My Phantom Daughter…

In the spring of 1986, I was the stay-at-home mom of three little boys, all under six.  It was an active, noisy household to say the least! My daily routine consisted of picking up, laundry, cooking, cleaning and MORE picking up all while negotiating peace in the valley. My sister-in-law, Patrice (also a member of the mother of three boys club), provided some welcome distraction from the everyday minutia of family life one day that spring when she sent me the best kind of card – a card for no reason.  Tucked inside my card was a newspaper article she had clipped from The New York Times, My Phantom Daughter.  The author of the article had named her first child a somewhat androgynous first name.  The wife of one of her husband’s law partners concluded from that name that the baby must be a girl and sent a gift of a pretty little pink dress.  The new mother whose new baby was a boy, ended up keeping the dress which was eventually joined by a pink cardigan and other “girly” items.  She kept these items tucked away in a bottom drawer for reasons of her own.  For reasons of my own, the article truly resonated with me.  Even though I was perfectly happy being the mother of my three sons, I had my own “pink box” tucked away.  I read and reread the column a few times and then tucked it away with some other keepsakes.

Over a decade later I pulled that column back out.  I wanted to use it and other writings I had saved through the years as party favors for my book group.  Back in 1986 the author’s name hadn’t meant anything to me.  In 1999, I was astonished to see it was written by one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen! In the intervening years, I had devoured her novels Object LessonsOne True Thing and Black and Blue. When she wrote the column I had squirreled away so many years ago, she was spending several weeks writing the Hers column for The New York Times.  This was a forum for writing by women featuring a different author every few weeks. I no longer have the column my sister-in-law had so kindly snipped for me, but thanks to the digital age we currently live in, I was able to find it in a New York minute on the internet. My Phantom Daughter.

Ms. Quindlen went on to have three children – two boys and a girl.  In 2016, she joined me in the grandmother club which led her to write her delightful book, Nanaville.  As always, she writes from her heart, with a combination of humor and intelligence.  

Nanaville is filled with the author’s wit and wisdom about grandparenting, along with vignettes of moments with her grandson Arthur. Most grandmothers will relate to many of the moments she shares and identify with the extraordinary relationship.  I knew exactly what she was feeling when she wrote “Sometimes Arthur sees me and yells “Nana!” in the way some people might say “ice cream” or “shoe sale!”  No one has been that happy to see me in many, many years.”  Those words are very similar to some I have shared with Mr. Smith in the past when talking about my own grandchildren and how it feels when they call your name and greet you with a full body hug.

A pesky challenge in grandparenting – one that challenges the best intentioned of us – is how and when to give our progeny the benefit of all our hard-earned parental knowledge. Ms. Quindlen was relating to her good friend what had transpired between her and her son when she ventured to give her opinion on sending her new grandson to preschool.  Her son pushed back hard, politely, but hard.  The friend just looked at Anna and said, “Did they ask you?”  And therein lies the lesson of this book.  “Where once I led, I have to learn to follow.”

It is obvious from the book that Ms. Quindlen treasures her new role as Nana, even as she endeavors to find her exact role and where the boundaries are.  But isn’t that pretty much every relationship in life?

I no longer have my pink box, nor do I have any need for it.  Life has gifted me with three beautiful daughters-in-law who have welcomed me into their lives, starting even before Emily married Emmet when she invited me to go wedding dress shopping with her and her mother.  

And I am now grandmother of four fabulous granddaughters.  Four little firecrackers who bring a whole new dimension to Mr. Smith and my lives.  They are more likely to choose “rainbow” as their favorite color than pink and believe me, they all think outside the (pink) box.  

C’est la vie.

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