to herself
- Elizabeth Berg marvels at witnessing her child give birth to her child
- Judith Guest confesses her failed attempt to be the perfect grandmother
- Jill Nelson grapples with unforeseen mother-daughter tensions
- Ellen Gilchrist reveals how grandparenthood has eased her fear of death
- Beverly Donofrio makes amends for her shortcomings as a teenage mother
- Bharati Mukherjee transcends her Hindu upbringing to embrace her adopted Chinese granddaughters
- Mary Pipher deconstructs the role of grandmother in our changing world
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Eye of My Heart
27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother
Your Sixty-Year-Old: Friend or Foe?
Annika at three knows what she likes and doesn't like, and she doesn't like me. "Oma came all the way to Amsterdam just to see you," my daughter Rachel tells her. "Isn't that exciting?" Annika freezes at the foot of the stairs. She has grown into a leggy beauty with hair so long it drifts down the small of her back. But she is still in diapers, I see, still drags a blanket, still has one of those damn binkies in her mouth.
"Hi, darling," I say.
Annika's eyes shift to Rachel.
"Oops," Rachel says to me. "I'm sorry, Mom, I forgot. You'll have to move. You're sitting on Annika's couch."
"Annika has her own couch?"
Rachel nods and gestures to a less comfortable chair. Creaking, I rise. "She likes to have her morning bottle," Rachel explains, "on her own couch."
"She still takes a bottle?" Too late to mask my disapproval, I add, "Where is it? I'll get it for her."
"Nay," says Annika. It's the Dutch "nay," brief and bestial.
"She likes me to give it to her," Rachel explains as she goes into the kitchen.
I bet she does. My eyes narrow as Annika advances head down to claim her couch. She passes me as swiftly as a little ferret, clambers onto the cushions, and stretches out, draping the blanket over her body with two expert flicks until only her ten tiny toes stick out. Her right hand darts to the table, plucks the remote control, and snaps the television on. A brightly colored cartoon from the BBC channel begins toblare. She pulls the binkie out with a pop.
"Mama," she says in a firm voice.
"Coming," Rachel calls from the kitchen.
And in bustles Rachel, my genius daughter, who speaks six languages, has a Ph.D. in genetics, writes for international science magazines, heads a cancer research lab in Utrecht, and is two and a half months pregnant with a second baby. Last night when she met my train at Schiphol, she told me she and her partner, Scott, know they "cannot improve on perfection," but perhaps this new one will be a boy. Scott appears now at the foot of the stairs, tiptoeing across the living room in his long Indonesian bathrobe. His camera is already pointed at Annika, who juts out her chin and gives him a practiced smile before she accepts the bottle of warmed milk from Rachel's hand and plunges it into her mouth.
"Where is dolphie?" Scott sings.
Eyes on the television, Annika thrusts her left hand up. Palmed inside is a small blue china dolphin. Scott snaps the picture, then turns to me and chuckles. "She won't go anywhere without her dolphie."
"Doesn't it break?"
"All the time. But Papa glues it back again, doesn't Papa?" He kneels and kisses Annika's furrowed forehead. She shoves him away. He laughs and kisses her fist. She hits him. I can't look.
"You slept with a sock monkey," I say to Rachel.
Rachel smiles. Her lovely face. All three of my daughters are beautiful, but Rachel, my second, the one who has chosen to live farthest away, has the moon face and full lips of a goddess. "I did?" Her voice is mild. She does not remember her monkey.
I do. I remember everything about Rachel at three. Her monkey, her pillow, her long reasonable sentences. At three, Rachel was toilet-trained, bottle-weaned; already using knife, fork, and cup with ease; able to tie her own shoes, read a few words, and engage strangers with grace. I turn to my granddaughter. "I brought you some presents."
"Did you hear that?" Scott exaggerates enthusiasm, his eyebrows shooting up. "Oma brought you presents all the way from California!"
Annika turns her head on the couch and studies me, the bottle protruding like a platypus snout beneath her assessing eyes.
"Shall we open them now?" Scott crouches, camera poised, ready for the "Annika Opens Presents" shot.
Annika turns back to the television.
"Aw," Scott says. "Please? Pretty please with kafir on top?" He turns to me. "She's not a morning person," he says.
Annika is not a breakfast person either. She sits on Rachel's lap at the dining room table and slowly licks salt, grain by grain, off half of one cashew as the rest of us eat cheese and fruit and sprinkle chocolate, as the Dutch do, Scott assures me, on our hot buttered toast. "Delicious," I suggest, holding out a piece, but Annika turns her head away. During the rest of that day—but who's counting—she licks the salt off the other half of the same cashew. At some point she accepts a small square yellow cracker and eats one corner. "It's funny"—Rachel laughs—"because we're vegetarians and yet Annika has never tasted a vegetable!"
"Aren't you worried she'll get scurvy?"
Rachel laughs again. Annika, bent over her cashew, drily parrots the sound, "Ha ha ha." The child is not without wit. Also, despite the lack of nutrients, she has energy. This day, the first day of my visit, she tours Amsterdam, dolphin in fist, riding Scott's shoulders as we peer into Anne Frank's house, take a barge down one of the canals, and pass through the red-light district on our way to an outdoor café. A whore in a window doing leg lifts waves to her and Annika waves back. Her laughter, when Scott is whipped into an obliging gallop, ripples like a wake of bright bubbles, and even the tall grim Dutch passing us on the sidewalk smile.
That night she agrees to open her presents. She dismisses the lilac tutu I brought ("You used to want to be a ballerina," I sigh to the amnesiac Rachel), ignores the toys and books, but seems to approve of the embroidered denim jacket from the breathtakingly expensive children's boutique in Berkeley. She lets me read to her, and the next morning she allows me to hand her the bottle. I am deeply honored and kneel for a second, as Scott did the day before, to kiss her forehead. She does not strike me.Eye of My Heart
27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother. Copyright (c) by Barbara Graham . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.