This is the gift of the grandchildren…

As a grandmother of seven and a prolific reader, the title Unconditional Love, A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today by Jane Isay grabbed my attention. Ms. Isay is a former editor of Yale University Press and this is her fourth book. The book is well researched and draws heavily from Ms. Isay’s own experience, as well as from the hundreds of interviews she conducted with grandparents.

The book is written as a guide to help grandparents navigate their new role in a manner which keeps family conflicts to a minimum and strives for harmony. When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure it was for me. The beginning focused on “grandparent prep” with suggestions on how to get up-to-date on the mores of today. Since I no longer have any infant grandchildren, I have no reason to check out Websites and blogs discussing the pros and cons of babies sleeping with parents. Then I got to the section where the reader was asked to close their eyes and take themselves back in time to the months when their child was first born. The frustration of not knowing how to calm your baby, the panic when a feeding didn’t go right, no shower, no sleep and no end in sight. Even though it’s been decades, I could still feel the fatigue and isolation. And even though the baby days are long behind my daughters-in-law, I wanted to go hug them all and take them out for a cocktail. And while they are hopefully all getting to sleep through the night at this point, the challenges of parenting continue. No matter how many books or internet articles you read, parenting is still on the job training.

Ms. Isay acknowledges that when our children take on the responsibilities of parenthood, they also take on new power. They get to set the rules! With a grandparent’s years of experience and perspective of time, some of these rules may seem silly, but they are to be respected. And who doesn’t want respect?

Just as much of parenting is learn as you go, so is grandparenting. Isay doesn’t provide you with a definitive list of things to do to be the perfect grandparent. But she does provide oodles of real life experiences. I was inspired by stories from the different grandparents who were interviewed for the book. Many found grandparenting to be a second chance, an opportunity to provide grandchildren with the time and attention they couldn’t afford their own children. My grandchildren consist of a single child, a set a three brothers and a set of three sisters. It is normally quite hectic when we are visiting one of the sets of three. This book reminded me of the importance of carving out some time alone with each child, even if it’s simply a walk around the block. The benefits of a grandparents individual attention are priceless.

The book also addresses the issues of grandparents who become caregivers when their children are incapable of parenting, long-distance grandparenting and fairness with time, money and resources in a straight forward manner. Unconditional Love was worth my time. I picked up a few thoughts on how to maintain close relationships with my grandchildren as they grow older. What I most appreciated was the reassurance that grandparents can be a powerful influence on how grandchildren show up in the world and that our time and conversations with them will exist as “tiny shards of color in the great mosaic of understanding.”

I want my grandchildren to feel unconditionally loved. I grew up without grandparents, but I was extremely lucky to have my beloved Aunt Ruby who exemplified unconditional love. I can only remember one occasion when she even came close to being short with me. I was nine years old and my younger brother and I had been spending a week with her and my uncle during our summer vacation from school. We had cousins who lived in the same town and we spent hours playing together, running in and out of Aunt Ruby’s house. On the day my parents were coming to pick us up, she was busy cleaning house and preparing food for their arrival. We must have run into the house once too often. She told us to go outside and stay outside and not come back in unless the house was on fire. We did as we were told and were well rewarded. A neighbor started a fire in a burn barrel, an ember blew over into the yard and started a grass fire. We were full of smug self-righteousness as we marched back into the house to announce the yard was on fire! But being Aunt Ruby, she simply came out into the yard, put out the minor grass fire and went back to work. I am lucky she is a part of the mosaic of my life.

C’est la vie.

Sundays with Stormy…

The calendar says it’s the first Sunday in November and as Mr. Smith and I drive I-80 across Pennsylvania and Ohio, the fall foliage agrees.  We’re on a mini-vacation which includes visits with all our grandchildren.  Mr. Smith is doing the vast majority of driving, so I am free to admire the fading fall colors and let my mind wander.  As well as thinking about some plans for the approaching holiday season, I reflected on the past couple of months and decided I wanted to provide a recap of my life in the not so fast lane!


I just finished reading The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman.  It takes place in Nazi-occupied France between 1941 and 1944. Following the lives of three young women and their struggle to survive, the main theme for me was the strength of a mother’s love.  The book weaves history and myth. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to like it since myth and folklore aren’t genres I normally gravitate towards.  Hoffman’s writing is so beautiful I was able to suspend my belief system and accept the premise of the story.  I believe it is well worth your time to read.

Next up for me is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.   I read it many years ago with my book group back in Indiana and now I’ll be reading is with My Three Son’s Book Group.   It will be a fine read from my perch up in my nest, while watching for the first snowflakes to fall.


Recently on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, Mr. Smith and I decided we needed to blow the stink off and get out of the apartment.  We grabbed our umbrellas and headed out to the movie theater to see Downton Abbey.  We had enjoyed the series and decided an afternoon our old friends Mr. Carson, Mrs. Hughes and all the others would be as comforting as a cup of tea and a biscuit.  While it had its moments, I agree with Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times, “Lacking the nutritious story lines of the past, the movie is mainly empty calories.”  My favorite scene is near the end and involves the Dowager Countess played by the marvelous Maggie Smith.  For those who haven’t seen the movie, I’ll leave it at that.

A couple of weeks later, Mr. Smith and I were faced with another rainy, gloomy Sunday afternoon.  But this time we were happy to stay in, pop some popcorn and watch On the Basis of Sex.  We’re a little behind on our movie watching as this movie came out last year but I’m so glad we’re catching up!  If you haven’t seen this yet, I highly recommend it.  The movie is based on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s early legal career and her fight against sex discrimination.  Her nephew, Daniel Stiepleman, wrote the script.  Some reviewers thought the movie didn’t do justice to Justice Ginsburg, but I thought it was fascinating to see her start her journey towards being the notorious RBG! By the way, RBG has seen the movie three times.  I might do that also.

My Best Friend

I thought you might enjoy a little update on my best friend!  Rest easy that we are still as close as ever.  Mr. Smith and I needed to deliver a tub of building blocks to our granddaughter Eleanor on our road trip.  With rain forecasted for the day we were going to leave, I wanted to get them loaded into the car the night before.  With Mr. Smith at work, I again called on my friend and she came through for me.  The tub was too heavy for me to lift, so I simply loaded the majority of blocks into a bag in the cart and then we were off to the elevator.  I think it’s time that I take my loyal friend out for a pedicure.

If you check back on Wednesday, I’ll tell you about my favorite November 2019 issue magazine!

C’est la vie.

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.