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Why Modern Day Grandparenting Is So Hard

Grandparents must continually strike a balance between their needs and those of the families they helped create. This is never easy.

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"We decided we want to be near family when the baby comes.

We love Paris, but we don't really have anyone here."


I thought he was afraid of hurting me because he knew that I knew what was coming next. He'd tell me that they were moving back to San Francisco to be close to Tamar's parents and his father and stepmother. Not only that, Clay, a freelance photographer, already had an established career in California. It was the obvious right decision—and I was waiting for him to finish so I could let him know that I was pleased, not hurt. The Bay Area is fewer time zones away from Washington than France. Besides, it's always been my not-so-secret desire that one day we'd all—my husband and myself, my son and his family—wind up back in northern California, the fractured family reconstituted and made whole.

But then he said something that nearly caused me to pass out.

"We want to be near you. We're moving to Washington."

My son, my daughter-in-law, whom I've known and loved since she was 16, and now with a baby—coming to a neighborhood near me

Hello, hello!

The Pleasure of Connection

A month later, they were here, living at our house until they found a place of their own—which they did, one mile away! Hugh and I were so overjoyed that we let go of the rent-stabilized apartment we'd been hanging on to in New York and moved all its furniture into their new home—our housewarming gift.

Summer came. They found work and made friends. When Clay was free, we trolled the farmers' markets, and then we whipped up one feast after another. We took spontaneous walks and met for coffee. For the first time in our adult lives, the pressure began to ease. My son and I could spend time together without booking plane tickets months in advance or worrying that we needed to make every second count. One day, when he dropped by the house to pick something up, he looked at me and joked, "Now that we live so close, are we supposed to hug every time we see each other or what?"

As the summer wore on, it began to feel as if we were all biding our time, slogging through the sodden days, our internal compasses set for early August, when the baby was due. I knitted a crib-sized blanket, tried and failed at a tiny sweater, and started on another blanket, resigned to the fact that I could knit only squares and rectangles, nothing that required a shape—and even then, the squares and rectangles were riddled with dropped stitches and gaping holes. But it didn't matter, because for the first time in years I felt whole.

I was going to be a grandmother—in the abstract, a slightly unreal, somewhat ironic, and improbable notion. I didn't fit my own image of a grandmother, spun from Bessie, my nana, who was renowned from one end of Pittsburgh to the other for her melt-in-your-mouth chopped liver. No one ever asked her what she wanted to do with her life, and she certainly never entertained the question herself. She took care of people: her husband, my grandfather; their two children; and later her aging parents, who lived until their deaths with her and Pa in their famously spotless one-bedroom apartment—the shtetl relocated to Squirrel Hill. Nana was permanently on call to take care of her grandchildren, too, all of whom lived nearby. I adored her. She had a salty tongue and a sense of humor that killed—survival tactics, no doubt, that kept her sane after being stoned by the Cossacks at age 6. Everyone adored her for her generous, indomitable spirit—my most prized inheritance. Still, our lives could hardly be more different. Could I, a semireformed hippie writer, rise to the occasion and fill the mythic shoes left behind by Nana?

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