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Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting


Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting

Smitten. Smitten with Arthur, her first grandchild, who is simply perfect. Smitten with Quin, her son, who is shaping up beautifully as a new father. Smitten with herself, a first-time grandmother who finds astonishment and joy in Nanaville, a world she is creating. Anna Quindlen’s newest work, NANAVILLE: Adventures in Grandparenting, celebrates her earnest efforts to reframe herself as a secondary character in a supporting role. No matter the station in life of her readers or the status of grandchildren, each will resonate to the pure affection and her honest willingness to want to do her best at this new phase of life.

Quindlen fills the guide (yes, the word guide really comes to mind as she acknowledges again and again the right path and the not-right path to becoming part of a new family unit) with examples of lessons learned. But first, she thrills to her absolute infatuation with Arthur. She kisses the baby’s head and murmurs nonsense while waiting for tuna steaks at the market. She listens, for a very long time, to a spirited rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” via Arthur’s monitor. She lies in her bed awake for hours and watches him breathe (pulling her first all-nighter since college), so that his mother might rest. Her opening paragraph introduces Arthur by way of soft pillowy fingers on her leg, so light, so delicate, and by his sweet voice asking, “Nana.” We are swept into her rapture for a few moments until she clarifies that he is asking for a banana and simply cannot say all three syllables. She uses this useful demotion to show her place in Arthur’s world: supporting actor, no longer the lead.

"No matter the station in life of [Quindlen's] readers or the status of grandchildren, each will resonate to the pure affection and her honest willingness to want to do her best at this new phase of life."

“Did they ask you?” becomes her mantra after she chooses to say several things about a choice her son and daughter-in-law made regarding Arthur’s care. Several things said were several things too many, and it took a walk with her friend Susan for Quindlen to “get Nana religion.” She awakens to the understanding that her words must be employed judiciously when, and only when, asked. Exercise your storytelling abilities and enjoy the hand-me-down tales from the past, she says. Grandchildren will be interested in telephones with cords and television programs that required your presence, on your sofa, at the right time. And then she says, move on.

Quindlen sifts through wonderful examples of then and now, if only and what if, here’s what I did compared to what you did. She is able to distill these scenarios and learned conversations to just two commandments of Nanaville: Love the grandchildren, and hold your tongue. Quindlen’s pride in her daughter-in-law is connected to her own pride in becoming a treasured nana, and she takes time to list the “other possibilities” on how new mothers might turn out. Arthur’s parents are new at this game, and she gives generous praise to their wisdom and patience.

The most compelling concern in NANAVILLE is that none of us, Quindlen imagines, believed early on that grandparenting would be supremely satisfying and worthy. No one thought at age 25, “Someday I will get to be a grandmother.” Who among us grew up thinking that Candy Land played at age 70 was an endgame?

However, she does know that being remembered is acknowledgement that she has lived and loved. Mothers leave their children, and nanas leave their grandchildren with memories of love pats, snuggles at bedtime, and conversations in languages understood by only two people. Quindlen created her Nanaville with an understanding that she is building a heritage out of spare parts and that, perhaps, someday this legacy of memory will be all that is left of her.

Reviewed by Jane Krebs on April 26, 2019

Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting
by Anna Quindlen