Whether it means playing the role from afar via e-mail or taking the burden away from a child by raising a grandchild, the contributors to Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother care fiercely about their families. Devoted grandmothers, they are also remarkable, passionate writers.
The topic of these essays may ostensibly be the same, the stories aren’t. Beverly Lowry, who lost a son at age 18, writes of the joy in welcoming a grandson to, “fill up the space in her arms where a different boy used to be.”
But the role of grandmother doesn’t come to everyone automatically. Susan Shreve remembers her mother as “the perfect Norman Rockwell figure of a grandmother,” a storytelling confidante with enough high-heeled shoes, makeup, and silky skirts to entertain her daughter through long hours of dress-ups.
Then Shreve laments: “I wish I shared her clarity about the role of grandmother.”
In fact, several writers note the difficulty of figuring out how to proceed. As many of these women learn, the job is entirely dependent on someone else. Having the proper credentials makes no difference. What matters most is the degree to which your offspring will allow you in.
The challenge of figuring out the duties of a proper grandmother – or a rebellious one – looms large to some of the writers here. Should you discipline? Be a best friend? In “The Age Thing,” Kate Lehrer knows she has much to share: “hard-earned experience, as well as the pleasure, passions, and pain that accrue over many years.”
Most look to their own and their children’s grandmothers, and some reject that model. In today’s world, their grandchildren will have different memories. No aprons, fewer homemade jars of jam and butterscotch pies, more trips to a dude ranch or the Metropolitan Museum.
Grandchildren here are every color and occasionally they are connected by tenuous bonds. A mother who gave up her own daughter for adoption is reunited with her and soon presented with a granddaughter. Blended families reach out and embrace grandmothers married to biological granddads.
This collection is not a self-help book, although there is plenty of advice – the kind gained from real experience. So many different perspectives and vantage points are woven seamlessly that no matter what their personal relationship to the word “grandmother” is, readers will find much to make them laugh out loud – and also to break their hearts. Fearful and celebratory experiences exist side by side, often defying understanding.
But the perfect prose and joyful stories, at the very least, will help parents and children to rethink the newly reinvented and evolving roles of grandmothers.