Reading Matters for May 2016 (Part One)

As a kid in grammar school and even through jr. high and high school, I disliked reading books because I could not choose what I wanted to read. (Even today I do not belong to a book club for the same reason, even if I get a turn to pick one book a year.) Mostly I read magazines and avoided any kind of books, except maybe Nancy Drew mysteries. I missed a lot!

In college, however, my freshman English professor, Dr. Robert Butler, a blonde cutie who always wore bow ties, gave us a reading list covering many categories and told us to read a few thousand pages for the semester. BUT, we could discontinue a book we did not like and still count the pages already read. That was my green light, and now I love to read, stopping when I find a book I do not like, and picking only those I wish to read. But if someone recommends a book and I find I don’t enjoy it, I stop.

I read both fiction and non-fiction, the latter mostly in the field of food and (women’s) health, even before my blog. I read fiction to offset the tedium of text-like books and to escape my everyday routine. I can read as many as three books each week, but at least one is fiction.

The reviews below and in the next few days are related to topics for May, specifically Mother’s Day, Yom HaShoah (the day when we honor those who were killed in the Holocaust of WWII) and a food-related book linked to this day. These are non-fiction because of the May topics. Feel free to start them and discontinue them if they are not as good as I think they are!

Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting
by Lesley Stahl, Blue Rider Press, New York, 2016 ($27, hardcover)

Lesley Stahl has written a heartfelt and reportorial book on her experience as a (new) grandma, coupled with research she gathered on the entire grand parenting experience. Thus, the book is combines both her personal feelings and her investigative journalistic conclusions. The balance is a good one: not too much factual information and not too much sentimentality about becoming a grandmother. The bonus pages are the photos of Stahl and her husband with their grandchildren. Finally, each chapter opens with a quote that fits the topic of that chapter. (See example below.)

Some of the quotes about her own feelings are worth including, since they tug at your heart, especially if you are already a grandmother. The first quote describes Stahl’s feelings when she first met her older granddaughter Jordan on January 2011, the day of the baby’s birth, with a photo on the opposite page. The second is about her new role as grandmother.

When it was finally my turn, I felt I was growing a whole new chamber in my heart. I nearly swooned, staring at her like a lover…. This is not what I expected. I was at a time in my life where I assumed I had already had my best day, my tallest high. But now I was overwhelmed with euphoria…. p. 12.

Being a grandmother was my new identity. And I was fast becoming a stereotype. Whenever I passed a store that sold anything for babies, man, was I sucked in. Dresses, little shops, toys, books….You can walk into any room [of their apartment] and know we’re grandparents (p.132).

The quote above is followed by her investigative comments. Stahl notes that grandparent spending on items for children has increased seven-fold in the last decade. Or as Stahl humorously writes, “Our grandchildren melt our wallets!” (p. 132).

Even though I am also a grandparent, much of the information Stahl has gathered was enlightening for me, especially her relationship with her daughter Taylor, mother to Stahl’s two granddaughters. I realized that some of the issues with my own daughter, in relation to my grandson, are not too far from the norm. (Example: Don’t give your daughter advice unless she asks for it. Raising babies changes with every generation and daughters [and sons] don’t necessarily agree with your comments.) Throughout the book, Lesley also writes about her own mother and her influence in Stahl’s professional career.

Stahl tells us about grandmothers who still work and are unable to take care of their children as much as they would like. She also notes that more and more grandparents are moving to live closer to their grandchildren to help as well as to spend more time with them. One important chapter is devoted to step-grandparenting, a difficult role for a second wife when an ex-wife is also still in the family vis-a-vis her grandchildren.

In Chapter 4, “A House in the Bronx”, Stahl starts with a quote from a Gershwin tune, Somebody loves me, I wonder who. Here we learn about grandparents who are actually raising their grandchildren full-time because their own children are not capable, sometimes leaving the children on their parents’ doorsteps. In cases where the grandmother feels she failed her daughter or son, being the “grand” mom helps ease their own guilt. The stories are quite moving and compelling.

In Chapter 8, Stahl reports on a place called Hope Meadows: “Hope is an extraordinary place. It’s a planned community in Rantoul, Illinois, created for the sole purpose of rescuing children who were abused, neglected or abandoned.”(p. 199.) While helping the children, Hope Meadows also trains and assists the adoptive parents, who often feel overwhelmed. Here, the author tells us about several Hope parents who are raising children not their own in a loving, communal environment.

The stories here are sometimes unbelievable, such as Whitney Gossett’s decision to live at Hope Meadows and raise four children with different ethnic backgrounds. As Stahl points out after visiting Hope Meadows, she realizes that while food, oxygen, love and friendship are important for living, there is another one she omitted: purpose. Hope Meadows demonstrates the importance of purpose in raising children from another family.

Throughout the book, we read many moving stories, with quotes by the women (or men), for Stahl also includes grandfathers woven throughout the chapters. After all, her husband became a grandfather when she became as grandmother, so her research extends to grandfathers as well as grandmothers. In fact, in a very personal way, Lesley Stahl lets us know that her husband Aaron has Parkinson’s disease and explains how his tremors help his grandchildren when they need comforting. As he holds them, the slight movements in his body have a calming effect.

Becoming Grandma is a well-researched and lovingly written book about the author’s new role of becoming a grandmother. Lesley Stahl’s journalistic talents shine brightly, not only because she is an award-winning journalist, but also because the subject matter is so close to her own heart: her two granddaughters, Jordan and Chloe, shown on the cover with the author. In their life, she is known not as a journalist, but as Lolly, their very own grandmother.

P.S. I could have waited until Grandparents Day in Sept. to post this, but since grandmothers are also mothers and I did not want to wait until Fall, I posted it as part of a post- Mother’s Day review. es

2 thoughts on “Reading Matters for May 2016 (Part One)

  1. I saw Leslie Stahl interviewed about her book by Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour. Wonderful!
    Judy was so inspired, she said she can’t wait to be a grandmother. Have always admired
    both women.
    Leslie also spoke about having a hormonal change upon becoming a grandmother–probably because of the euphoria!
    We need more women role models like these two. And more edification of grandmothers such as this!!
    Great review, ES!

  2. My first adopted grandchild was born only two years after my breast cancer treatment,
    and was a toddler and pre-schooler during the removal of a melanoma and other skin cancers. It was a life saver for me, for I couldn’t get bogged down in my pain or my shame for one of the cancers removed
    was on my face, and half of it was swathed in bandages. She brought her little friends over to see, not
    out of horror but just because of the curiosity which exists in small children, and her wanting to be the
    “Doctor” then to cure people’s ailments. Thank God for her for I stopped feeling sorry for myself,
    and explained exactly what was transpiring, and it helped me to look forward to many more fruitful years as a grandmother. I have to admit I do get frustrated with my daughter-in-law for they don’t
    seem to value their role as mother as much as I did, and in some ways still do, but I try to put personal
    feelings aside, but what I can’t put aside is when I know how important a good value system is in the young.

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