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Review: Anna Quindlen tours the wild world of grandparenting

May 6, 2019
This image released by Random House shows "Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting" by Anna Quindlen. (Random House via AP)

“Nanaville: Adventures in Grandparenting,” by Anna Quindlen (Random House)

“Write what you know.” Few follow that advice better than Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen, who recently discovered the joys, and challenges, of grandparenthood.

There are two tenets of “Nanaville,” writes Quindlen, which she characterizes as “a state of mind, a place I wound up inhabiting without ever knowing it was what I wanted”: “Love the grandchildren, and hold your tongue.”

The jumping off point is the birth of her first grandchild, Arthur, to her oldest son, Quin, and his wife, Lynn. “A bundle in a blanket with a full head of glossy black hair,” is Quindlen’s first description of him. She quickly hits on the book’s central theme — grandparenting as an “avocation,” not something to which she is entitled simply as the mother of the new father: “The thing is, from the moment it begins you want to do something. . And sometimes if you’re lucky, the people who really get to make all the decisions will let you do so. It’s their call. . The torch is passed to a new generation, as well as the bouncy seat, and the breast pump, and the baby wipes.”

In the tradition of her best New York Times and Newsweek columns over the years, Quindlen mixes wit and wisdom as she shares her thoughts on this new stage in life.

“A big part of our grandparent job is expressing ecstatic appreciation for everything from urination to reflexes. We must always silence the irritated voice of adult complacency: OK, I get it, I get it, you drew a 3. But honestly, a 3 isn’t that hard. A 5, now, there’s a number. No. It is the greatest 3 that anyone has ever drawn.”

In addition to those laugh-out-loud moments, the book contains enough facts and historical insights to ground it as more than just a proud nana sharing family stories. Did you know grandparents are more likely to see the children of their daughters than their sons? Or that when Arthur was born, one in seven newborns in America were multiracial or multiethnic? Neither did Quindlen, until she took up residence in Nanaville. Waiting in line at a Baby Gap with Arthur in a sling, she’s asked for a second time where the Chinese-American child on her chest is from. “Whole Foods,” she tells the stranger.

Out well before National Grandparents Day on Sept. 8, “Nanaville” is worth a visit for anyone whose baby either now has a baby or is getting ready to welcome one.