One of the worst effects of sappy, sentimental, maudlin takes on life -- like Beaver Cleaver’s family -- is how this kind of baloney makes us feel so alone with our real lives and relationships. Think how daring it was to put Archie Bunker’s flawed family center stage.
One of the most sensitive relationships subject to being presented as sugary nonsense is being a grandmother. Truth is, I have often felt alone in my role as a parenting grandmother. Making this subject the centerpiece of Spittin’ Grits was one way I could ward off feeling so alone in my reality.
So, how daring would it be to offer real portrayals about being a grandmother? Is that possible? Or are we destined to feel alone in this special, but often real, role as grandmother?
Editor and writer Barbara Graham has taken the daring approach in Eye of My Heart. She and 27 top-notch, award-winning women writers reveal the good, the sad, and the real about being a grandmother, and they are all from the heart. These prolific writers took the time to look at the special, even archetypal, relationship between a grandmother and grandchild and to share their always touching and tender stories that capture the reader's heart. It’s the real thing.
The book looks at what Graham notes is “the gap between this purest of loves and the realities of complex human entanglements.”
One pervasive theme runs through these essays by writers like Beverly Donofrio, Marcie Fitzgerald, Ellen Gilchrist, Marita Golden, Judith Guest, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Sallie Tisdale, Judith Viorst and others: The unbounded love grandmothers can feel for their grandchildren, despite whatever thorny or unhappy conditions make up the context.
The writers look at stressful family relationships, grandparents looking at their own parenting in a new way, watching your own daughter giving birth, grandparenting your children's step children from previous marriages, parenting your own grandchildren, living far away from the grandchildren, dealing with distance from grandchildren because of the emotional distance from your own children, fearing loss, fearing ineptness, having to be seen and not heard, and so many real situations.
An added bonus is how the essays throw the subject of parenthood into relief: Looking honestly at being a grandmother more clearly defines the outlines of being a mother, which can include a sense of failure or guilt or disappointment, along with the good feelings. Says Sharon Shreve,
“What a grandparent knows that a parent does not know are the years of small failures, of wishing you had been this kind of parent instead of that kind, of decisions made and revisions tried, then the slow, inevitable, terrible, wonderful breaking away.”
I agree with Mary Pipher in the introduction: “I am not the same person as a grandparent that I was a parent. I have different roles, different responsibilities, and a different perspective.”
Eye of My Heart also reminds me that being a parenting grandmother is different from being simply a grandmother. As Marcie Fitzgerald points out as a parenting grandparent, “It’s impossible to parent both my daughter and her son – and probably crazy to even try.”
I have to choose, which disallows my having some of the luxuries of being just a grandmother – total acceptance with abandon, being the easy pushover, loving with no real responsibility. It’s just my reality. Marita Golden offers a most useful reminder to me as a parent, woman, and grandmother:
“I’ve discovered that you become a woman the way you become human – over and over again – and both processes are rooted in surrendering to the reality of more pain than you may feel is fair, but pain woven into our earthly existence.”
Life is simply too real to be portrayed through Hearts-and-Flowers glasses. Sugar coating reality or offering solutions flown in by the Bluebird of Happiness offend sensibilities. Happiness-a-Day calendars inspire satire. Sappy e-mails deserve e-shredding.
So I’ll be giving my grandmothering friends a gift of Eye of My Heart during Holidays or birthdays or births of grandchildren.
Eye of My Heart is available through on-line book sellers like Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Eye-My-Heart-Pleasures-Grandmother/dp/0061474150/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1258229175&sr=1-1) and at local book retailers.