Tag Archives: grandparents

The Choices I Make

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My daughter said it with me standing right there.  “My mother,” she said, “is not a cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

I was startled at the description of what I am not, but I couldn’t possibly take offense.  In the first place, she said it so cheerfully.  In the second, what she said is so true.

I was a bread-baking-from-scratch, hands-on-up-to-my-elbows mother.  But that was a long time ago.  And the first years of that kind of full-throttle commitment came before I went to work.  The work I’m referring to is my day after day, year after year commitment to writing.

Writing was only a guilty hobby until the aforementioned daughter, who was the younger of my children, started first grade.  But in the space her absence opened for me, I decided to make my writing my work.

In those years before my children’s books had garnered much notice, writing was an ideal career for a stay-at-home mom.  I was there, right there, every time my kids came through the door.  I might be at the typewriter—my early books were written on a manual, portable Smith Corona typewriter that had been my high school graduation gift in 1956—but I was there.

Sometimes, inevitably, my two children and my occasional foster children resented that typewriter, though they did come to appreciate its issue.

When Peter was in sixth or seventh grade, he said to me one day, “You know, Mom.  Kids at school talk to me all the time about your books.”

“What kids?” I asked.

“Oh”—and he ducked his head and blushed a bit—“girls.”

When Beth-Alison was very young, she accepted her mother-the-writer as she accepted the rest of the fabric of her life.  By the time she entered junior high, though, she was beginning to resent the time I spent off in storyland.

One day in response to her complaints I said, “Do you know what your life would be like if I weren’t writing?  You would be my job.  Every day when you got home from school I’d be at the door waiting for you.  ‘Tell me about your day.’ I’d say. ‘Tell me everything you did.’  And you would hate it!”

She grew up knowing she never wanted to be a writer.  In fact, having witnessed my long, slow process with so little result, she always said she couldn’t think of a worse job.  But she wanted very much to be a self-employed, working-out-of-her-home mother.  And she made that happen.

They were both interesting if not always useful critics of my work, too.

Beth-Alison used to beg me to write just one best seller.  “So our family will have some money.”  (Their dad is an Episcopal priest.  Not much money in that.)  “After that,” she always promised me, “you can go back to writing what you want.”

Peter once said, “Mom, when you write about sex, you write about it like it’s no big deal.  If you’d write about it like it was a big deal, every kid in school would read your books.”

I listened to them both and went on writing what is given to me to write.

By the time grandchildren arrived, my career had come to be a more complex entity.  I was teaching at Vermont College of Fine Arts, traveling back and forth from Minneapolis, and traveling frequently to lecture, too.

I missed the birth of my sole granddaughter in a gaggle of grandsons because I was in Vermont when she arrived.  And for their entire lives I have been, I’ll admit, a busy grandma.  If not always busy out there in the world, then busy at home pecking away at my computer.

Still, I did manage to gather them up—mostly the ones who were available to me by living close—and take them to the Children’s Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra and the Arboretum and the zoo and sometimes even to the indoor amusement park at the Mall of America.  (In case you have never experienced an indoor amusement park, I can tell you it fits my vision of hell perfectly.)

Marion and Grandchildren

When each grandchild, near or far, turned nine, we went on an intergenerational Elderhostel trip.

Do you hear a note of self-justification in my voice?

Usually, though, I’ll admit I’ve been here at my desk pecking away at a keyboard.

And aware every day that this is the choice I’m making.

The grandchildren are mostly grown now, in college or launched into the world, and I love them and am intrigued by them and proud of them and sometimes just a little sad about them, as well.  I know I missed a lot by not being a “cookie-baking, babysitting grandma.”

What brings up this reverie is a conversation I had recently with a writer friend who is caring for her infant grandchild a couple of days a week.  “Sometimes,” I said, “I regret I didn’t do more of that.”

“Sometimes,” she replied, “I regret that I didn’t take my writing more seriously sooner, that I don’t take it seriously enough now.”

And I thought, For every choice . . . a gain, a loss.

Am I sad about the choices I’ve made?  Not at all.  But wouldn’t it be fine if life allowed us to have it both ways?

A Celebration That Lasts

The Stuff of StarsHaving a new book making its appearance in the world is always exciting, and The Stuff of Stars is creating more excitement than usual. Especially for me.

My most recent book had its birthday on September 5th and the days surrounding that have been thrilling. As of this writing, The Stuff of Stars, a picture book, has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. (A starred review marks a book as one of the best of the season.) And, last I checked, it had a five-star rating at Amazon, and GoodReads had come in at 4.49.

One of the responses that satisfies me most, though, came in an email from an earth scientist who was thrilled with its accuracy.

I won’t say that I was surprised. I worked very hard, read very hard, thought very hard to achieve scientific accuracy, nonscientist that I am. When I take technical information and condense it to its absolute basics, the possibilities of skewing the information are nearly endless. Especially in so complex a field and one that is growing and changing every day.

I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief … before returning to the celebration.

All this celebration, though, is temporary. In a few months even I will forget the rush of these early days. The best thing about seeing my words—and Ekua Holmes’ magnificent art—appear in book form is knowing they are here to stay.

Ekua Holmes illustration from The Stuff of Stars

illustration from The Stuff of Stars, copyright Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)

For a long while The Stuff of Stars will be touching lives.

All books touch for a moment. Some stay for a long time.

The good folks who manage my website, Winding Oak, have come up with a brilliant idea for a way this small book can go on making a difference. An idea I never would have thought of. And it’s perfect.

The Stuff of Stars is a celebration of birth, the birth of our universe, the birth of our planet, the birth of each child. Winding Oak has proposed that the book be used not just to welcome a new baby into the world but as a core part of that child’s yearly birthday celebration.

The book can be opened to its gorgeous swirling endpapers, part of Ekua’s design created from her own handmade paper, and the baby’s photo—perhaps even an ultrasound photo—or a photo of those who love the baby can be pasted inside the front cover to become a permanent part of the book.

The Stuff of Stars endpapers with photos

Considering affixing your photos to the endpapers for a lifetime of memories.

Then, when each birthday rolls around, someone can read the book to the child, a photo can be taken of the reading, and that can be pasted in, too!

Imagine the memories created by such repeated, quiet, exquisitely celebratory reading moments. Imagine the life-long memento the book will come to be!

When I think of my small effort becoming part of a child’s, a person’s life … well!

The warmth of that idea will stay with me for a long, long time.

To see more about using The Stuff of Stars as a part of a yearly celebration go to the resources on my website.

And start your own birthday tradition with a loved child.