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Wondrous Child: The Joys and Challenges of Grandparenting

Not a Practical Grandparenting Guide

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30 essays about the joys and challenges of grandparenting comprise Wondrous Child.

The magical mood of the cover art carries over into this diverse collection of essays.

Photo © North Atlantic Books
Look at the cover of Wondrous Child, and you'll know that you have in your hands a grandparenting book that's a little bit different. The cover image by Maggie Taylor depicts a masked child with feathered antennae being circled by tethered luna moths. It's hard to describe, but it works, and so does this assortment of essays about grandparenting. There's a distinct emphasis on the emotional and spiritual rather than the physical and practical.

Settling In; Balancing Reality and Hope

The publisher of Wondrous Child is North Atlantic Books, located in Berkeley, California, and the authors are active in pursuits such as Zen, Sufi, dance therapy, history and psychology. Does this mean that they have nothing to say to Middle America? Emphatically it does not. The journeys detailed in these 30 essays are ones that many grandparents have traveled.

The first two sections of the book are titled "Settling In" and "Balancing Reality and Hope." Both sections deal with the modern grandparent's quest: What is a grandparent, and how can I fulfill my grandparenting role? Needless to say, there are diverse answers to these questions, but I don't think there's a grandparent alive who won't identify with the settling in process.

In Sharon Bray's "Confessions of a New Step-Grandparent," the author becomes a grandmother when her daughter marries the father of three children. Bray admits to Googling "stepgrandparenting" for advice and finding the search results not terribly helpful. (I'm humbled by knowing that my articles on stepgrandparenting may have been some of those that she found and deemed inadequate.) When her daughter becomes pregnant, she finds that all the advice to avoid favoritism is moot. "My heart was in Nathan's tiny fist the moment I took him in my arms," she writes. The story of how her grandmother's heart stretches to encompass all of the grandchildren in her life is worth the price of admission.

Editor Lindy Hough contributes "Listening to Leo," about how grandchildren and grandparents can inspire each other's imaginative lives. Other stand-outs include Judith Weaver's "Grandparenting With a Broken Heart," about reconciling one's deepest beliefs with the reality of grandparenting, and Keith Dalton's "Love Through the Distances," an account of the difficulties of forging a new romantic relationship while trying to be the grandfather his family expects him to be.

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

The third section is devoted to pieces by grandparents who have taken on the parenting role, a transmutation that Hough describes in the Introduction as a "perilous business," and indeed it is. Three grandparents whose stories I know through their blogs--Karen Best Wright, Joanne Maurits and John Lunn--are joined by three others to give insights into this mostly modern phenomenom. Lenora Madison Poe tells about her support group, Grandparents as Parents. JoAnn Wynn shares the diary entries that help her stay sane as she parents her grandchildren. Avery Bradford tells of the heartbreak when a daughter proves not emotionally capable of being a mother.

Grandparents-as-parents vary tremendously in their situations and in their responses to those situations. Some, like John Lunn, are co-parents. Some, like Wright and Maurits, eventually return the parenting role to the parents, with all of the pain that such a switch involves. The primary impression of this fascinating section is that the grandparenting role is plastic, not fixed. Grandparents will do whatever they are needed to do. "When I was a child," Maurits writes, "I thought that my parents were finished growing, that they were complete because they were grown-up. I believed this to be true of all adults, that they had finished the voyage and arrived at some mysterious place that I was heading toward. Now I realize that the journey never ends." Amen.

Grandchildren Remember

This section breaks away from most grandparenting books by offering a section for adults to remember their grandparents. Nancy Hathaway writes about her Native American heritage and the grandmother's lap that she never sat in. Lauren Aczon remembers her Filipino grandmother, a force to be reckoned with during Aczon's early years and a tenuous telephone connection during her college years. Other essays depict the role of grandparents in Sri Lankan, Russian, Japanese and Italian families. These stories from different cultures reinforce what we already know: No matter how we identify ourselves, grandparents are important in our worlds. It's as David Jackson Cook writes in "The Collapse." "My grandfather is dying, and nothing can replace him. There is no other him."

The Bottom Line

I feel enriched and empowered by these grandparenting stories. Do they offer answers? Not really. But wise grandparents know that in this new role, as in parenting, we have to find our own ways. Sharing others' grandparenting journeys lets us know that we're not in one-size-fits-all territory. We don't have to be the indulgent grandmother of myth or the harpy grandmother of sitcom land. As we become grandparents through receiving a wondrous child into our lives, we tap into the wondrous child that lives inside each of us.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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