It’s a complicated relationship, being a good grandparent, because it hinges on a series of other relationships… Because being a grandparent is determined by the relationship your child has with you, partly determined by the one a son or daughter has with his or her spouse, partly determined by the relationship you have with the person your child has chosen to have a child with.
Like so many books I read I picked Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting off the shelves of my little town’s library knowing almost nothing about it. It’s not on my list of to be read books and one of the basic reasons I picked it is that it was published recently, which is a minor reading goal of mine. I’m sort of embarrassed to admit now that I have never read anything that Anna Quindlen has written and I did not realize she is the mammoth fiction and nonfiction writer she is until I was finished with Nanaville and looked her up.
Nanaville is a short and sweet memoir chronicling Quindlen’s relatively recent conversion into grandparent from parent. Beginning with the initial transformation, which is actually a moment she recognizes herself having given her heart in full to her grandson rather than the moment of his birth (though that also features near the beginning of the book), Quindlen writes earnestly about how strange becoming a grandparent is after being a parent, which is really the only way you become a grandparent in the first place. Her humor is frank but not brash and she is direct but thoughtful. I love how she slices in actual memories throughout the chapters and how these vignettes take on a different tone than the reflections she posits on grandparenting versus parenting. I like the way she writes about herself and her family, with a softness that feels anchored in understanding and openness. I like that she, clearly a privileged individual, recognizes this through her writing in subtle ways, and in more direct ways when it comes to understanding the racial and ethnic differences her children and grandchildren will face.
I think not everyone will necessarily be interested in reading this because it is such a very specific viewpoint that talks about such a very specific time in our lives that, as Quindlen points out, we don’t really think about till it comes about for us as an individual. But that is yet another reason I like this book so much. We don’t read a lot, or at least I have not read or heard very much, about this particular point of view in literature.
Ultimately, I loved this book most because it resonated so much with a life I am living now, despite not being a grandparent. I wonder if I did pick Nanaville out because I find myself as the mother of a two year old who recently (4 months ago) moved to a small town from a big city with my mother to live next door to my mother and father in law. When I have told people this they give me a look or make a joke and I chuckle along with them. But the truth is I get along really well with my whole family, the immediate and the in laws. For me, I cannot stress how magical it has been to have grandparents literally next to us for my daughter. I watch her with them and I am so happy we made this choice because her life will be special and different, and because she will likely have grandparents in place of siblings (since I will not be having any more children). But of course there is stress that comes with this arrangement and one of Quindlen’s chapters talks so beautifully about the strange balance and boundaries that must be set as the grandparent but also the strange gaps that can manifest between mother and grandmother. Quindlen’s book helped illuminate some of the gaps that I may have allowed to grow between my daughter’s grandmothers and myself. She has reminded me to be gentler with them and also myself through her stories.
For me, this book was a small and simple treasure. I can’t say everyone will have the same experience reading it but it was a quick read so I hope people will give it a shot regardless.