Grandparenting: Sprinkling a Little Stardust

Read Charlotte Canelli’s column in the December 6, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

As a young child, I was blessed to have two grandmothers in my life. Although we moved to another coast when I was the tender age of six, my grandmothers’ unconditional love followed me across the country.

My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother, so it was my maternal grandmother – my Nana – who had the most influence on my life. My family was not wealthy and in the 1960s phone calls were costly and air travel prohibitively expensive. Yet, I delighted in reading Nana’s frequent and newsy letters. I cherished Nana’s holiday phone calls and treasured her simple, yet heartfelt, Christmas gifts. Our visits were infrequent but immeasurably memorable. As a fifteen-year old, I sobbed inconsolably when she departed our home and crossed the country to her home in New England after a three-month visit with us.

When Nana was nearing 80 years old, she traveled the 3000 miles to California again – this time to my wedding. Some years later, I made a special trip across the country to introduce her to my first-born daughter. For a few years, I lived close enough to her to enjoy Thanksgiving in her home in Milford, Massachusetts, the town where I was born.

Still, it was not until I was a new mother myself that I realized that I was singing the songs that my Nana had sung to me when I was a very young child. The emotional breadth of those moments reliving my Nana’s bosomy, loving, and comforting lap crept into my consciousness after becoming a mother and in the years since. I hear her voice in my heart and her music in my soul and it reminds me repeatedly how fortunate I was to have my Nana in my life.

When Nana became frighteningly ill sometime in my late twenties, I visited her in the hospital, and I was overcome with fear that she would die without understanding how important she was to me. I will always be grateful for that visit when I gained the courage to reveal my devotion for her even though she recovered and lived for another four or five years.

In “Mr. Rogers Talks with Parents” (1983) Fred Rogers tells the story of his maternal grandfather, Fred McFeely’s impact on his life. “Fred” he said, “you made this day a special day by being yourself. Always remember there’s just one person in this world like you … and I like you just the way you are!”

Wise Fred Rogers described it over thirty years ago: “A grandparent is a special kind of ally … that includes being lovable and loving”.

Very recently, I became a Nana myself. My granddaughter, Phoebe was born this past October, and the amazing journey between a grandmother and a granddaughter has begun. The ancient bonds of the ages – those between the generations, miraculously synthesize as the lullabies of my past become a symphony of a new life as I cuddle my granddaughter Phoebe and am overcome with strains of unconditional grandmotherly love.

There is profound wisdom and amazing insight in “Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother”, edited by Barbara Graham. The titled essay, “Eye of My Heart” by Barbara Graham is painful to read because Graham had to accept living across the ocean from her grandchild, Isabelle Eva. That essay (Ten Straight Days) is only one that brought me to tears. Roxana Robinson’s essay (Nana) describes the moments waiting for her daughter to give birth to her granddaughter, Lucy. I, too, waited and bit my nails. I, too, cried with relief and disbelief when I received the phone telling me that I was Nana to an amazingly precious new life. Robinson’s words are perfect: “She was so new, I could hardly bring myself to hold her. She was so important, I could hardly bear the thought of giving her up”.

Other essays in “Eye of My Heart” by writers Elizabeth Berg, Judith Guest, Judith Viorst and Susan Shreve describe the delightful moments and the breathtaking realization of the gift of grandmotherhood.

There are some other terrific books about grandparenting in the Minuteman Library Network. “Long-Distance Grandparenting: Connecting with Your Grandchildren from Afar” (2008) by Wilma Willis Gore explains why taking one grandchild at a time benefits everyone – parent, grandchild and grandparent.

“The Simple Joys of Grandparenting: Stories, Nursery Rhymes, Recipes, Games, Crafts, and More” by Abigail R. Gehring (2012) is full of things like instructions for making sock puppets and chocolate fudge. “The Grandparent Guide: The Definitive Guide to Coping with the Challenges of Modern Grandparenting” (2002) by Arthur Kornhaber, M.D. might be a bit outdated in 2013 but has some great advice nonetheless. For seven years, I have been helping to raise my husband’s fifteen year-old grandson, Colin. The challenges inherent in raising a teenager at our age are awesome.

A 2010 revised version of “Grandloving: Making Memories with Your Grandchildren by Sue Johnson, Julie Carlson and Elizabeth Bower includes “expanded sections on Skyping, texting and social networking” with your grandchildren including Facebook, YouTube, Flickr andTwitter.

Other books about grandparenting can be fun and practical. In 2004, television personality and weatherman Willard Scott wrote “If I Knew It Was Going to Be This Much Fun, I Would Have Become a Grandparent First”. The Wellesley Free Library (in the Minuteman Library Network) has wonderful kits to loan to grandparents. Included in the kits are books for day tripping in the Boston area, maps and tips, games and activities.

Writer Alex Haley wrote “Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children”. It doesn’t take a book to learn to “sprinkle a little stardust” – it seems to come naturally to most of us. But if you’d like help finding any of these books or placing them on hold in the library catalog, call the library at 781-769-0200.

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